What to do with Paquito? Part 1 of 2

By Scott Armstrong

As a youth pastor several years ago, I was talking with a buddy of mine and youth pastor at another church.  “How did your youth camp go?” I asked him.

“Great!” he exclaimed, with a wide-eyed grin.  Then his look changed to befuddlement as he said, “But I cannot seem to figure out these junior-highers!”

“Huh? What happened?” I wondered aloud, somewhat confused myself.

My fellow youth pastor grinned a bit and shook his head.  “Well, I have been praying for one of these guys for over a year. He’s 13 years old and usually bounces off the walls during our youth service.  Finally at camp I thought the Lord was working on him during one of the services, and then I knew it when he went down to the altar!  I gave him a few minutes alone and then went down and prayed with him.  ‘What’s the Lord talking to you about?’ I asked him.

“‘Nothing,’ he said dryly, pointing at another junior-higher.  ‘I just came down here because my friend did.’”

Ah, adolescents.  Sometimes we see the fruit of the Spirit in amazing ways through their lives.  But most of the time we wonder if anything of permanence is really taking place.  In all this talk of video games and movies, does he even care about church? Is she more preoccupied with being popular or being passionate for God? Are they even getting what I am saying?

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Of course, all of us know there usually is light at the end of the proverbial – and pubertal – tunnel.  And that hope is what keeps us going, even in the face of pseudo-altar call responses and A.D.D.  Personally, my love for adolescents has grown enormously, and due to a somewhat surprising source: cross-cultural ministry.

I have now been a missionary in Latin America for several years.   And youth ministry, especially with adolescents, is quite different in Guatemala City as opposed to Kansas City.  I have especially learned three important things from the local churches here regarding this age group.

1. With adolescents, we must have a Commitment to Community.

What does your community look like? A bunch of teens hanging out on youth night?  Do those same teens ever talk with each other about anything of spiritual substance during the week?

A lot of times what we mean when we use words like “community” and “relationships” has to do more with staying up late at an all-nighter with a bunch of our friends than with accountability and prayer support.  And who expects junior-highers to hold each other accountable or pray for each other anyway?!  Absurd!

Now, all-nighters are a part of community and FUN is definitely a big part of community.  But the Latin American church has taught me that even middle-schoolers can truly worship.  In fact, in many cases they are willing –often hungry – for meaningful relationships that move past likes or dislikes.  I have to be honest: a lot of times in my youth ministry I have sought to entertain junior-highers instead of feed them.  Both are important probably, but the first without the second is akin to pastorally letting them drink milk (or even Coke!) when many are more than ready for some meat (Hebrews 5:12-13).

*This article will continue in the next post. 

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Youth in Mission and Genesis Collaborate to Impact Queretaro

Youth in Mission and Genesis Collaborate to Impact Queretaro

Lohuther René Gutiérrez Méndez

Two days ago, I wrote about the incredible things God did this summer through Youth in Mission in Mexico. One thing I omitted (on purpose, in order to share it here) is the following.

After several days of training and house-to-house evangelism, we came alongside the missionaries who are serving with the Genesis initiative in Queretaro.  That state is known for its lack of openness to the gospel, and it forms part of an area that has been named the Circle of Silence.Querétaro 2

The four missionaries there are doing a great job of reaching many people through classes or lessons on literacy, computer programming, football, and even psychological consultations.  It was a privilege for us to listen to them and see the deep desire they possess to be part of God’s mission.

The Lord allowed us to work with many children and adults, giving educational talks to the parents, which was a great blessing.  In the afternoons we presented dramas and free-style rap concerts that proved attractive to the kids and teens.  Our purpose was to make relationships and share the gospel with them, and we were able to do so by emphasizing positive lyrics and topics in our music.

What a wonderful time we had in Queretaro: 25 days in all.  We experienced so many beautiful things and witnessed the presence of God at work in the lives of the people in the community as they were being transformed.

The Lord gave us the opportunity to celebrate the first-ever congregational service in that Genesis site, which also included a marvelous time of prayer for healing.  The people present opened their hearts and, with tears in their eyes, were able to give their burdens to the Lord and receive the peace that only he can give.

Querétaro 1We were able to assist an elderly woman in moving from one house to another, and that opened doors for us to lead her to Christ.  After she was baptized a few days later, we all gave glory to God because his Holy Spirit always goes before us, convincing of sin within and guiding us into the light of his salvation.

