02- 9 Actions to Grow Worship and Professions of Faith

This summer I am sharing a list of 9 ideas for Cal-Pac pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1

Idea #2 – Prayer

Are we praying for our churches to reach new people? Are we praying for people who do not know Jesus Christ and do not have a church home? Many of us are but probably just as many of us are not.

Recently a pastor shared his belief that since overall the church was in decline, his church could not be expected to grow. I guess that is one way to look at it. But it isn’t the only way.

First, while it is true many churches are in decline, it is also true our population is growing (especially in the West) and that people continue to be interested in authentic spirituality. It is like that old story of two shoe salesmen who are sent to sell shoes to a community where no one wears shoes. The first salesman calls the main office and says, “I’m coming home. No one here wears shoes.” But the second salesman calls the main office and through his excitement exclaims, “No one here wears shoes! The market for shoes is unlimited.” Perspective matters.

Second, churches, like all institutions, go through cycles – both up and down. During John Wesley’s time the church was also in decline but through his work many were brought to faith. In fact, some might say that the decline of Wesley’s time is what challenged him to grow the number of committed Christians! Times of decline call forth our creativity and our willingness risk and try new things. Wesley’s creativity seen in where he preached, in his constant publishing, and in his meeting people’s needs changed Christianity forever. Who is the next Wesley? Time will tell.

Third, if we are the people of God, saying and believing things that shut the door to growth (“all churches are in decline so why would my church grow?) invites discouragement. Let’s be honest, most of us have been there. Discouragement happens. But discouragement (or cynicism) cannot be our “business as usual.” Our work, regardless of the times in which we live, is to share our faith with new people and generations, and to be partners with God in bringing about God’s kingdom. Being discouraged by decline or distracted by nostalgia isn’t worthy of our calling.

So, back to prayer. If we want to be a vital church, reaching new people and sharing the good news, let us begin with prayer.

Some of us may need prayer for healing, asking to be healed from our cynicism, our discouragement and our belief that the past was somehow better.

Some of us need prayer so we might once again open our hearts to think and to see the world differently. For the church isn’t going back to 1950’s and the future belongs to those who will embrace that.

So, ask: How could you and your church pray in order to embrace the possibilities that the Spirit might have for you and your community?


  1. Have a discussion about church growth. Do you believe your church can grow? Why or why not?
  2. Pray daily for the Holy Spirit to show you how to open your heart (and church) to new people.

Additional resources:

Articles on spiritual practice

The Wesleyan Means of Grace

Innovative Ways to Encourage  People to Pray

Too busy to Pray? Find More Time in the New Year

Articles on understanding church decline

Coming to Terms with Numerical Decline.

How Big Data Disrupts Narratives of UMC Decline

How Not to React to the Decline of Christianity in America



01 – 9 Actions to Grow Worship and Professions of Faith

Welcome!  Over the summer I am going to share 9 short blog and video posts on how churches can grow worship attendance and professions of faith.

This series is inspired by Bishop Grant’s challenge at Annual Conference to increase worship and professions of faith in the Cal-Pac Conference.

It’s a great challenge, but how?  How do we grow our congregations in today’s world? That is a great question!

I hope these posts help you think more about this in your context. The ideas shared will be best practices in church vitality but like any practices, you will need to switch things around so they work for you. I look forward to your feedback and your ideas!

Also, my model for increasing Sunday morning attendance and professions of faith comes less from a ‘what will help my church grow?” approach and more from a “what is stopping my church from growing?” approach.

What is the difference? The first question (what will help my church grow?) seems to overwhelm people. It also may play into our belief that our church cannot grow. I see the doubtfulness among our pastors and laity that their churches cannot grow.  And, I wonder if approaching this from a slightly different angle might help give us fresh perspective.

Asking what is stopping my church from growing can encourage curiosity. It invites us to look at what is going on in our ministries that might be getting in the way of reaching new people. As I watch churches grow, I notice many of them are removing barriers and building bridges, not reinventing the wheel. Asking, what is stopping us from growing opens us up to the Holy Spirit who gives us fresh vision.

So, what might be stopping your church from growing?

#1. Your church’s website.

In today’s world most people will stop by your website before they show up on a Sunday morning. So, how does your website look? Is it fresh, updated and a reflection of your community?

Start here when thinking about reaching new people this year.  And, yes, it will take time and money but it will be well spent.  Do not neglect this essential ministry tool.

