Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Small churches extend big welcome


Prayer centers the workshop at Seminole.

By Holly McCray

Pastor D.A. Bennett enjoys fishing. He has traveled to Canada pursuing that interest. Jesus called fishermen as disciples, and Rev. Bennett understands their language.

Thus he chose the title "So You’re Thinkin’ ’Bout Fishing" for his presentation at a March workshop sponsored by the Rural and Small-Membership Church Commission. The one-day workshop, "Radical Hospitality and Beyond," was hosted by Seminole-First UMC, where Gary Wilburn is pastor. More than 60 people attended.

"I shared four lessons I have learned from fishing that help with hospitality and evangelism," said Bennett, pastor of OKC-St. Andrew’s, in a recent interview.

  • All fishermen have the same goal—to catch fish—but they use different bait.

Every church’s goal is to make disciples for the transformation of the world, Bennett said, but hospitality is extended in various ways. "One church does not have to offer hospitality the way another does," he explained.

For example, children’s ministry is a strong emphasis at St. Andrew’s. For the youngest visitors (the nursery guests), the church has diapers stamped with "We’ve got you covered at St. Andrew’s." New members with babies get a dozen of those diapers, too.

  • A fish in the boat is still a fish. Do not assume visitors are familiar with your church culture. They may sit in any pew. They may not have songs memorized.

"Be sensitive to that," Bennett said, especially with people who have no church experience. "Anytime someone visits, they are welcome to be there just as they are."

  • Learn how to net the fish. Every fisherman has a story about the one that got away.

"Even though hospitality opens the door to share our faith, it’s not just about a novel approach," he said. "Offer authentic hospitality so, when they come, we help them grow as disciples. If people feel they have to fit into our mold, they are turned off by that. People are on a spiritual journey. Help them begin to follow Christ."

  • Someone has to clean the fish. God accepts people as they are but then loves them to transformed lives.

"All of us have a role" in that process, Bennett said. "God has given each one of us gifts to offer hospitality. As we work together, we trust the Holy Spirit brings transformation for another person."

Bennett also teaches in the annual Local Pastors Licensing School each summer.

Among other presenters at the March workshop were Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.; Sheri Lashley, pastor at Erick and Carter; and Dwayne Connor, pastor at Adair.

Rev. Connor spoke on "Now That They’re Here." Newcomers do not automatically fit into church life, he noted. His research identified entry points and described times that families are more receptive. For example, a family may align with a church when the first child starts school.

The "Radical Hospitality and Beyond" event was fruitful, according to the evaluations. "Am a new Methodist," wrote one participant. "It was a very good workshop." That person even recommended extending the day’s schedule for future such events.


Coming in November
National consultant David Ray will present "A Fresh, Hopeful Look at Small Churches" in six Oklahoma cities in November.


Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World

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