Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Revised and Updated

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Revised and Updated

by Robert Schnase


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Over the past ten years, thousands of church leaders have successfully transformed congregations with the principles from the original Five Practices: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. However, much has changed in the world and the Church. Leaders have discovered new ways to implement the Five Practices in settings that were not imagined when the original book was released. This revised and updated edition of the ministry leadership classic includes a significant amount of new material.

How are the Practices being used now, in new types of congregations? How has each Practice changed in the last decade? What new issues or concerns do leaders need to consider in relation to each Practice?

  • This revision provides leaders with a 'next step' look at the original practices. Schnase gathered ideas and other content from ministry leaders who have been using the Five Practices, and explains how those ideas work, how leaders adapted the principles to their own settings, and how they expanded them.
  • A new preface redefines 'Congregations' given their evolving nature. When the original book was written, the new forms of Christian community either did not exist or were barely known. The Five Practices are, however, just as essential to the new types of congregations as they were to the traditional church.
  • Since the original book, there is more variety, diversity, and experimentation in worship. The revised Five Practices includes material based on these new forms.
  • Small group study has always been important for intentional faith development. But since the original book, the nature of those groups has transformed to include secular settings and a wide variety of affinities profoundly affecting how faith leaders approach issues of faith development, and in many cases radically changes what they offer in their communities.
  • Imagine the topic of Risk-Taking Mission and Service before Black Lives Matter, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the Trump administration. This new version gives instruction and specific ideas for how we might best serve today’s world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501858871
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 133,625
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Robert Schnase is bishop of the Rio Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. Schnase is the author of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, a best-selling book on congregational ministry that has ignited a common interest among churches and their leaders around its themes of radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity. Five Practices has reached a global community with translations in Korean, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, and German. Robert is also the author of Just Say Yes!, Receiving God's Love, Remember the Future, Five Practices of Fruitful Living, and others.

Read an Excerpt


"Come and See" and "Go and Do"

"Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (Romans 15:7)

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. (Luke 10:1)

First United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida, has been buffeted by the same forces that affect tens of thousands of congregations. Changing demographics, members moving farther away, ever-increasing facility costs that burden a decreasing and aging membership, thinning attendance patterns with regulars showing up one or two times a month instead of three or four times, difficulty with parking and playground space, declining visibility in the community — the list runs long. With each passing decade, attracting people to worship has become increasingly difficult. Even with excellent music and quality worship, fewer people made the drive or took the time to attend. As if drawing people who already belonged wasn't hard enough, attracting those who had no experience with any faith community or who harbored suspicion or mistrust about organized religion became nearly impossible.

While different in context and scope, the challenges of First UMC, Miami, match those of congregations large and small, in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and in every denomination. It's harder than ever to get people to respond to an invitation and make the effort to show up and worship with us in the church we love.

Adapting to the Context

Leaders of First United Methodist Church, Miami, knew things had to change or they would fail in their fundamental mission. Pastor Audrey Warren and her predecessor, Cynthia Weems, worked with the congregation to dramatically reshape their approach to ministry. The people in the congregation learned, over the course of a few years, that in order to fulfill their mission they must adapt their ministries to the new context of their community. They began to "go and do," actively engaging with the people who live and work in their area. They stepped back to examine their habits of worship and saw ways to reconceive it, to worship with new expressions, to engage and include new people. They deepened their commitment to homeless people in their community and formed partnerships with businesses in order to meet basic human needs. They worked with a developer to rethink their use of space and facility. In these and other remarkable ways, First UMC's leaders and faithful people found the courage and energy to adopt a more experimental approach toward ministry. A few examples help to tell the story:

Leaders in the congregation decided to become more intentional about engaging the downtown business community, looking for potential alliances with other groups who shared a commitment to improving life for people in the area. Along the way, as part of the congregation's effort to adapt ministries to their context, the church decided to forego a traditional Maundy Thursday service and instead offer a foot washing experience for homeless people. Was it awkward at first? Perhaps, but it became a Saturday event that involves hundreds of people. First UMC's leaders used this foot washing service, which honors the act of service Jesus offered to his disciples at the Last Supper, as a starting point for other experimental initiatives.

The congregation forged an alliance with Barry University in Miami, which happens to run a podiatry program. Podiatry students and faculty are invited to share in ministry by tending to the physical needs of each person at the foot washing. Another partner, Soles for Souls, provides a pair of shoes for each homeless guest at the event. The foot washing ministry continues to be a signature piece of First UMC's vision for downtown, reflecting the role of the church as servant to the community. An invitation to serve and to form relationships with the homeless has been the primary entryway for many people who now belong to the congregation.

People want to do something that matters and belong to a church that makes a difference. The foot washing relieves suffering, offers hope and connection, and forms relationships. It provides a channel for those who want to make a difference to put faith into action. Many folks who would never think to attend a worship service, including several podiatry students and business partners, gladly offer themselves to help with this ministry of Christ for the poor.