Here are several examples of website that are up to date (and awesome):

Redondo Beach First UMC

Costa Mesa New Start

The Loft @ Westwood

Want to learn more?

Actions to Take:

  • Need Help? – Contact James Kang, Director of Communications at JKang@calpacumc.org
  • Discuss your church’s website with your Leadership Team/Ad Council.  Update it this summer.
  • Reach out to a church with an awesome website and get their website designer’s information and call him or her.

A Plethora of Planners – Happy 2017

When I was in 5th grade I began a yearly tradition, breaking in a new planner. My new planner would arrive at Christmas and my winter break would be filled with time to copy all the birthdays and other milestones into the next year’s book. I loved it. (Is it weird to say some of my fondest holiday memories were spent with my planner? O well…)

Today planners are different. There is no longer one or two paper planners available, but 100s. And as an efficiency nut every time a new planner comes out, I just have to see what it offers. I have a case of planner envy.

I was a big fan of Franklin Covey planners -the classic, perfect first system. But then as electronic planners hit the market, I moved that direction. More recently, I have been using a hybrid system. With a hybrid system I have the long-term view available electronically but place weekly apportionments and to-do’s into the paper planner each week.

Over the last couple years I tried out two different planners to work with my hybrid system.

I started with Action Day. Action Day  has a place for your to-do’s & your daily schedule, plus – delegated tasks and goals. It also has paper in the back of the planner to use for note taking.  I used it for a little over a year,  it was good but I was still searching.

After finding the  Happiness Planner at Anthropology, I switched over to it in the spring.

What I loved was it was 100 days instead of an entire year, it had a place for reflection and goals, and it had daily happiness questions (“good things about today,” “what I hope for tomorrow”). The Happiness Planner was good but still, I was searching.

As December worn on I spent an entire afternoon looking at what types of planners were out there for 2017. I had no idea how many choices I had!

Here are a couple great articles/collections:

12 Planners


Best Planners

Lots of ideas, but what did I need?  I ended up making a list of what I needed in a planner:

+It had to be simple – too many boxes, questions or distractions made me anxious.

+I wanted a place for quarterly goals and a way to be reminded of them daily. This was key.

+I wanted a place for daily things like my morning and evening ritual.

+I would need a space for that day’s to-do’s.

+ Of course, I’d need a place for that day’s meetings.

+And, instead of having a loose piece of paper to track my spiritual practices, I wanted space for my Discipleship Huddle Rhythm of Discipleship (I’ll share more on this next week).

+And last, with my goal of studying six books of the Bible this year, I wanted a place for daily Bible Study Notes.

I realized that even with all the customization out there that I would need to create my own. So I did.

This isn’t a big of a deal as you’d think. Making your own planner is actually all the rage – they go by the term “bullet journal.”

I picked up a blank book I loved at Home Goods but any size and shape that connects with you would work. Here are some ideas.

I decorated the pages with stamps and washi tape

I needed something less complicated than the standard Bullet Journal. Here is what I ended up creating:

Introductory Pages:

Page 1 – Theme of the Year (I pick a theme word) and a list of Top Dream Goals for 2017

Page 2 – Quarterly Goals

Page 3 – The Brief Guide (there are several variations of this, here is one)

Page 4- Ideas for Morning and Evening Rituals (a mix and match list depending on time, energy, etc.)

Dated Pages:

Each day is two pages:

Every week ends with a two-page summary – here is a sample:

I put it all together while I watched TV with family or listened to podcasts. It was pretty fun. And here is the thing: it is really working. I look forward to using it daily and find I am staying on track with my daily commitments.

This planner is for three months, I figure it is a test run. I’ll let you know how it goes. Do any of you have a planner you love or keep a Bullet Journal? I’d love to hear about it. – Nicole

Fall Pod 2016

So I have been picking a small number of clothing each season and dressing from just these pieces for a year.  It has been w o n d e r f u l!

What I like:

+Easy to get dressed every morning and easy to put clothing away at night. A lot less stress.

+I am rotating clothing with each pod so I am wearing a larger number of pieces of my wardrobe than before.

+Its fun to put this together each season – gets me thinking about the changing of the seasons plus travel and entertaining that is up coming!

So here is what I picked for the fall pod- a total of 32 items ( I go up to 35 so this lets me still include something I will realize later that I really need). This will be my basics October-December.

