Meet the New Vision Team

With gratitude and hope, we are pleased to announce the NEXT Church Vision Team. We received applications (many more than the spaces available) from gifted leaders across the denomination and were deeply encouraged by their willingness and hopefulness for NEXT Church and the greater Church. The following leaders have been invited to serve through 2023:

Allison Arsenault
Rob Ater
Jana Blazek
Karen Fitz La Barge
Wilson Kennedy
Shanea Leonard
Jessie Lowry
Andrew Plocher
Jennifer Thomson
Angela Williams-Tyler
Joshua Young
Shani McIlwain (corresponding member)

“I am excited to be a progressive thought partner on where the Spirit is leading the church. I believe we are called in this season to embrace the fresh winds of change and reformation happening in the church.” – Shanea Leonard

The leaders on this team represent a variety of ministry contexts, identities, and regional areas. They have intersected with NEXT Church through coaching cohorts, the National Gathering, antiracism trainings, and more. We also recognize the longstanding commitment to have 50% leadership of color, as well as upholding the diversity of region, context, and experience in representation. We acknowledge who is not in the room and strive to continually widen the conversation during the team’s service through 2023. The commitment will remain as the future organizational structure of NEXT Church is determined by the Vision Team.

You can read more about our leadership structure along with details about the Vision Team members on our Leadership page.

“I’m excited to collaborate on seeing what’s next for NEXT Church and how it can continue to be a generative space where difficult questions are wrestled with faithfully, as well as a place that helps guide congregations and communities in their own creativity and faithfulness. NEXT Church has been an invaluable network and community for me over the years and I am grateful to participate in this chapter.” – Andrew Plocher

Now more than ever, NEXT Church needs your financial support to sustain and grow its witness in the Church. We encourage you to consider a personal and/or congregational gift to ensure the next chapter of our work. Together, we can strengthen the relational fabric of leaders across the Church, disrupt long held patterns, and embody God’s call in the world.


The Vision Team will meet virtually once a month with assignments and work in-between meetings. Their first meeting will take place next Wednesday, May 24. We covet your prayers as they begin this important work.

With Hope —

Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia
Designated Strategic Director

Join the New Vision Team!

The women arrived at the tomb weighed down with spices to prepare Christ’s body and, even more so, bearing the pain of his loss. As they approach and realize the stone rolled away, their mourning turns to confusion; to lose their Messiah once again when they had been readied to anoint his body must have been unimaginable. Layer upon layer of loss: first of what they believed to be reality and then the disruptive story unfolding before them.

This is the story of faith. We come running for one task, ready for the work ahead, only to realize God’s movement. Our invitation is to remain attuned to where God is at work and what we are being called toward, even if it means releasing our expectations to make room for God’s own.

NEXT Church has faithfully served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond for the past fourteen years. The desire to build a network of Christian leaders grew to a movement to equip, empower, and transform people across the Church. Recently, the leadership sought to acknowledge the past, analyze the present, and consider the future. There is still much work to be done as we seek to disrupt unhealthy patterns of the past to create more wholistic spaces both now and into the next chapter.

This continued season of discernment led the NEXT Church Leadership Team to propose an updated organizational model to build a bridge toward new possibilities. This discernment led them to step down from their roles by dissolving the existing Leadership Team to make way for fresh leadership. Like the women that day, they laid down what they knew to be true to run toward the new thing God is doing. We are thankful for their bold, courageous step which creates the space for NEXT Church to dream and vision with new partners across the Church.

With gratitude and hope, a new season emerges…

We are seeking individuals to serve on a new Vision Team through the end of 2023. This team will be responsible for:

Determining the on-going mission/vision of NEXT Church. The team will engage recommendations from the race audit, internal and external conversations, and the organization’s history and values to determine the overarching frameworks for the work ahead. This will include determining a more permanent board and organizational structure.

Serving as the organizational board. Working alongside an Operations Team, this team will serve as the primary decision-making body of the organization.

Supporting development efforts. Partnership with staff will lay the fiscal foundation through fundraising, grant writing, and other aspects of development.

Building relationships. NEXT Church is its network. This team will nurture and broaden the connections as we seek to serve the larger Church.

The Vision Team will meet virtually once a month with assignments and work in-between meetings. Additional requirements may be added as the team considers the approach to complete the assignments above.



Please complete the application to be considered for the Vision Team. All applications must be received by April 30, 2023.

With Easter Hope —

Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia
Designated Strategic Director

Strengthening Connections Across the Church

In this season of deep listening, NEXT Church recognizes the desire to connect with Christian leaders in order to engage in the unique work to which we are called. Over and over again we have heard the need to connect to and engage with one another as we navigate the diverse landscape ahead. Strengthening connections across the Church shifts feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and stagnation to collaboration, anticipation, and transformation.