Another example of First UMC's reshaped approach to ministry involves peanut butter and jelly. People who are homeless are often also hungry, so leaders in the congregation approached local businesses to ask if their employees would like to make sandwiches for homeless people. First Church provides the ingredients, and employees willingly give up their lunch break to make sandwiches. People from the congregation go to the office buildings, becoming the guests in their space, serving side by side with downtown workers to address an unmet community need. The ministry forms relationships of mutual trust, friendship, and partnership between those who worship in a church downtown and those who work in office buildings nearby.

Yoga Chapel, another ministry of First UMC, engages people who otherwise might never be inclined to sit in a pew or participate in traditional worship services. Services weave together the art of Christian storytelling and meditation with the wisdom of yoga practice, providing a time to attend to spiritual, physical, and relational well-being through scripture, conversation, music, and prayer that connects people to God and one another. The ministry uses the affinity networks that already exist among those who practice yoga.

Through such innovative approaches to ministry, First UMC has arrested decline and multiplied the points of contact and the impact of its ministry. The congregation has made substantial progress in reaching its neighborhood. While it remains an unfinished story, First United Methodist Church has become clearer about its mission and more confident about its future.

Attractional Models

In the original Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, most ideas for increasing fruitfulness relied upon attractional assumptions. Churches that practice radical hospitality "take the initiative to invite, welcome, include, and support newcomers." The book describes hospitality as "the active desire to invite, welcome, receive and care for those who are strangers" (p. 11).

These words assume that the critical activities that we should work on are those that improve our welcoming skills, enhance our worship services, and strengthen our small-group ministries so that people will be attracted to us, join us in our activities, and become members of our congregations.

In the years since the original book, fruitful congregations have discovered that while attractional models are helpful and necessary to fulfill the mission of Christ, they simply are not enough. Faith communities must also develop ministries that derive from missional assumptions, activities that primarily benefit people who are not members of the church, often in places far away from church facilities. These ministries require a different posture toward our neighborhoods, a more deliberate outward focus, and a willingness to carry Christ's love to where people already live, work, and play rather than hoping for people to come to us.

Hospitality doesn't stop with merely inviting people to come to our churches and to like what we like and do what we do. It involves opening ourselves to the mission of Christ, to the possibility that we are being sent by God into the neighborhoods where we live and the gatherings to which we belong. Radical hospitality even nudges us to form relationships of mutual respect and service among people who live in circumstances considerably different from our own, to befriend strangers in order to offer the grace and love of God.

An ever-increasing number of people in our communities will never step through a church door. "Nones" and "dones" outnumber people in any other religious category. "Nones" are people who check the none box on surveys about religious affiliation, and "dones" are those who are finished with all things related to the institutional church because of the scandals, exclusionary practices, or irrelevance of the church to their lives. If we merely wait for people to visit us, we surrender any hope of sharing the love of Christ with the majority of the people around us.

Does the description of "nones" and "dones" bring people you know to mind?

One couple who belong to a church that offers compelling worship asked their neighbors if they would attend worship with them. The neighbors had zero interest in going to church and had nothing positive to say about institutional religion. And yet, those same neighbors showed an eagerness to join with the couple and other neighbors for dinner conversations about faith, the spiritual life, and serving others. Their dinners became an expression of Christ's community in their home, among people who would never think to show up for a Sunday morning worship service in a sanctuary.

What We Hope Happens

Why do we assume that people who do not know our congregation will one day find themselves as a member of our church? How do we think it happens?

Most congregations, consciously or unconsciously, operate with attractional assumptions. They imagine that a person, a couple, or a family becomes aware of their church, perhaps through the invitation of a friend, an advertisement on a billboard, or by driving past the sanctuary. Churches then hope that what the new persons hear or see will draw them toward the congregation. They assume that the visitors will share a common interest in the purpose of the church or feel a desire to form an affinity with the church. A yearning to learn, grow spiritually, belong, and serve will cause them to visit and will lead them to greater participation.

The church assumes that some newcomers will find the congregation so appealing that they willingly overcome any hesitancies they may feel about entering unfamiliar space with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar habits. With ever-increasing experience with the church, the newcomers will feel they belong, strengthen their faith commitments, and become members in order to benefit from the church's ministries and support its mission. The church woos them to deeper relationship and surrounds them with the grace of God.

To summarize, the system by which most churches seek to grow goes something like this: We hope and pray that twelve new Christian households move into our neighborhood next year. And we hope that at least eight of those find our church and visit our worship service. And of those eight, we assume six will like us enough to return, and that four will officially become members. We believe that with a passionate congregation, those outside the church will hear about the church, believe that things are different or better with this church, and then come.

We never articulate this as our plan, but when we rely entirely upon attractional assumptions, this is our system for reaching people who do not know Christ.

