When the founding pastor of the denomination's largest congregation is willing to share his wisdom and experience, people who care about church growth tend to sit up and listen.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton came to the Holston Annual Conference last June, and apparently, several Holston pastors and lay members listened.
Hamilton is senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. The church has grown from four people in 1990 to more than 12,000 adult members with an average weekly worship attendance of more than 7,500.
In response to invitations distributed through Facebook and district offices, members e-mailed The Call about how Hamilton's presentation at Lake Junaluska influenced their churches. Several said they shared Hamilton DVDs with their congregations.
"His appearance at Annual Conference was a good reminder of the down-to-earth ways that God is working in our lives and the lives of the people around the church," said the Rev. John Grimm of Aldersgate-Jordan's Chapel UMC, Wytheville District. "Both of the congregations I serve are using his books for Bible study material, 'Christianity's Family Tree' and 'Christianity and World Religions.'"
Bishop's Chapel UMC, in Galax, Va., viewed and studied Hamilton's DVDs during its Wednesday night gatherings. The Rev. Jimmy Harmon said he appreciated Hamilton's "fresh perspective."
"We have already incorporated some of his ideas into our Sunday morning service and plan on using many more in our outreach," the Wytheville District pastor said.
First Bristol UMC showed the DVDs to two Sunday school classes, where there was "great enthusiasm for the clear, down-to-earth delivery of faith and encouragement," said Suzanne Rollins. Hamilton's message seemed to address objectives already identified by the Abingdon District church's administrative council: leadership development and a "need to recommit to a mission statement."
"The administrative council met in the homes of various members for three nights in October to watch the videos and share a meal," Rollins said. "The council is meeting for a strategic planning retreat in November. We plan to use this time to develop a real, living mission statement for our church that will energize and reignite our fire for being the body of Christ in our part of the world."
The Rev. Kim Goddard, senior pastor at Mafair UMC in Kingsport District, shared the Hamilton DVDs with staff at weekly meetings. "Since I was new here, it was a great way to generate some conversation and to kind of let the staff know where I wanted us to move together."
After reading the book, "Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched," Goddard and staff are using a Hamilton tactic at Christmas and in the new year. Mafair will advertise Christmas services to bring in guests, while promoting a sermon series that begins in January.
"Hopefully that will peak the interests of guests and make them want to return," she said. "In addition, we will give out gift bags to our guests, with information about our church and its ministries."
The pastor at another Kingsport District church also hopes to implement something he learned from Hamilton into the Advent season and beyond.
"Our congregation, which averages about 30 in attendance, will hand deliver over 1,500 flyers to our community, inviting them to join us during Advent, and more specifically, to our 10 p.m. Christmas Eve service," said the Rev. Clint Jones at Cloud's Bend UMC. "I've also purchased 'Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic: Seven Simple Keys to Growing Churches' and plan to lead our evangelism team through it as we consider the future of our church in January and February."
One of Hamilton's more recent books is "Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity." St. Mark UMC was featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel when it used the accompanying five-week study.
"The material addresses a universal longing for a biblical perspective on money and our cultural pressures," said Larry Mauldin, the retired bank executive who led the study. The KNS article noted that unlike Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, Hamilton's study "focuses more on attitude toward money and less on how to spend and save it."
First Morristown UMC committed to a fall study on "Enough" prior to Hamilton's appearance at Annual Conference, according to the Rev. Scott Layer, associate pastor.
"We felt the church should not be silent on financial issues while people are struggling," he said.
Sermons in both the traditional and contemporary services were based on "Enough," and eight Sunday school classes signed on to participate in studies with the companion DVD.
"Comments ranged from 'I'm going to make a commitment to tithing,' to 'I am re-examining my expenses such as cable,'" Layer said. "Financial commitments are still coming but many new responses and increases were made by children, youth, and adults."
Several Holston members participated in the Church of the Resurrection's Leadership Institute, held Oct. 8-9 in Kansas. In addition to three Holston members selected for the Young Pastors Network, others participants came from First Broad Street, Fountain City, Niota, Central (Lenoir City), Middlebrook Pike, and First Madisonville. Total attendance was almost 1,900, although it is not known how many total attended from Holston, according to Church of the Resurrection staff.
"It was an inspiring time, with workshops covering almost aspect of church life: worship, administration, mission, leadership development, education," said the Rev. Eric Doolittle, who attended the Leadership Institute as pastor at Harrogate-Arthur-Mountain View UMC, Maryville District.
Doolittle said he was most impressed by the attitude shown by the staff at Church of the Resurrection (COR).
"Everyone in the COR structure -- clergy, staff, laity, and volunteers -- strive to include and welcome outsiders and spread the Good News in the best way possible," Doolittle said. "They aren't trying to maintain an institution or grow an institution. They want to share the tools that God has given them in order for the world to be transformed by God through the church."
Sam Jones, a member at Colonial Heights UMC, Kingsport District, also shared his impression of how Hamilton and his staff allowed God to work through them so they could bless others.
Jones cited John 12:32: And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself.
"We need to get the roles right," Jones said. "We need to focus on how to 'lift up' Christ and let the 'draw-er' do what He promised. How else can you explain the result in an area like Leawood, Kan., that was so seemingly unlikely to respond?
"That is the message that keeps rolling around inside me," Jones continued. "We stereotype our own situations and say, 'That cannot happen here.' Why not? We should not let go of the miracle that happened in Leawood, but continue to rally our churches until we see the miracle in our own communities."