NEXT Church continues to explore new or different ways of being community together to equip and empower one another for the journey ahead. To expand and cultivate relationships, we are hosting “Roundtable Conversations” during the Easter season and beyond. We hope these gatherings will bring engaged learners to share best practices, ask tough questions, and leave invigorated for the journey ahead. All gatherings will be one hour and at no cost to participants.


Remember that you are not alone in this work! We hope you will engage in one or more of these gatherings as a way to connect with others, offering encouragement and igniting change along the way.

In Hope —

Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia
Designated Strategic Director

We’re Hiring!

In December, we shared the good news that NEXT Church had received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to help establish the Preaching for Change project initiative. This five-year project will gather diverse cohorts of preachers and church leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are leading congregations toward transformation in their communities, with a particular focus on justice and equity. This project stands at the intersection of who NEXT Church has been and the commitment to continually listen to the needs of Christian leaders in order to serve the Church.

With enthusiasm, we are now searching for a Coordinator of the Preaching for Change Initiative. This person will provide strategic visioning and scaffolding as the program is built in the first year, including overseeing all aspects of the program.

This is a one-year renewable contract for a part-time position (10-15 hours per week) and will work closely with NEXT Church staff to align the program with the on-going visioning and strategic work of the organization.

Do you know someone who might be a good fit? Help us spread the word. Interested applicants should apply by March 31, 2023.


In Hope —

Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia
Designated Strategic Director

What’s Next for NEXT Church

We are grateful for so many supporters who attended our Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, December 13, 2022. NEXT Church leadership shared a lot of information about our future along with some exciting announcements. Check out what you missed!

Here are the highlights:
  • NEXT Church has shifted its staffing model to build a foundation for the future. These changes include hiring Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia as Designated Strategic Director and promoting Jen James to Program and Operations Director.
  • The results of the Race Equity Audit were officially released to the public after months of internal work and sharing among smaller groups, including attendees of the 2022 National Gathering. The full report and its findings are available on our website.
  • In a strategic decision to create space for organizational discernment, there will not be a National Gathering in 2023. NEXT Church is committed to “strengthening connections across the Church” and hopes to gather church leaders again in future years in ways leading to deeper connections and greater impact.
  • NEXT Church is engaging in a season of listening, learning, and discernment. You can join us by registering for a Learning Circle as we unpack the values that shape us. Read more about the Learning Circles and register today.
  • We are delighted and humbled to announce NEXT Church has received a substantial grant from Lilly Endowment to fund our Preaching for Change project. This project stands at the intersection of who NEXT Church has been and the commitment to continually listen to the needs of Christian leaders in order to serve their communities and the world. Stay tuned for more information!
  • We hope you will consider engaging in the NEXT Church movement as we seek to financially ground the organization for the future. Our current goal is to raise $50,000 in the next 6-8 weeks. If you or your congregation are able to consider a gift now or pledge for 2023, we value your partnership.

Special Announcement Regarding NEXT Church

The Strategy Team of NEXT Church has invited Larissa Kwong Abazia to serve as consultant/coach as NEXT Church – committed to building a network of leaders to support transformative ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond – envisions the next chapter in its mission.

Larissa’s work will focus on several areas:

• Helping NEXT Church think through leadership and staff structures, and internal culture

• Working alongside the Strategy Team to implement the Antiracism Audit and assess ways forward

• Laying final groundwork for the interim leadership period

Her primary tasks will be to work with the current staff, Coordinating and Strategy Teams and other constituents to help create healthy space for the future leadership.

Larissa is a respected and experienced leader within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She has served at all levels of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Vice Moderator of the 221st General Assembly, the General Assembly Committee on Representation, and in congregations located in Chicago (IL), Queens (NY), Greenwich (CT), and throughout New Jersey. She currently serves as the Transitional Head of Operations for More Light Presbyterians and as a NEXT Church Antiracism Coach.

Says Larissa: “I’m looking forward to journeying alongside NEXT Church leadership as they consider the future ahead. We will work internally as well as engage with external partners, constituencies, and those whom NEXT seeks to serve in order to pave the way forward.”

John Wilkinson, co-convener of the NEXT Church Coordinating Team, comments that “We are excited and grateful for Larissa’s willingness to share her gifts and wisdom with us as we face an important season of transition. As we seek what’s next for NEXT Church, we look forward to Larissa helping us to discern faithfully and boldly.”

Larissa’s service, envisioned for a part-time, six-month period, will commence on August 15. Her work, along with the pending appointment of an acting administrator, will enable NEXT Church to identify longer term transitional leadership as it envisions the next chapter in its ministry.

April Update from the Coordinating Team

Dear Next Church colleagues, siblings and friends –

Blessings to you in this holy season, as our Lenten journey begins its move toward Jerusalem.

We are grateful for your connection to Next Church – whether through a National Gathering, a cohort, an elder symposium or training. With you, we form a network of leaders who believe the Spirit is even now moving through the church. We seek to strengthen the relational fabric of the church, cultivating congregations and leaders who work to promote God’s transformation of our communities. In recent years, we have endeavored to engage that work undergirded with the commitment to be an anti-racist organization.

