NEXT Church Denominational Listening Campaign Report

In fall 2015 – winter 2016, NEXT Church embarked on a denominational listening campaign. A listening campaign is a tool we’ve learned from community organizing (specifically the Industrial Areas Foundation). We invited and trained people who have been leaders within NEXT Church to host a listening session with church leaders around questions of “transformational mission.” The sharing of stories and experiences gives space to hear together where God’s Spirit is moving.

We convened 47 groups that involved 447 people. These are our findings.

NEXT-Logo-FINAL-Horizontal_lato-1030x229

Denominational Listening Campaign around Transformational Mission

What is a Listening Campaign?

In fall 2015 – winter 2016, NEXT Church embarked on a denominational listening campaign. A listening campaign is a tool we’ve learned from community organizing (specifically the Industrial Areas Foundation). We invited and trained people who have been leaders within NEXT Church to host a listening session with church leaders around questions of “transformational mission.” The sharing of stories and experiences gives space to hear together where God’s Spirit is moving.

We convened 47 groups that involved 447 people.

Purpose of the Listening Campaign

  1. To learn about how people are experiencing mission in local church settings.
  2. To offer the church a relational tool that can be used for discernment.
  3. To hear themes that can inform future directions for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and our national church structures.
  4. To connect local church leaders more deeply across differences in theology or vision for polity.

Through this campaign, we focused on people’s lived experiences. We believe taking time to build and deepen relationships is a critical practice in the church today. The relational fabric (our connectedness) is what will help us wade through the waters of cultural and denominational change.  

What We Heard

  • People shared exciting stories about transformational mission they/their congregations are engaged in. That is to be celebrated!
    • There seems to be an organic connection between missional engagement and congregational vitality.
    • Most of the mission described is happening at the congregational level, often with ecumenical or secular partnerships.
    • Mission is a place where people are eager to engage in church life.
    • Thought about mission is fluid and changing. Participants noted a shift toward “being missional,” a desire to seek full dignity of all parties in mission relationships, and that the most transformational mission experiences blur the us/them mentality.
  • People enjoy connecting with one another to share experiences or the practice of ministry. Sharing stories was a source of inspiration as people were encouraged by what their sister congregations are doing, made new points of connection around shared concerns, and got new ideas for mission connections in their own settings.
  • There is open wondering about the purpose of denominational structures (presbytery, synod, General Assembly) in the church today.
    • With a few notable exceptions, there was little despair or frustration voiced about denominational structures, but denominational structures or programs were not viewed as “go-to” resources.
    • There is hunger for denominational discernment. Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting?  
    • There is a desire to “flip the script.” We heard multiple sentiments like, “We need the denomination to stop inviting us in and start supporting us as we go out.”
    • People are very appreciative when denominational structures play one of the following roles
      • supporting — usually financially
      • training — educational resources or opportunities to increase capacity (community organizing, New Beginnings, and anti-racism training came up), or
      • connecting — linking people with similar interests/passions/mission engagement to share ideas or join together.
  • There is desire for a different denominational communication strategy around mission.
    • There is a sense that opportunities for connection in mission exist in the broader church but it is not clear how to find out about them or connect with them.
    • Others feel overwhelmed by the volume of mail/email from denominational sources and ignore it all.

Questions Going Forward

  • What does denominational participation mean today?
  • Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting? (Questions such as, what is mission? What is the role of the presbytery?)  
  • Is mission the threshold/entry space that worship was in previous era? If so, what resources exist (or need to be created) to help integrate education and spiritual development through mission, if that’s where people are engaging first?

For more information, contact NEXT Church Director, Jessica Tate, jessica@nextchurch.net.

Adaptive Change for Congregations Caught in the Cultural Tsunami

At the 2016 National Gathering, Jim Kitchens and Susan Rothenburg led a workshop called “The Unglued Church: Adaptive Change for Congregations Caught in the Cultural Tsunami.” Below you will find the description for their workshop and the Slideshare presentation of what they shared.