How closely do the paragraphs above describe how we assume people come to belong to our church? How well does this approach work for reaching the "nones" and "dones"?

We assume this pathway for entry into the church because it matches the experience of many people who currently belong. Attractional models worked in the past when the culture expected people to attend worship and people wanted to be members of churches. We still take it for granted that this is how the church grows, even though this approach stopped working long ago.

Many of the attractional assumptions we rely upon to reach new people are no longer true. What happens when people no longer trust institutions in general nor the church in particular? Or when next generations don't share a taste for the style of music that we offer in worship and don't appreciate the one-way verbal communication of a sermon? Becoming a member of anything is unappealing to many people and does not motivate them to deepen their spiritual lives. They are not seeking to join anything. Many churches are surrounded by neighbors who speak a different language or who are of a different ethnicity than the majority in the congregation. What would cause them to show up for worship?

What happens when generations of people living around us have no experience with worship, no vocabulary for understanding faith, no familiarity with scripture, and have never once stepped inside a church? The culture provides an ever-increasing number of competing activities on Sundays that are more compelling than church attendance. Our assumptions no longer serve us well. The way we've always done it doesn't work in a context where most young adults believe the church is boring, judgmental, hypocritical, out of touch, anti-homosexual, insensitive, old-fashioned, and boring. (See unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons [Baker Books, 2012].)

When people do not find the idea of church appealing, they are not attracted to what we do, no matter how well we do it.

Come and See & Go and Do

In the Gospel of John, Jesus and his earliest followers repeat the invitation, "Come and see." Their approach is invitational, and at various times, hundreds of people gather to listen to Jesus's teachings.

In a similar way today, the compelling nature of the gospel and the openness and friendliness of the congregation exert an influence that pulls people toward Christ and prompts them to make decisions about life and faith. Come and see!

Ministries based on attractional assumptions are necessary and important. Congregations depend upon attractional assumptions to fulfill the mission of Christ.

And yet Jesus does not sit passively waiting for people to come to him. It isn't just in the synagogue that Jesus offers God's radical hospitality. Jesus was seldom in the same place for long. Jesus's life-changing encounters happen while Jesus is on the move, in the real places where he engaged people, in their houses, at their dinner tables, in their grain fields, in their fishing boats. He listens and teaches as they mend nets, trade in the marketplace, walk beside the sea, move through crowded streets, journey along the road. He meets people right where they are, literally and metaphorically, engaging them where they actually live and work and also wherever they are spiritually. He practices hospitality, while he himself had no place to call home.

Jesus stepped into the lives of people of all types, Jews and Gentiles, women and men, neighbors and strangers, the up-and-coming, and the down-and-out even though his disciples often tried to restrain him from doing so. He crossed borders, literally and figuratively — speaking to the woman at the well despite her being a foreigner, dining with tax collectors even though they were considered traitors, healing on the Sabbath over the objections of the Pharisees, intervening on behalf of the woman accused of adultery at the risk of his own life. None of these people were ever going to show up at a synagogue to listen to his teaching. Most were prohibited from doing so, by religious law or because of the ostracism of religious leaders. Jesus stepped toward those who were different from him. His ministry was on the road, an itinerant conveyer of the grace of God.

Jesus welcomed the stranger, but he also became the stranger who accepted the welcome of others to offer them God's grace.

To focus on the missional aspects of our work rightly pushes us beyond the notion that we fulfill our task when we pour all our efforts into making a congregation so attractive to unchurched people that they will come to their senses, show up in our place of worship, fall in love with music we like, and agree to our way of doing things. It breaks through our passivity by pointing us to the active verbs of the gospel of Jesus Christ: Go ... Tell ... Teach ... Pray ... Give ... Heal ... Love ... Forgive ... Baptize ... God's grace compels us to go places we might never go if left to our own preference and convenience. In a broken world, no church can sit still when drawn into the mission of Christ. A missional focus gives the church an ever-restless quality, pushing us outward into the world and among the people who are so loved by God that he gave his only son.

Imagine what ministry might look like that goes to every place where Jesus himself intends to go!

This Way and That Way

A friend gave me a six-inch heavy ceramic ampersand. An ampersand is the squiggly figure that looks like this: &. It simply means and. An ampersand binds two ideas together in a sentence or on a sign. I keep the ampersand in a visible place in my office to remind myself that when I'm trying to decide to either choose one way of doing things or another way, that I should consider how I can do things both this way and that way.


Excerpted from "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction-The Five Practices Revised and Updated ix

Chapter 1 "Come and See" and "Go and Do" 1

Chapter 2 The Practice of Radical Hospitality 17

Chapter 3 The Practice of Passionate Worship 47

Chapter 4 The Practice of Intentional Faith Development 73

Chapter 5 The Practice of Risk-Taking Mission and Service 101

Chapter 6 The Practice of Extravagant Generosity 129

Chapter 7 Fruitfulness and Excellence 153

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