You may know that the past year has been one of transition for us, especially as we have faced several changes in our staff. We are grateful to all who have so faithfully served our mission, and those who continue to do so. We are very glad to report that we are moving through this season with a positive sense of purpose.

 Last week, we held a two-day retreat with our leaders, a retreat that generated hope for our future. There  is much work to do, but we are committed, and we believe that God is calling us to new ways of being and ways of serving the church.

At our retreat, we:

  •      Re-connected and re-engaged one another, a challenging but important task in a season of COVID and Zoom
  •      Worked through the content and proposed  interventions of the anti-racism audit we received from Crossroads Training a year ago (stay tuned for more in the coming weeks)
  •     Engaged the Antiracist Practices for Faithful Leaders Recorded Seriesthrough thoughtful conversation
  •       Discerned extensively about our next steps as an organization, including our staffing model and financial picture
  •    Shared dreams and visions about our future

This season of transition has been challenging for us. We are grateful for our leaders and dedicated staff who are committed to this effort. More so, we are grateful for all those – including you – who continue to support us and buoy us in this work. Thank you.

If you’d like to be in touch, please don’t hesitate to contact one of us below.

Finally, we hope you will join us in May! Our National Gathering will be held May 16-18 in Montreat. We are planning something really meaningful and we’d love for you to be there.


Onward –

Veronica Cannon, Co-Convener, Coordinating Team

John Wilkinson, Co-Convener, Coordinating Team

Some Big Moves at NEXT Church

Good People —

I write with a huge dose of gratitude to let you know that my tenure as director of NEXT Church comes to a close at the end of May 2021.

I am so proud to have been part of this movement of the Spirit over these last 9 years as director. Together, we have created a space for sparking imagination, telling the truth, working toward justice, and pouring into church leaders in this time when the church as an institution is precarious and the common good needs strong and focused institutions.

From scrappy early days when we wondered if anyone was interested in thinking together about the future of the church to the (still scrappy) days of:

  • an energizing and inspiring annual National Gathering,
  • a meaningful antiracism audit that is already shaping the next chapter of NEXT Church,
  • coaching cohorts that inspire and challenge leaders to keep leveling up,
  • antiracism facilitation to help us collectively move toward justice and equity,
  • a Cultivated Ministry guide that invites us to reimagine faithfulness and fruitfulness, and
  • a chaplain corps to offer care for church leaders in times of need.

I am deeply enriched by the talented and faithful leaders — that’s YOU — who have been part of NEXT Church over this last decade. It is good to be in your number. I have learned so much from many talented leaders — those who first had a vision for NEXT Church and the subsequent ones who have made up the Strategy Team. I’m especially grateful to the staff members with whom I have been privileged to work — Linda Kurtz, Jen James, Pete Peery, Layton Williams, Shani McIlwain, and Katherine Baker. It is amazing what they can pull off with sheer passion and love for God’s church (and a good GIF game).

Nine years is a long time to be a founding director and exert the entrepreneurial energy needed to midwife an organization. Over the past year, I have been in discernment about my energy and capacity to continue to be a good steward of this challenging work. At the same time the organization has been in deep conversation about how it is best stewarded. It is time for the stewardship of the directorship to be passed to another. NEXT Church leadership, the Strategy Team (NEXT Church’s board) and within it the Coordinating Team (tasked with keeping the organization focused and moving) are working on a smooth transition so that the meaningful and important work of NEXT Church continues.

I am excited to watch from afar the energy and vision a new leader can bring to the next season of life of NEXT Church.

In Gratitude and Hope —


Dear Friends,

It is with a colossal amount of gratitude that we, the Coordinating Team, humbly accept Jessica’s resignation as the director of NEXT Church. She has been nothing less than a good and faithful servant. We honor and respect her decision, though we know we will have a challenging transition. Challenging does not mean impossible. As a matter of fact, we pray that it means an opportunity to further live into who we are called to be as NEXT Church.

Inasmuch as this is true, these are the next steps as we look forward and envision the next NEXT Church. Your Coordinating Team has been working very hard. Our first steps will be to hire a part-time administrative/communications assistant. This hire will happen relatively quickly to give this person time to learn from Jessica before she departs. Jessica has voiced a sincere promise to make the transition as smooth as possible. This part-time position will be from 20 – 25 hours per week and will run through the end of 2021.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for this very important role you may find the job description and application here. Resumes will be accepted through May 17th, at which time the committee will review applications and schedule interviews.

Once this person is in place, a more formal search committee will be established to start the process of finding an interim director. This will take much more time than the assistant position. We certainly appreciate each of you and ask your prayers during this time of transition.

Peace and Blessings,
Amantha Barbee, Co-Chair Coordinating Team
Daniel Vigilante, Co-Chair Coordinating Team

P.S. You can learn who is currently part of the Coordinating Team on our website.