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Episode Shownotes

How does a 100-year-old, traditional, declining church reinvent itself? In this special episode from the Fresh Expressions archive, you’ll hear from Dr. Verlon Fosner about the journey and process that led his congregation to transition into a network of Dinner Churches. You will learn about the particular and sometimes tricky and painful steps they took along the way. If you are struggling in a declining Church, or you are overwhelmed by the process of change, this podcast will help you.

Verlon Fosner alongside his wife Melodee Fosner have been in church leadership for 35 years. They are founders of Community Dinners, a network of Dinner Churches in Seattle and Dinner Church Collective, a movement of Dinner Church practitioners across North America. Verlon is the author of books like Welcome to Dinner, Church and A Trowel and a Sword. When not traveling to train dinner church leaders, Verlon and Melodee can be found with their grandkids in Seattle and Nashville.

Interview Summary

Dr. Verlon Fosner transparently shares his church’s journey from 14% annual decline to launching over a dozen dinner churches. Verlon brings over 30 years of ministry experience. His Seattle congregation faced imminent closure after shrinking 14% yearly.

Through deep soul-searching, grieving losses, and bold risks, Verlon led his traditional church to start multiple dinner churches across Seattle. Along the way, he discovered lessons like the need for honesty, transforming perspective, giving grief its due course, and ultimately embracing a radical new calling.

Facing Failure Honestly

Verlon says their first turning point was publicly admitting their dire situation despite fears members would abandon them.

“When we announced we’d close in 2 years at our shrink rate, it created sober evaluation, not an exodus.”

Verlon Fosner

Owning their failure brought intense focus to understand what was wrong. Verlon says this honesty shifted them from maintaining false confidence to having real urgency to change.

Total Transformation Required

Verlon called leaders together for weekly “deep soul surgery.” They had to redefine Christianity and church from the ground up.

“We needed complete sociological reinventing, not just new strategies.”

Several parables reshaped their perspective on God’s priorities. They realized they’d neglected their core calling of rescuing the lost.

“We were in the Christian programming business, not the rescue business.”

Verlon Fosner

This started Verlon’s church on a journey of inner transformation. They had to reconnect with God’s heart for the lost before considering new models.

Grieving While Obeying

Letting go of their cherished church model was deeply painful. Verlon gave his people permission to grieve this loss, even while obeying God’s forward call.

“We could follow God fully yet still need to grieve losing a treasured way of walking with Him.”

Verlon shares that both he and his wife grieved the changes more deeply and longer than the rest of the church. But allowing grief to be expressed opened the way forward.

No More Rearview Mirror

Ultimately Verlon declared they were fully entering a new calling and model. He told his church:

“We now had responsibility for taking thousands to heaven who’d never have come our old way.”

With grieving finished and identity reset, they joyfully embraced becoming a dinner church movement.

Verlon’s story inspires hope for struggling churches. With boldness, honesty, deep spiritual surgery, and allowing grief, God can resurrect any congregation. What might God be calling your church to grieve and release for new impact?

Reflection Questions

  1. Have you openly faced your church’s areas of decline and failure? What prevents complete honesty?
  2. What activities fill your church’s time and energy? How much focuses on rescuing the lost?
  3. What losses would your church need to grieve in order to thrive in new ways?
  4. What is God calling your church to fully embrace for new impact?
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