Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations was published in May, 2007. Before the end of summer, the book had already gone through three printings. During the fall of 2007, hundreds of congregations heard sermon series, led book studies, taught classes, or held leadership retreats on the Five Practices. The Five Practices language began to form the self-understanding of our mission as United Methodists, alongside Rueben Job’s Three Simple Rules at the event sponsored by the Council of Bishops for Extended Cabinets. More conferences, districts, churches, campus ministries, and new church starts began to use the language in mission statements, sermons, and studies. FivePractices.org was launched to foster communication and share resources. The Cabinets from the United Methodist Conferences in Europe and Eurasia gathered to study the practices. Now the book is in its 13th printing, and is being translated to German, Russian, Korean, and Indonesian!
A year ago pastors and lay leaders began to request more resources to supplement the book. They asked for DVD/video resources, for small group planning books, and for material that could help the entire congregation deepen their understanding and practice of ministry. I began to work with Abingdon Press on an ambitious schedule to get high quality materials for a five-week congregational immersion experience available by the fall of 2008. We taped videos in January, completed an every-household five-week daily devotional booklet by mid-spring, worked on accessible individual workbooks on each of the five practices for leadership teams, and developed a Leader Manual through April and May.
This week marks the release of Focus on the Five Practices: A Congregation-Wide Initiative, and all the individual materials to support it! Already nearly 1,000 Leader Manuals and complete sets have been pre-ordered and will be sent out TODAY! I hope and pray that the resources prove as helpful, accessible, useable and effective as the original book.
The goal of this material is to move the language of the Five Practices beyond the pastor and lay leadership and into the language and self-understanding of every small-group ministry, class, study, choir and outreach project, and also into the lives and homes of our volunteers and members and guests. There is an unmistakable power to using a common language throughout the congregation to stimulate and empower ministry in Christ’s name.
This total church immersion experience involves a few weeks of planning, and a five week concentrated focus that includes a sermon series, small group work, strategic planning, a church-wide work/service day, and a culminating celebration and commitment service. Some churches will adapt the material for their fall stewardship/consecration emphasis.
The Five Practices Leader Manual and Media is the key element of the new material. This is a large 160-page step-by-step plan and guide, with DVD videos of the author describing each of the practices, and communications/projection support. The Manual also includes timelines, calendars, instructions that can be copied for the Leadership Team, the Communications Team, the Prayer Team, the Youth/Children’s Team, the Special Events Team, etc. The Manual also includes worship resources, sample sermons, communications tools, samples of long-term strategic planning, etc. The Manual is essentially the brains of the congregation-wide initiative.
Cultivating Fruitfulness: Five Weeks of Prayer and Practice for Congregations is the second most important element of the initiative. This is a daily devotional book that includes thirty-five daily readings and prayers, with one week focused on each practice. This small devotional book is intended for use by every household in the congregation, with everyone praying together on the same days throughout the initiative. Imagine if every household had already read seven daily devotions on Radical Hospitality and prayed daily for their own discipleship and the ministry of the church BEFORE they attended the worship service and heard the sermon that focused on Radical Hospitality! Don’t underestimate the power of the entire congregation praying together. Cultivating Fruitfulness feeds the soul of the initiative.
The third resource are the five different Workbooks, each focused on a different practice. These are intended to guide more in-depth exploration among special leadership groups within a congregation who have the responsibility for preparing more strategic, long-term ministries. Five Practices: Risk-Taking Mission and Service, for instance, guides mission leaders through three in-depth planning sessions to help them fully understand the meaning of mission, to stimulate conversation for new ministries, and to suggest strategies for new initiatives. The Workbooks put ideas into action.
Some congregations will use all the materials and complete all the elements of a congregation-wide initiative. Others will pick and choose which resources to use to fit their particular needs. All the materials can be obtained separately or together.
Click HERE and see pages 7 and 8 to read the Overview of Focus on the Five Practices from the Leader Manual.
How can congregations use these new resources to strengthen their ministries, unify their churches, deepen the practices, and fulfill their mission? Over the next couple blogs, I’m going to suggest a few ideas for various church contexts.
My friends, this conversation is not about marketing new materials. I hope this doesn’t sound like just a sales pitch. I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the extraordinary response to the original book. I receive emails from all over the world about congregations that start new outreach programs, pastors who lead new mission initiatives, laypersons who finally “get it” about giving, worship teams that try new approaches. My prayer is that these new materials will serve the purposes of Christ. I pray that they help us fulfill the greatest task ever entrusted to us, the task of sharing the good news that God has met our highest hopes and deepest needs in Christ Jesus. Please pray with me for the congregations, pastors, and lay leaders who will use the materials so that we may open ourselves to the spirit of God for the renewing of the church.
Yours in Christ,