Is your church “stuck?” A building too big and a membership too small? A nagging feeling that your church must somehow “change” but uncertain about God’s will for that change? Unfortunately, “being church” today looks different from the past. Many churches feel “stuck” but do not know how to change in faithful ways. Learn what Pittsburgh Presbytery discerned by developing practices to become unglued in ways that bring about deep and sustainable change in our communities.

Good Design for the Church

At the 2016 National Gathering, Jess Fisher led a workshop called “The Medium Is the Message: Good Design for the Church.” Below, you will find the description of her workshop and a PDF of the presentation she used.

Do your ministry’s communication materials match your message? As one theorist said, “the medium is the message.” This is no less true for the church: from the incarnation to the weekly bulletin. We work to bring a clear and accessible message of good news, however, the visual design of our bulletins, screens, and web sites often aren’t effective or even legible. Come explore design theory and get tips and tricks to implement in your setting.

Holy Ground: Thinking About the Spaces We Worship In

At the 2016 National Gathering, Jess Fisher led a workshop called “Holy Ground: Thinking About the Spaces We Worship In.” Below you will find the description of her workshop and a PDF of the slides she used.

The places where we worship affect our bodies, minds, and hearts, yet we often neglect to think through the space’s impact on us and miss looking for new ways to engage it. Come hear about how two churches engaged their sanctuary space during lent, incorporating the visual arts and movement into their worship. Then, create a map of your worship space to start thinking about how you can engage it to deepen worship.

Reaching Them All – Different Learning Styles

At the 2016 National Gathering, Sarah Butler presented a workshop called “Reaching them ALL.” Below you will find the description of her workshop as well as a PDF of her Powerpoint presentation.

Only 30% of the population learns by hearing, yet most sermons and liturgies are geared to reach that minority. This experimental, experiential workshop will explore different learning styles, discuss how to reach the other 70% and help to plan innovative, creative worship experiences. Attendees will take a learning style assessment prior to the workshop.

Practicing Vulnerability

At the 2016 National Gathering, Roy Howard and Shelby Etheridge Harasty led a workshop called “Practicing Vulnerability – God and Us.” The description of that workshop and its accompanying slides (in PDF format) follow:

What does the vulnerability of God teach us about faithful practice at the crossroads? We will combine theological and Biblical reflection with the insights of Brené Brown to develop models of Christian practice that display vulnerability and courage. The practical ways that vulnerability can influence pastoral leadership and congregational ministry will be explored. Finding courage to be vulnerable – as God is – can deepen the ways we lead our congregations and live our lives.

Racial Justice: For White People Who Want to Do Something

Michael Brown.

Eric Garner.

Tamir Rice.

Freddie Gray.

Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. Depayne Middleton-Doctor. Clementa Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson.

Sandra Bland.

Samuel DuBose.

Friends, it’s been a heavy year and we’ve had much to grieve. Our sanctuaries and worshipping communities have held space for lamenting our loss, uncomfortable learnings about white supremacy, but unfortunately, devoted very little action to racial reconciliation. Many of us are trapped by white guilt and white fragility–paralyzed from acting by the fear of doing it wrong and revealing that though we desperately want to build God’s beloved community, our subconscious thoughts and actions are shaped by racial biases.

So instead, we work to educate ourselves about white privilege. We teach a Sunday School class on The New Jim Crow. However, at the end of the course–when the media frenzy surrounding the latest instance of police brutality against a person of color dies down–passions fizzle out and we put our work for racial reconciliation on hold until the next grave injustice garners our attention again.

Here is a proposal–hardly unique–that we hope will build accountability and momentum for moving past the white fragility where many of us get stuck. It’s simple: reverse the order. Instead of beginning with education and research with the hope of discerning how best to act, begin with the action to generate the energy needed to continue moving.

