What’s NEXT: From the Pew to the Pulpit

This summer, we are inviting leaders and participants from the 2012 gathering to share what they’ve been thinking about or working on since Dallas. Where are we seeing seeds of the NEXT Church? What ideas are taking root?

The following was submitted by Andrew Taylor-Troutman:

Emily, one of the elders at the church I serve, took it upon herself to design new and updated welcome cards to be placed in the pews for the benefit of Sunday morning visitors. These stylish index cards included a picture of our small sanctuary nestled in the middle of farmland and listed a few of our activities. But Emily did not stop there. For everyone in attendance, there is a “Pew to the Pulpit” card that serves as a means to alert the pastor and elders about pastoral care needs, such as hospitalizations and deaths. There is also space to indicate a desire to volunteer for a committee or request a pastoral visitation. Finally, there are blanks spaces to ask questions about the service and indicate preferences for worship, including sermon topics and hymn selections.

In Dallas, I led a workshop about best worship practices based upon what I’ve learned from the input of my congregation. Through our discussion, we moved beyond the tired, old “worship wars” and shared ways to make the experience of worship reverent, joyful, inspirational, and thought-provoking. The key discovery was that changes in the service should come from the bottom up, rather than from the top down–from the pew to the pulpit. As preachers and worship leaders, we fill our sanctuaries with words week after week. But it is also instructive to listen: to let the people speak and be intentional about offering opportunities for feedback. It seems to me that the NEXT movement is about promoting such investment by congregations into the daily life of their worshipping community.

andrew ttAndrew Taylor-Troutman is a teaching elder at New Dublin Presbyterian Church, a congregation founded in 1769 in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. He has written a book about his first year as their pastor, Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir. More information about the church and the book, including his blog, can be found at www.takemyhandmemoir.com.


On July 1, members of the NEXT Church leadership teams (strategy and advisory) hosted a gathering at the 220th General Assembly. Teaching Elder Cindy Kohlmann attended that gathering and offers this report:

Here in Pittsburgh, the question underneath all the deliberations, conversations, and discussions is “what’s next for the PCUSA?”  What will happen in the next few months?  What will the denomination look like when we gather for the 221st General Assembly?  What’s next?

Of course, we can ask these questions out of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty, or we can ask these questions out of a sense of the deep abiding love of our Creating God, the faithfulness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the transformative breath of the Holy Spirit.  How we ask the questions will say a lot about the answers we hear and discover.

The NEXT Church is seeking to ask, “what’s next?” out of a position of faith in a God who is not through with us or the Body of Christ yet.  This group wants to join faithful Christians in a journey of discovering what God is calling us to do, and what God is already doing that we are being invited into.  They’re asking the question, “what’s next?” with a joy and excitement that is welcome in the midst of these uncertain times.

Gathering with others in the chapel of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh on Sunday, July 1, we had an opportunity to engage in conversations about where we see God at work in our ministry contexts and where we are feeling called to enter into new ministry.  The NEXT Church PCUSA operates with the reformed understanding that God has supplied everything we need in order to do what we are being called to do within the Body of Christ.  Sharing our resources, our discoveries, our abilities, and our stories is a way to equip all the saints.

Reflecting on this offer to come together with others sharing in this journey of ministry gives me hope, even as the General Assembly stands divided on so many issues.  The deep need to reach out to our neighbors, many of whom have no notion of the grace and love of Christ, can be a tie that binds, especially in such a time as this.  Regionally and nationally, we can ask “what’s next?” in faith and with hope together.

Cindy Kohlmann is a Presbyterian teaching elder currently serving in two positions.  She pastors a small multicultural church in Clinton, MA, where she has been welcomed into the local Cameroonian community, while also serving as the Resource Presbyter for the Presbytery of Northern New England.  Her husband, Eric, is also a Presbyterian pastor, and together they share this amazing journey of ministry.

Dispatches from Pittsburgh: Brian McLaren Speaks to the PC(USA)

As the 220th General Assembly moves forward, we continue to seek folks who are willing to write short dispatches about what they are seeing at GA that will help inform the ongoing NEXT conversation. In the meantime, check out this great summary of Brian McLaren’s talk to commissioners on Monday. (Plus a news article here.)

Lots of food for thought as it relates to the the issues being raised in NEXT gatherings, both in Dallas last February and around the country in the months to come as regional gatherings take place.

A short excerpt:

In Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass says the pendulum is swinging back from “spiritual but not religious,” and that these people are now hungry for spiritual andreligious. There are some indications that they’re not so much against “organized religion” itself as against religion organized for the wrong purposes.

People are looking for religion to organize for the right purpose: not so much for purposes of self-governance (the old model), as to conduct wholistic mission.

One of the wisest things church leadership consultant Lyle Schaller ever said: “You bring in a new day with new people.”

The new day will require welcoming in significant numbers of the erstwhile spiritual-but-not-religious.

The PC(USA)’s new “1,001 New Worshiping Congregations” project will not succeed unless we can make room for the innovations of the newcomers, and unless we can make sure they won’t be constantly criticized. We must create safe zones for innovation. Existing churches will need to actually see these innovative communities succeeding before they will begin to emulate their practices.

Thank you to the commissioner from New Jersey, whoever you are, for taking such careful and thoughtful notes. Read their entire post and check out their whole site here.