  1. Shirts –   plus a black and a white shell. 


2. Skirts, dresses and pants –  plus black pants, 2 black skirts, a black and white dress.


3.Jackets and sweaters -plus two black sweaters and a long vest.


4. Shoes – plus a pair of brown pumps. 


Fall dressing for me is about color and textures and not the warmth of the clothing (cause in point: it almost 80 degrees today!). My pod is more skirts than pants, so if you are trying this you’ll need to adapt to what works with your lifestyle.

Happy Fall!



Adding in an Evening Ritual

This year one of my successes has been my morning ritual.  I get up by 6:30 AM, walk, meditate/pray, write and jump into the day.  It has worked well to have my standard plan even if there are times I travel or a too late night keeps me from perfectly following my ritual.  It is simple: walk, pray, write, get ready for the day.

This last week I began an evening ritual.  I get home by 7PM, have time with my husband Jeff, take a bath and listen to music, meditate/pray and read before going to bed by 10 PM.  What I am loving is having a clear plan lets me focus on family, self-care and learning – three essentials for me.  Of course, I won’t do this 100% of the time, but knowing it is my “usual” is very freeing.

What gives your life form and rhythm?


Fall Reflection Pt 1 – Small Groups from Church of the Resurrection Downtown

Small groups where people develop their faith have been the bedrock of Methodism. We began not as churches but as a movement of small groups.

Today less than half of our churches have small groups. Why? One reason is that we are too busy in committee meetings. I experienced this recently when I was told that a church with which I was working did have small groups-they were called the Trustees, SPRC and the Ad Council. I smiled. Committees can certainly be places for community, but their focus on running the church and this is fundamentally different from small groups whose work is to grow people.

I’d love to move back to a small group model, but how? Those who are working to address this are finding it isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. So what is working, especially in non-suburban contexts?

I have thought about this and one of my key takeaways from this fall’s COR Leadership Conference is around small groups.

At Church of the Resurrection, Rev. Scott Chrostek shared how they have tweaked small groups on their campus (Downtown).  They use a Community Group model which is a feeder to a more in-depth small group experience.

Here is how it works: Every two weeks a new entry point (Community Group) is offered. This could be a one-time event or a 4-week course.  The topics are taught by laity who are excited to share what they know.  Past examples have included: The Enneagram, Parenting Teens, Living a Health Lifestyle, etc. These Community Groups offer a fun, interesting and limited way to connect and learn.

The benefit? If you are new to the church, you are never more than a week away from another group.  This enables people to get connected and find friends early.  It takes seriously that when people first attend, they are looking to get connected.

At the end of the Community group, small groups are offered.  These follow a set curriculum (for the first 6 weeks) but then move into more age-level, interest area, materials. You could join one with your new Community group friends, attend another Community group (maybe you aren’t ready for a small group or don’t connect with those in your group). Either way, new comers are meeting new people, learning and getting connected.  And, Community Groups aren’t just for learning, they can be a service opportunity as well.

Scott shared that they had tried other models (like putting people in small groups right away) but that didn’t work.  He also shared that this was a model that reflected their being about 200 in worship but that it could be adapted (for example, you could start a Community Group model every month or every 3 weeks).  And, since the groups are lay-led this model has the added benefit of growing leadership and connecting new people to laity and not only clergy.

If you are looking to begin small groups this fall, you might want to start with the Community Group model and see if it works for you.

Next Week: Helping new Christians (and others) grow in their understanding of the Bible.








Spirit Centered 06 – Six Core Competencies of Pastors

My last Core Competency for pastors is being Spirit Centered. You can call it Christ Centered, God Centered, Kingdom Driven, Spiritually –what you call it may depend on your background and on what connects with you. But whatever you call it, it is core to pastoral competency.

Faith and trust in God is a lifestyle for pastors. Much of what we are entrusted to do (preach, teach, lead, care for people, etc.) had to be grounded in God or it becomes ego driven, false and exhausting. Even the best pastors fall into this trap.

It has probably always been an issue, but today too many pastors have become the “professional Christian” busy with the work of the church – and because of the scope of that work, pastors can find themselves estranged from their own spiritual life. Instead of leading the life of a spiritual leader we settle for CEO of a small business that peddles religious goods and services.