Act. Hold a prayer vigil. Collaborate with local racial justice groups in a parade or demonstration. Partner with a neighboring black church for a mission project and relationship building. Audit your church’s children’s library and add books until 50% of characters are represented as non-white. (Then move on to the adult library and add books until 50% of the authoring theologians are non-white.)

Reflect. Evaluate your action. Discern directions for what comes next. Grapple with addressing your own racial biases. Find the gaps in your education and follow your curiosity to begin learning more.

Educate. (We like to think we’re great at this!) Begin filling in those gaps. Research and lay the groundwork for your next action.


To help you get started, here are some resources for each phase:

ACTION: Do something concrete.

  • If you’ve ever thought, “If I weren’t so busy, I’d have time to do something about race,” Showing up for Racial Justice has action tool kits that conveniently lay out actions that you can take based on time commitment. If you have 2 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or more, SURJ has suggestion for how you can make the best use of your time do something.
  • For a more holistic approach, Laura Cheifetz’s blog post outlines eight concrete ways to address racism, from shifting your news source to supporting black businesses to hiring a consulting firm to partner with your congregation for training.

REFLECTION: Take some time to process and evaluate.

  • This NEXT Church resource runs through the basics of an IAF-style evaluation. In this instance, your “big picture” goals may have been “show solidarity and support” or “further develop relationships and foster understanding.”
  • Our blog topic in June 2015 was Contemplation and Social Justice–here is a list of all posts. Contributors from the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. shared reflections on their experiences of race and the transformative power of contemplative practices. These authors model how to integrate faith and action with making sense of racial oppression. (Intimidated by the list? Try starting with For what shall I pray?)

EDUCATION: After doing something and reflecting on that experience, where does your curiosity lead you?

  • For the novice: Have a burning question about race? Ask a white person. This site is run by a group of experienced racial justice anti-oppression educators for peer-led discussion. While tempting, it isn’t fair to turn to our POC friends and colleagues and ask them to shoulder the burden of educating white folks by sharing their experiences of oppression. Is there a time and a place for meaningful sharing and discussion around racial justice? Absolutely. But do your research first. This is a great place to start.
  • For the group learner in need of structure: There is a free online class taking place in August. It’s an introductory course covering systematic racism, white privilege, racial bias, and being a good ally. Learn more and sign up here.
  • For the independent learner: In the wake of the massacre in Charleston, an academic twitter conversation (#CharlestonSyllabus) emerged for folks trying to make sense of the tragedy by studying its historical context. This is a list for voracious readers and historians that covers a wide range of topics from the specific context of race in Charleston — colonial times through reconstruction and the civil rights movement–to systematic white supremacy, and even how to talk about race with children. (And for those of you who would rather watch documentaries than read thick tomes, there is an similar film syllabus as well!)

What other resources for ACTION, REFLECTION, and EDUCATION would you add to our list? Let us know.

A New Take on Examen

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By MaryAnn McKibben Dana

What’s saving my ministry these days is a five minute journaling practice I’ve been doing each morning (and most evenings) for the past few months. I’ve tried various journaling methods off and on for years. Something about holding the pen in my hand allows me to focus my prayers in a way my monkey mind can’t do by simply sitting quietly. And now that I work from home “for myself,” I have lots of possible things vying for my attention and time. I was looking for something short and focused that could bring clarity and discernment to my day.

8Y0EDX4VP9Many of us are familiar with Julia Cameron’s morning pages, which she calls her “spiritual windshield wipers.” This practice serves the same purpose, but instead of writing stream of consciousness, I write short pithy statements. Whereas morning pages are like an epic poem, this is journaling as haiku. I adapted it from Tim Ferriss, an author and entrepreneur. He’s a little too “guru” for me, but I think he’s hit upon a good structure to get the day started with intention.

Here are the questions for the morning:

Three things for which I’m grateful:
1.
2.
3.