During our final days on site, we held an activity in a large park.  We presented a sketch and shared the Word of God with all who were present.  Afterwards we formed groups of two or three and prayed prayers of blessing for all who had gathered.  The missionaries told us that this was the first service they had seen where all of their contacts came together; without a doubt, it impacted all of us.

When Sunday arrived, we were anticipating what would take place.  This morning was important: all the months of the missionaries’ hard work was about to bear fruit. Ten Christians were baptized that day and we rejoiced with them, knowing that there had been parties all over heaven because of their decisions!

We knew that God was backing us up at every step.  Our time in Queretaro was full of culture shock and moments when, as a group, we opened up and shared our concerns and conflicts.  God helped us to become united as a team, and our ministry began to benefit from it.  Out of the entire summer of Youth in Mission, our time in Queretaro was what impacted us the most.

*In our next entries we will share some testimonies that came directly from the young men who served as Youth in Mission missionaries this summer.

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Youth in Mission – Mexico 2019

JEM Grupo

Youth in Mission – Mexico 2019

Lohuther René Gutiérrez Méndez

At last the day we had prayed for arrived, and with much excitement we waited in the Mexico City airport for the Youth in Mission (YIM) volunteer missionaries. Mario Josué López Alvarado and Pablo Isaí Parra Jiménez, both from different parts of Mexico, arrived first, followed by Christopher Barreto Maldonado and Gian Carlos Rodríguez Quiñones all the way from Puerto Rico.

We began our summer as a group with focused devotional times, and we participated as leaders and workshop presenters during the Cross-Cultural Orientation in Texcoco.  Our role was mostly to guide those interested in missions in the dynamics and teach concepts of culture and missions.  Above all, the four missionaries shared their testimonies with participants and encouraged them to listen to God’s call on their lives.

COMWe dedicated a big part of our summer to assisting the four missionaries that are planting churches in Queretaro through the Genesis initiative.  It was a powerful time.  In our next entry I will share more about that specific experience.

After being in Queretaro, we traveled to Mezcala, Jalisco, where we shared the Word of God and our testimonies with a Catholic group. Although we didn’t know how they would receive us, it was interesting to see that they were happy to have us there. They loaned us their Catholic Bibles so that we could read the passage they had read, and they asked us to share what we thought.  Upon finishing, we closed by leading circles of prayer. Before we left, we announced that we would be visiting houses in the area to pray for families and read the Bible.  Immediately three families present signed up and enthusiastically received us later that week as we blessed their homes and shared the Word with them.  God was opening doors.Viajando JEM

We had the privilege to teach evangelism strategies and techniques with the local Nazarene church in Mezcala, and we shared with them how the Holy Spirit could use their testimonies to help a friend or co-worker to draw closer to Christ.

We walked nearly all of the streets of Mezcala in order to hand out invitations for the Vacation Bible School: the theme this year was “Summer Harvest Camp.”  We also took time to pray in the streets and parks, and we spoke with many people about the importance of children being brought up with Biblical values and principles as their foundation.

That Sunday we were invited to give our testimony of what God had done that week in order to motivate the Nazarene congregation to participate in missions.

We left Mezcala and traveled to JUNAMEX, which is Mexico’s national youth congress.  We served there as part of the staff and led several activities.  Our primary goal that week was to get to know the highest number of youth possible and share with them about God’s calling on our lives and what He had allowed us to experience.  Every meal we shared with someone different, and during the break times as well.  We were also personally refreshed by the times of corporate worship with 1,000 teens, and we responded to God’s call at the altar along with many of them.Orando JEM

Saying goodbye was very difficult; we had shared everything together for six weeks, and we had become a family! But the moment had arrived, and we thanked God for his protection, his strength, and his love for us.  We praised him in gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of such a special group of youth who proved courageous and passionate for Christ in every moment.

All glory and honor be to Him forever.  Amen.

