by Cindy Thompson
In his book “Apprenticeship with Jesus”, Gary W. Moon describes a thriving church as a “Community of Compassion and Creativity”. Spending my entire life in the United Methodist Church, I have heard lots about compassion – serving and caring for others, mission trips, healing and reconciliation ministries and many others. But after graduating from the arts and crafts of summer Bible School at age 11, I do not remember hearing the word “Creativity” very much. Though created in the image of The Creator – as adults we start believing that Creativity is only reserved for those artists, writers, musicians and performers in our midst.
During a recent speech in Charlotte, Brene Brown stated, “We are all on a journey to reclaim our lovability, our divinity and our creativity.“ For a diverse team of clergy and lay leaders from the Northern Piedmont District, we are walking this journey together through a pilot program called “InnovateUMC”. Beginning in Fall 2015, our InnovateUMC team formed to practice prayer-based innovation around adaptive challenges facing our United Methodist churches and the communities we serve.
Our churches are fragile – many are faced with changing community demographics that challenge congregations to reach beyond their walls to people who are not like them. The culture has changed, but our churches seldom know how to adapt to such changes. What used to work to help churches grow doesn’t work anymore. We need Biblically based, prayerfully discerned innovation for our churches to reimagine how to best offer Christ in a changing society that needs Him more than ever.
With a mission to develop adaptive leaders, innovative teams, and transformative environments for reclaiming the church for new generations, our 14 team members meet at least monthly to learn about innovation and prayerfully dream about creative new models for being the body of Christ. Our purpose is to create environments where intentional listening to God is cultivated, encouraged and harvested so that transformation can occur – where new ideas can be born, nurtured and developed, ultimately increasing the number of thriving and vital faith communities in our district.
We are learning how to engage in a creative process that launches pilot experiments that allow us to take risks, learn from our failures and move forward in continuous improvement – we call this “failing forward”. Our team is recognizing the spark to creativity and innovation that occurs just by bringing a diverse group of people together with varying perspectives to discuss issues and solutions. Most importantly, we are discovering that intentionally leaving space and room for God to work in our midst and between our meetings is the best way to unleash the creative Spirit dwelling among us.
During the first six months of our planning and design phase, our team narrowed our potential experiments to three unique pilot projects:
- Combine historically African-American Peace UMC and Caucasian Summerfield UMC, thought to be the first merger of its kind in the WNCC, led by Pastor David Lee. Our team is working with members of both churches in facilitating strategic planning retreats and the Transition Team work, as well as connecting to resources outside of our district and conference.
- Plant a new Multicultural Church in downtown Greensboro, with a focus on reaching a diverse group of believers outside of the UMC, including students, immigrants and young adults living around downtown.
- Form diverse small groups for Bible Study using our Missional Networks, including clergy and lay members, to build relationships and community across our congregations. Small groups will come together for service and mission projects on a regular basis, building bridges into our surrounding communities.
We are grateful for the generosity of the Reynolds Ministry Fund for investing in our pilot InnovateUMC project in the Northern Piedmont District. As we move into implementation, we will assess the effectiveness of our model and evaluate our results. We plan to take our experiential learning process to other districts over the next year to spark new InnovateUMC teams around the conference under a “train-the-trainer” model. Inspired by Matt. 5:14 “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world” (Msg), our vision is to create “spirit-filled collisions” of diverse people, processes and ideas to transform lives, congregations, communities and the world.
If you are interested in learning more or starting an InnovateUMC team in your district, please contact our team’s facilitator, Cindy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336.209.1570.