Three things that would make this a fruitful day: These don’t have to be things I want to accomplish, but they usually are. Most of us have way more than three things on our daily to-do list, so it helps to be clear on the most essential items.
1.
2.
3.

An affirmation: 
I am…
I have three kids, so “patience” shows up a lot here.

I’m curious about:
This is something I’ve added recently, thanks to Brené Brown’s work. This is often where I think about my reactions to things and wonder “What was THAT about?!” 

As for the evening practice, it is similar:

Three things to celebrate about the day:
1.
2.
3.

One thing I could have done better:

Those of you who know the Ignatian examen will recognize threads of this practice in these questions. The questions are framed in terms of gratitude, and there is ample space to acknowledge the times I’ve fallen short—to see them written in my own hand, and to let those moments go—to let God absorb and hopefully transform them.


mamd profile picMaryAnn McKibben Dana is a teaching elder in the PC(USA) whose ministry consists of writing, speaking, and freelance writing/consulting with non-profit organizations on their social media needs. She is a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. Connect with her at her website, The Blue Room.

Multicultural Ministry

These resources were recommended by participants in this month’s church leaders’ roundtable: Books: The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb (Eric Law) Holy Currencies (Eric Law) But I Don’t See You as Asian (Bruce Reyes Chow) Preaching to Every Pew (Nieman and Rodgers) White Awareness (Katz) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Tatum)


Helpful Websites:


  NEXT posts:

Accompanying Discussion questions:

  1. Tasha asks, “Am I, are you, willing to enter each encounter with a posture of humility, desiring to learn, believing that the very heartbeat of God already exists within each person?” Spend some time sharing one another’s stories in your gathering. Practice this skill with one another so that you are better able to do so with people who are radically different from you. How might this storytelling space be created? Who are potential conversation partners?
  2. What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “cultural humility”? What must be learned and unlearned in order to cultivate it?
  3. Consider and reflect on this quote by anthropologist Wade Davis in light of the article: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”
  • Video of Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman’s keynote on Diversity Inclusion from the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago
  • A recording from a regional gathering in Durham, NC in 2012, Franklin tells the story of the Gospel exploding in the creative and reconciling work of creating community out of three distinct, yet unified, worshipping communities. Franklin is the Co-Pastor of Durham Church in Durham, NC.
  • Lunch for the Soul Webinar with Becca Messman and Edwin Andrade

  Share your recommendations for resources on multicultural ministry in the comments below!

In Life and in Death We Belong to God: Are there Babysitters in Heaven?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today’s post originally appeared at Ecclesio.com and is republished here with the author’s permission 

By Meg Peery McLaughlin

I got a phone call from a young mom a couple of weeks ago asking me how to talk to her elementary-aged daughter about death. It wasn’t because her child was acutely grieving the loss of a loved one, but rather a curiosity about what happens when someone dies. Honestly and humbly, this mother had patiently answered her daughter’s questions. They talked about how everybody dies. Sometimes it is older people whose bodies stop working. They talked about people who die suddenly from accidents or illnesses. They talked about how, yes, even babies sometimes die. Upon this realization, the little girl wondered aloud if there were babysitters in heaven. For if a baby can die and their mommy or daddy aren’t in heaven yet, then who will take care of them? It was at this point that the mom called me.

As a Pastor of Pastoral Care at a larger congregation, I’ve averaged a funeral every other week for the past six years. I’ve watched children climb around hospitals beds pointing out catheters and IV drips, as parents have explained how bodies weren’t working anymore. I’ve seen young siblings bring balloons to the memorial garden and tell me that their baby brother is with Jesus. I’ve released ashes over the side of the mountain and heard a grandchild ask, almost immediately, “can I go have some hot chocolate now.” This congregation has taught me some important lessons about death.