Lohuther René Gutiérrez Méndez

Youth in Mission Coordinator, Mexico 2019

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Nine Observations on the Mesoamerica Region’s 2018 Statistics

Scott Armstrong

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A few days ago, I shared ten observations I had after analyzing the 2018 statistics for the Church of the Nazarene. Admittedly, I focused on the world, and now would like to be more Caribbean and Central America-centric. What is the state of our Mesoamerica Region? Here are several things I have noted:

  1. Although we’ve seen encouraging growth in the last decade (38.27%), last year was paltry (0.76%). You read that correctly: in 2018 our Mesoamerican churches reported less than 1% growth.  Stated another way, for every 100 people who call themselves Nazarene in this region, we have discipled fewer than 1 person into membership. That’s a bit puzzling because (see #2 below)…
  2. We reported 31,640 conversions and 14,273 baptisms last year. In fact, 19,222 new members became a part of our churches in Mesoamerica last year by profession of faith or by transfer from other denominations. Praise the Lord! Those numbers would have signified a much more impressive growth than the 0.76% that we mentioned earlier, if it weren’t for all of the membership losses we suffered, whether by death, removal, or transfer.  Those are the combined reasons the overall growth rate was not higher.
  3. Although we have well over 420,000 members in Mesoamerica, slightly more than half that total weekly attend the largest worship service offered (53.7%) as well as discipleship groups (53.2%). Does that mean, in other words, that half our members are attending weekly worship and/or discipleship groups? Not exactly. We know, for example, that non-members are a part of worship every week, as well as Sunday School and discipleship groups.
  4. Total Global Missional Disbursements grew this past year by 46%. It is hard to express how exciting this is for our region! Missional stewardship and faithfulness have been emphasized greatly by NMI and all ministries in the last 4-5 years.  This rapid increase can only encourage us as we continue to expand our commitment to fund the mission around the world.
  5. Giving to the World Evangelism Fund (WEF) is at 1.54% of all non-missions giving. Remember, the denominational goal for every church and district is 5.5%. A total of five districts out of 80 in our entire region gave 5.5% or more: shout out to Guyana Demerara-Essequibo in the Caribbean, Upper Artibonite, South Central of Jacmel, and Lower Northwest in Haiti, and Gulf District of Mexico.  For the rest of us, what happened? The Church of the Nazarene in most of our countries was started by missionaries that were supported by WEF.  Now it is our turn to repay the favor.
  6. While the district-wide World Evangelism Fund totals are discouraging, 782 of 3,166 congregations (25%) paid their allocations in full last year. When the Church of the Nazarene speaks of allocations, we are referring to support of our district offices and ministries, educational institutions, as well as WEF.  Even though we still have a lot of work to do, this is a much more encouraging stat if only because it shows that, on a local level, many of our congregations are learning to be outward-focused and faithful to the denomination.
  7. NYI Membership in Mesoamerica declined -2.7%. It is one thing to experience hardly any growth from year to year, but in 2018 we have actually seen no growth, that is to say, fewer  In Mexico alone, we saw a -8.9% drop.  This should be a wake-up call to all of us as Nazarene leaders in the Caribbean and Central America.  If we do not prioritize children and youth, our church will become a relic before we know it.
  8. More than one out of every three Mesoamerican Nazarenes lives in Haiti. The exact statistic is 36.6%.  It is not the most populous country, and its land mass is quite small compared to many others’.  Innumerable political, social, and economic challenges exist. Nevertheless, Haiti has become a fertile soil for the gospel to take root – and the holiness message, in particular.
  9. As we noted in the global summaryDiscipleship attendance has grown more than overall membership numbers: 4.7% in our region, to be exact. The field that experienced the biggest increase in Sunday School and Discipleship attendance? The Caribbean with 8.2% last year.

I hope that these last two articles have been useful to you.  I’d love to hear from some Mesoamerican Nazarenes, specifically.  What do you notice when you look at the most recent stats? What is your reaction to my nine observations?

Ten Observations on the Church of the Nazarene’s 2018 Global Statistics

Scott Armstrong

General Secretary David P. Wilson and Nazarene Research Services recently released the annual Church of the Nazarene statistical reports for 2018. These detailed reports documenting the missional activities of the denomination on a global scale show growth for the Church of the Nazarene over the statistical year, as well as continued growth over the past decade.

There is much to be thankful for!  God is on the move around the world and in our denomination!