Being Spirit Centered is not only about making one’s spiritual deepening a priority in life and ministry; it is about how having that priority shapes and forms ministry.

For pastors a profound spiritual life shapes ministry in several ways but, I want to focus on three:

First, it decreases the burden and burn out of ministry. It is no secret that too many clergy are depressed, critical, complainers. I believe the incredible scope of ministry pushes pastors into unhealthy life choices and relational patterns. Clergy can feel the weight of the world and the fate of the church on their backs and it is overwhelming. A deep spiritual life grounds a pastor in a helpful truth: You are not in charge, You are not God.

Second, it enables pastors to hear God’s voice in ministry choices. Ministry in today’s world is complicated. Our culture is more disconnected from what church has traditionally offered and pastors face more choices with more consequences for the wrong choice. A deep spirituality enables a pastor to hear God’s leading in the midst of complicate choices. A deep connection to God also enables pastors to risk, to be bold and to do the right thing even when it is costly.

Third, it awakens pastors to what the Spirit is doing now. As the shape of church changes I believe the Spirit doesn’t leave us here to figure it out on our own but is leading us forward. What will church look like? The Spirit will guide our steps as we listen. I believe a Spirit Centered pastor learns to walk in that unfolding.

Being Spirit Centered is a hard competence to live in to. I say this because most pastors have done well relying on their own strengths, experience and wisdom. It has often felt like these were enough to guide the church and ministry. But we fool ourselves. It is not enough.

I left this as the last Core Competency because it is the most important but also, for many seminary trained clergy, the hardest. It calls us to live a different daily pattern, one where the ancient ways of prayer, retreat, fasting, scripture study and more aren’t what we do but who we are. The work of the clergy continues to be essential for the future of our faith. The question is will clergy take their call seriously enough?

Over these weeks, I have spent time sharing my Core Competencies (Professionalism, Focus, Communication, Connectionalism, Developer) with the hope that it would push other clergy leaders to wrestle with what they believe are their own.

Our calling is a high calling and we are called to nothing less than giving it our all, and out of that surrender and that giving,  I believe God’s Spirit will work.








Developer 05 – Six Core Competencies of Pastors

My Mother wanted me to be a professional photographer. She thought I had a good eye for photography and she loved how passionate I was about it. I took classes starting when I was 16 and spent long hours in the darkroom trying things out. I like to think that some of what my Mom saw in me when I was in high school is part of me today: I am a developer.

The metaphor of developer is a good one. In photography a developer takes what is hidden on the film and brings it into the light. Ministry requires developer skills.

Developer is my fifth Core Competency for pastors and not just because I like photography.  Like Connectionalism, Communication, Focus, and Professionalism, Developer is a key competency for today’s clergy leader.

Don’t relate to the developer metaphor? You can substitution your own – maybe for you it is the sculptor who by carving away the marble lets the art emerge, the gardener who tends the soil so seedlings grow big and strong, or the parent who sees the giftedness of each child and cultivates it forward.

Much of what good pastors do is uncover treasure that is hidden. Like the developer uncovers the photo hidden in the film, pastors uncover the Christ within people, communities and churches. It may be buried, damaged or forgotten but pastors are called to bring it into the light through:

Developing others – developing disciples & leaders (of all kinds).

Developing teams – for the work of ministry (both within the church and the community).

Developing community – both within the church and beyond. (This would include knowing the community so if you don’t know about missioninsite you need to check it out!)

Developing our own gifts —so we grow and expand who God has gifted us to be.

So are you a developer? How can will you give time to this core competency? These are important questions – because without the competency of developer a pastor may have ideas or vision about what could be but will lack execution.  And, what could be in people, communities and churches will remain hidden.

So, what and who are you developing these days?

Six Core Competencies of Pastors 04: Connectionalism

I didn’t grow up in the United Methodist Church (UMC). But when I was in college I fell in love with the UMC and I especially fell in love with what they called Connectionalism.

Connectionalism (or Connexionalism) is a funny word. In the UMC we use it to talk about the relationships churches and pastors have to other churches and pastors and to the worldwide UMC. Connectionalism means we are not alone, that we are connected both locally and globally.