Talk straight. It’s best to be open with kids when the topic comes up and their questions arise. Be honest and as clear/concrete as possible. Kids don’t need to be shielded from the truth. If they are, their imaginations will fill in details where there are gaps. Avoid clichés: “God takes people” makes it seem like God is like the descending metal claw in a toy machine. “Grandma went to sleep and is now in heaven” makes me never want to put my own head on a pillow. “We go to a better place” makes me wonder what’s so bad about the world I’m living in – the one that everyone said God made. “I promise everything will be okay” sounds reassuring, but I’d rather hear that you promise to love me no matter what happens.

Magical thinking is an intergenerational activity. Joan Didion, after the death of her husband, wrote a great book called The Year of Magical Thinking. Her portrait of grief describes the way that she felt like she could control things with wishful thinking. Didion confessed she really did wonder if her husband would come back if she didn’t give away his shoes (he might come back and need them, afterall). Kids, especially kids six years old and younger, live in that kind of world, too. Young kids can think death is reversible. Kids can think that their thoughts/actions/words were the cause of death, or could bring their loved ones back.

State the obvious. . . again and again and again. Why do you think we come to worship week after week after week to hear gospel words, watch the waters of baptism slosh in the font, experience the table in the middle of room? We all need reminders of what is right and what is real. Kids do too. Tell them: Death is not their fault. It’s not the deceased person’s fault. Love doesn’t go away. You’re glad the person doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s not fair. God’s heart is sad too. When they ask again, answer.

Let kids see your love. Afterall, that’s the same thing as letting them see your grief. Love and grief are intertwined and never do we get rid of/get over/ have closure with either. It’s okay to bring kids with you when you visit the sick. It’s okay to bring kids with you to the funeral. It’s okay to let them bring balloons to the cemetery. It’s okay to let them see you cry. It’s okay to talk about those who are no longer in our reach. There is great danger in turning to your kids to have them be your therapist, but there is great wisdom in letting your kids see your process. Where else will they learn to grieve? To love? To honor father and mother? To be neighbor? To trust that in life and in death we belong to God? A worth while read about engendering faith to our kids can be found at: http://www.breadnotstones.com/2012/05/ten-things-i-want-to-tell-parents.html.

Get comfortable in deep water. Most of what I’m asked about by parents are deep water questions. Will there be babysitters in heaven? Will I recognize my loved one? Who will be married up there—grandmom and granddad or grandmom and stepgranddad? How does all this work? I find immeasurable comfort in the way the Apostle Paul treads water here. In 1 Corinthians 15, in his efforts to talk about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, he says; “Listen, let me tell you a mystery!” I love that. “Listen Up! I’m about to talk to you about what NONE OF US really actually knows!” Here’s some permission giving here: tell your kids you don’t know the answer, tell your kids about mystery. But also dream about what’s beneath your toes. Imagine together about what heaven would be like—knowing what you do know about love, about God’s desire to bind us into community, about Easter morning and Christmas Eve, about your own experience of faith. Realizing that you’re in the midst of mystery doesn’t need to mean that you fall silent, but rather that you can stand in awe with your kid and practice the holy art of imagination.

bunnyParents ask me about good books to read with their kids about death. There are some good ones. Union Presbyterian Seminary has a blog that reviews Children’s Literature. (http://storypath.wordpress.com — search “death” within the site). But if you want to get to the core about my own theology of death, a go-to for me is Margaret Wise Brown’s A Runaway Bunny. Whether with young kids who can appreciate it immediately, or older kids who may remember it from their early childhood, that book speaks of an inescapable love—an inescapable love that is akin to the inescapable love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. If you read that book alongside Psalm 139: 1-12, you might think Brown was plagiarizing; plagiarizing in the most holy way possible. What better what to say that no matter where we go—in life or in death—we belong to God, like a bunny belongs to his mother? Who needs a babysitter then?
Meg Peery McLaughlin is co-pastor of Burke Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia, along with her husband, Jarrett. At the time this article was written she was associate pastor for pastoral care at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Meg and Jarrett have three young girls.