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In an upcoming article, I will offer some observations on Mesoamerica’s statistics specifically. However, for now, and as I have done in the past, I have read through the document and offer some of my initial observations:

  1. The denomination’s membership has steadily grown during the past 10 years, although last year’s growth was tepid. Total membership has risen from around 1.84 million in 2008 to nearly 2.58 million in 2018. Additionally, in no year did we see a decline in membership worldwide in the last decade. More than 40% growth in only 10 years is quite encouraging! Nevertheless, last year’s growth was a mere 1.13% (see #4 below for one reason why).
  2. For the first time in a decade, we have reported a decline (-0.53%) in the number of churches. In 2017, 30,875 churches were reported, and in 2018, 30,712 were reported.  It should be noted that the decrease could be viewed as positive in one sense: while the number of missions went down (taking the overall numbers with them), many of those “not yet organized churches” most assuredly became organized, which is reflected in that number increasing by 0.58%.  Still, last year we organized the fewest number of churches of any year in the last decade.  One thing is certain: we must continue to emphasize church planting!
  3. Of the six world regions, Africa and Eurasia are pacing the way. Africa grew 7.3% last year, and 29.3% of the world’s Nazarenes are now African.  In a few years it is likely that one of three Nazarenes globally will be found on that continent. As far as Eurasia is concerned, membership has more than doubled in the last decade (112% growth).
  4. Membership in South America and the USA/Canada regions has declined. The -11.52% decrease in South American membership at first appears alarming.  However, Nazarene Research informs us that one district had over-reported fellowship members in 2017, and the -52,550 fewer members reported there in 2018 can be attributed to a correction of the previous year.  Thus, it should be characterized as an “artificial loss” (just as the purported growth in that district in 2017 should be labeled an “artificial gain”).  The decline in membership in the USA/Canada region is another story. While the overall Church has grown 40% in the last ten years, Nazarene membership in those two countries has gone down -4.57% in the same decade.
  5. A greater number of new Nazarenes are being received by transfer from other denominations (11.46%), while fewer new Nazarenes are being received by profession of faith compared to a decade ago (-9.47%). It is exciting to see that fellow Christians are changing their membership perhaps because of doctrinal alignment or experiencing the love of Nazarene churches. At the same time, the majority of Great-Commission Christians would agree that our primary growth must come from reaching those who do not know Christ with the good news.
  6. The denominational emphasis on discipleship during the last 10 years seems to be producing numerical fruit. Sunday School and Discipleship attendance has grown 62% in the last decade, a number much greater than the overall membership statistic.  To put it another way, last year discipleship attendance represented 51% of overall membership totals, while in 2008, that percentage was only 44%. It appears more of our Nazarenes are a part of some sort of discipleship group weekly, and/or our pastors and leaders are learning how to more accurately report the varied forms of discipleship that are occurring.
  7. God is calling and the Church is ordaining more and more leaders. 21% more elders and 48% more deacons have been ordained since 2008.  The number of licensed ministers keeps increasing, too.  A rapidly growing Church will require more and more leaders to preach, serve, and administer the Sacraments.  We praise the Lord for the growing numbers of pastors and lay people answering God’s call to shepherd His people!
  8. Membership in Nazarene Youth International has increased only 3% in 10 years. Let’s state that again: while overall membership has grown 40% since 2008, NYI has increased by 3%.  The one-year total is 0.53%.  I am almost at a loss for words.  Last year I addressed this issue, and I worry that any pleas to adapt are falling on deaf ears.  Every church wants youth to be present, but how many are willing to change in order to reach them and how many would then be willing to even hand over leadership to them? If we do not intentionally decide to wholeheartedly invest our time, resources, and love into children and youth, we will have forfeited our chance to be change-agents of society within the next 50 years.
  9. Giving to Global Mission (World Evangelism Fund + Approved Specials + Other Global Interests) went up considerably. 6% growth is exciting!  It reflects depth of stewardship and commitment around the world. That said (see #10)…
  10. We have a long way to go with regards to World Evangelism Fund (WEF) giving. On the first page of the report, the evidence cannot be denied: exactly one-third of global Churches of the Nazarene gave the minimum expectation of 5.5% or more of their non-missions giving to WEF.  Admittedly, on a positive note, that number is much higher than the previous year’s: only 26.8% of global congregations gave the full amount in 2017.  Still, nearly 29% of our churches did not give anythingto WEF last year! And 96% of all WEF came from one region: USA/Canada.  Around the world we have to do better! We have been blessed by WEF for so long; now it is our turn to bless others.  As a pastor friend in Dominican Republic who is in the process of transferring his credentials to our denomination once told me, “How can a church call themselves Nazarene if they don’t give to the World Evangelism Fund?!” Great question, José Luis!