“What is connectionalism?  It’s a peculiarly Methodist understanding of what it means to be the church.  According to connectionalism, the church is defined not by formal structures or doctrine or lines of authority.  It’s defined by connections between people: connections between pastor and pastor, between pastor and laity, and between laity and laity.  When The United Methodist Church claims to be a connectional church, that means that we hold such interpersonal connections in so high a regard that we understand them as the essence of the church.” David W Scott “Connectionalism as a Basis for United Methodist Unity”

I love these words from David W Scott, they speak of connectionalism at its best. But we are also familiar with it at its worst – this is when we dumb down this essential way of being church to local church paying apportionments (giving to the larger church) and pastors and laity serving on Conference committees.

At its best, connectionalism is worthy of being a core competency for pastors. Like Professionalism, Focus and Communication, Connectionalism moves the life of a pastor out of personal kingdom building toward a bigger understanding of ministry.

I think we may need a new vision of connectionalism. Our connections feel weak these days. Maybe this because of the stress of ministry and the call of individualism which seduces us to believe that as long as our little church is doing fine who cares what happens to the larger UMC?

What could this new vision of connectionalism took like? Here is what I am thinking connectionalism could look like in the 21st century. I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

1.Connectionalism looks like pastors serving based on gifts. You are great at pastoral care and I am great at administration? We work together and build each other’s ministry. A third pastor in our community is a great preacher? She preaches several Sundays a month for us and we carry the administrative and pastoral care load those weeks.

This would call pastors to know each other and put aside any competition we might feel with one another.  It would also call us to be more accountable to one another.  If pastors were appointed to a Mission Area (smaller groupings of churches to which every UMC in Cal-Pac is assigned) based on gifts instead of to a local parish, this would be a major shift in our connectionalism.

2. Connectionalism looks like Mission Areas doing church assessments, and when needed, recommending closures and vital mergers. The best wisdom is the wisdom of those in the community so lets use it more strategically.  This would include having a key role with the District Superintendent (DS) in deciding how the funds from the closed property would be strategically used to build ministry in the Mission Area. Funds would be used for new starts, building updates and staffing.

Sharing this responsibility with the District Superintendent might not work in every context, but in those in which it  did a DS would benefit from the wisdom of a strong Mission Area. (Note: some of this has started to happen.)

3. Connectionalism looks like Conference staff deployed to districts on a rotating basis at least 50% of the time. This would include staff being housed in the district (a guest room  and space at the District office) so they really get to know each district and its needs. This could include staff from: Justice and Compassion, New Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, Camping, Age Level Ministries, Finance and Human Resources.

In today’s mobile world, Connectional Ministries staff spending the bulk of their time in Pasadena isn’t the highest use of the staff’s ability to resource. I’d love to see Mission Areas invite Connectional Ministry staff in regularly as a way of educating them on the real needs of churches. (Note: some of this is already happening too!)

Historically, connectionalism has been a core competency. Today it needs to move front and center again. As I look around I see too many pastors forsaking the connection due to a lack of time, energy or interest and I wonder how a renewed focus on connectionalism could enable us to lead more boldly and with less loneliness.

What place does Connectionalism hold in your ministry?

100 Days of Summer – A Review of the Happiness Planner

I spent the 100 days of summer using the Happiness Planner.  The planner style I’m using is a 3-month version.

I picked it up by chance when I had a gift certificate from Anthropology and thought it looked the mid year pick-me-up I need. It was.

The planner starts by asking what makes you happy & unhappy, what are your strengths & weaknesses, what upsets you and what do you want to improve, etc.  There is a place for goals, so I set summer goals (mostly around getting outside more, playing my ukulele and enjoying myself). Then I jumped in.

Weekly you put in your schedule and each day you record “what I’m excited about,” “good things about today,” “what I hope for tomorrow.” There is a place to list daily goals, exercise and meals.  I loved the focus on the positive.

What worked:

  • It was doable – setting goals for 100 days was something I could do. I found I was more focused and I achieved 50% more of my goals.
  • It was different – I liked having to think each day about what I was looking forward to. That really starts the day off differently – I liked it!
  • I could use it with what I already use (I use The Way App where I track my daily personal rituals).
  • Each week there is a 2-page summary which included a place to describe the week in 3 words (which was fun to think about) & a place to “score” your happiness, health and engagement.
  • On the 2-page weekly summary  there was a place for me to record what I learned that week – those ideas got captured and I could refer back to them. I really loved that.

My plan was just to do this for the summer and then to go back to my regular planner but I bought a second one to use for the next 100 days!