Whew! That was a lot, I know.  And even then, I have undoubtedly missed dozens of other significant take-aways. What would you highlight, after looking at the document? Which of my ten observations encourages or alarms you the most?

The Harvest is Still Plenty

By Daniela Santiago

A few weeks ago I had the chance to be part of Third Wave 2019 in India. I am grateful that the Lord allowed me to be a part of this experience.

It’s natural for people to limit their vision of life to what is around them.  We know there is a bigger world out there, but it’s difficult to understand it. Beyond our borders there are different ways of living and different ways of understanding what it means to be a follower of Christ. Many times it means losing your life, and sometimes it means losing your freedom.  Still, none of these risks compare to the love we have and the commitment we have to extend the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth.

It was incredible to be able to get to know and experience what the Church of the Nazarene does around the world.  What a blessing to know the gospel of Jesus extends to the furthest reaches of the earth, and that our Nazarene family is willing to go.

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One of the moments during Third Wave that most affected me was hearing the testimonies of people who live and serve in Creative Access Areas.  They are places where sharing the Good News of Jesus requires great commitment, patience, wisdom and perseverance.  They shared in India that they felt free to yell and praise God in that moment, but that in their countries, they must do it in silence, hidden away. The realization that the harvest is still plentiful, and that God still needs people to respond by saying, “Send me,” brought tears to my eyes and a burning desire to my heart.

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I am used to getting quick results, so it was challenging for me to hear how they work in those countries.  At the same time my heart kept filling with joy to know that the fire the Holy Spirit has placed in the hearts of our brothers and sisters to serve in those places is the same fire that burns inside of me.  I learned that God is a God of order and processes. My response to his call is valid, and despite my feelings of limitation to serve at this moment, I’m exactly where He wants me to be. The gifts of God are irrevocable, as is his call.

Having a chance to spend time and exchange ideas with people from more than 60 different countries truly changed my perspective of the world.  We exchanged ideas and talked about strategies, points of view and creative evangelism resources. I learned about culture and how much influence it has when the time comes to create and plan strategies to share the gospel.

I learned so many things on this trip. I learned patience is a reward from the Lord and that everything begins with prayer. But I also realized the profound importance of going to those who we do not know in order to share the love we have for Jesus and his gospel.

*Daniela Santiago is a youth leader in the Northwest Oaxaca District of Mexico.

“Restricted…but not Silent”

By Diana Gonzalez

A few days ago I had the blessing to be a part of Third Wave 2019 in Hyderabad, India.  I will never be the same after this experience.  I found new perspectives –  new ways of seeing life.  I was also challenged to hear the needs that exist, and what the Church of the Nazarene is doing to meet them in the name of Jesus.

People from more than 60 nations met to worship God. We shared our experiences, strategies, and ways of doing youth ministry in different contexts, just to share a few examples.  It was indescribable to be among so many nations, languages, cultures and flavors, but all with the same passion for the Lord.  I experienced a small taste of what it will be like after Jesus’ return.  On top of that, in some way, the world became smaller for me, because now I have friends all the way on the other side!

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50437954_447724335764950_2678421380508155904_n.jpgThe most significant thing for me in all of it was hearing the testimonies of the missionaries that work in Creative Access Areas.  In those areas, patience is part of their strategy, and what we understand in our contexts as “good results” must be reconsidered and valued in a different way.  In countries where they do not have the freedom to meet together for a service or the people are simply not interested in hearing about Jesus, the Word of God is “restricted, but not silenced,” as the Eurasia Regional Director shared.

I have learned about relational evangelism in a Youth Ministry class, and how Jesus established his kingdom through friendship and paying attention to important details. In Creative Access Areas, relational evangelism is crucial.  It is through years of friendship that someone is able to share the Good News.

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It is difficult to express how grateful I am for this experience.  It was a time in which God reminded us that this is our moment, this is our place, but it is also our decision to act!

*Diana Gonzalez is a youth leader and the Global Mission Coordinator in El Salvador.