Design and the Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Jess Fisher is one of our presenters. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Jess Fisher

Did you know there’s a connection between toilet paper and church websites?

A few weeks ago, I went into a grocery store to pick up some toilet paper. Now, this wasn’t my usual grocery store, where I tend to get the store brand items, so I had to choose what kind to get. My wishlist: cheap, soft, but not too thick. Well, I got to the aisle and froze.

Overwhelmed with information and choice, I stood paralyzed, looking at the multitude of options from super fluffy to super strong, not really trusting the bright bubble letter labels about what was inside the packages boasting the best wipe ever. I could not choose.

What was supposed to be a 30 second swipe of the shelf had become five minutes standing there like a deer in headlights…for toilet paper.

If it is this hard to choose something simple like toilet paper, how much harder is it to choose and commit to a church?

We live in an information-saturated world where the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. One of the church’s roles is to guide and support people as they make daily decisions to live in the way of Jesus. As leaders, we are asking and hoping for people to make a commitment to invest themselves into our faith communities. We rely on online and print communications to do this work, but our communications are often illegible, unappealing, and outdated, all far worse than that of our favorite purveyor of paper goods.

What if we intentionally used our communications to help people find Sabbath rest from the information overload and decision fatigue of the modern world? Can we use communication and design theory to organize, simplify, and prioritize the information we send out?

Yes, we can!

I love graphic design because it solves a problem. Good design can change the way we interact with each other and with our neighbors. It provides a structure and process for looking at our context, organizing information, and presenting it in a simple, legible, and accessible way.

At my workshop at the NEXT Church National Gathering, “The Medium is the Message: Good Design for the Church,” we’ll explore:

  • the theory and theology of why design matters in the church,
  • how design thinking and processes can structure our communications,
  • tips and tricks for better design,
  • resources and tools to implement this at home, and
  • how to work with a designer.

I hope to see you there!

Jess FisherJess Fisher, a liturgical artist and graphic designer, brings the visual arts into the church, hoping to help others find new connections with the Holy One in and around them. Follow Jess at

Jess’ workshop is called “The Medium is the Message: Good Design for the Church” and is offered during workshop block 1 on Monday. 

Worship with God’s Living Word

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked members of our 2016 National Gathering planning team to share what especially excites them about this year’s conference, February 22-24 in Atlanta. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Lisle Gwynn Garrity

A blazing bush breathes “I AM,” a billowing cloud signals the way, a valley of bones clatters to life, a thundering wind weaves all voices into one, and a barren grave whispers: “Mary, Mary–Do not fear.”  Over and over, our scriptures offer us glimpses of God meeting people in words and images, in visions and poetry, in dreams and revelations beyond our wildest imagining.

lisle workingAnd yet, when it comes to our worship, we are often bound to words on a page. We listen to scripture read and proclaimed, we recite unison prayers like a script, and we grip our bulletins like road maps telling us when to sit or stand. Thanks to a certain French Reformer, we’ve inherited a robust emphasis on the Word; we value the many ways scripture can instruct, inspire, edify, and ground us. But in our pursuit to centralize the Word in our worship, we sometimes become complacent, letting the Word lay flat on a page. Sometimes we forget that, before The Word was written, it was envisioned, and uttered, and breathed. To worship more fully and faithfully, I think we must embrace the promise that our scriptures are God’s living Word. To bring our full selves to God in worship, we must allow the scriptures to come to life.

lisle artSo, when it comes to what I’m most looking forward to at the NEXT National Gathering in February, I’m excited for worship. As the conference artist and a member of the worship planning team, I am energized by our plans to include a wide and artful variety of liturgical expression. Throughout the week’s worship services, we will invite the Spirit to speak through dance and drumbeat, spoken word and storytelling, live painting and art installations, movement and embodied prayer. We’ll set the Word loose, allowing it to shape and mold us in ways we might not expect. As we worship together, we hope everyone will be able to hear, see, and sense the stories God is so eager to tell. We look forward to seeing you in worship!

Lisle Gwynn Garrity HeadshotLisle Gwynn Garrity is a Pastorist (pastor + artist) of sorts, diving into ministry with a creative and entrepreneurial drive. A recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, she holds master’s degrees in divinity and practical theology, and loves bringing the Word to life through live painting, liturgical installations, and communal art banners.  See more of Lisle’s work at or on Facebook at A Sanctified Art.

Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Amanda Pine and Teer Hardy are two of our presenters. Learn more about their workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Amanda Pine and Teer Hardy

One of the greatest gifts for youth leaders is social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest (who doesn’t love the awesome games you can find there), and Tumblr.  All of these social media sites are full of resources that will aid in connecting leaders for idea sharing and tips about what works and what does not. Recently, on a Facebook youth ministry group board, there has been an influx of youth leaders asking for advice on how to handle being laid off (forced resignation), having their hours cut or increased without an increase in pay, or needing to leave congregations because they just are not able to make ends meet. This represents a troubling tone which is reflected among all of Christian education. Securing volunteer leadership is increasingly hard and financial resources to support paid program staff are also becoming increasingly scarce.

great bridge umc youthWhere is the silver lining in this? What can we possibly take away from job insecurity and financial and volunteer scarcity? “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble,” the workshop that we will be presenting at the NEXT Church National Gathering, will address how we can escape from our fears about ministry, and take (responsible) risks to make a youth ministry program great. Part of this involves inspiring change in our church communities in general, but part is about branching out to your mission field and partnering with community organizations and business to advance the goals of the ENTIRE community.

Using missional theology, we believe that youth ministry does not have to be the first program cut in a time of budget crisis. We do not offer any quick-fix or attractional advice for youth workers, but rather a change in mindset that we hope will inspire youth leaders to embrace challenges in their congregations with positivity, and treat their youth with top priority. We are passionate about youth ministry and church growth, specifically when the church grows to more effectively nurture the community it finds itself in.

Teer Hardy

Teer Hardy is husband, father, and brewery theologian. He serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at Great Bridge UMC in Chesapeake, VA.



Amanda Markam PineAmanda Pine is a cradle Presbyterian who currently serves the congregation of Great Bridge UMC as Director of Christian Education.

Amanda and Teer’s workshop is called “Youth Ministry Beyond the Bubble” – 

Are you constantly plagued by the “numbers” question? How many people are attending your programs? How many are new this week? This workshop will provide participants with practical, tried and true, ways to incorporate an intentionally outreaching focus into your youth ministry setting. Together, we will move beyond the traditional models of ministry and begin the practice of risk taking as a faith community. This workshop is offered on Tuesday during workshop block 3.

An Opportunity to Re-Energize

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked members of our 2016 National Gathering planning team to share what especially excites them about this year’s conference, February 22-24 in Atlanta. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Meghan Gage-Finn

I struggled when the National Gathering planning team was asked to submit something to the blog in response to the question, “what is saving your ministry right now?” My honest response, which I didn’t think worthy of submittal, was that I am, at times, overly consumed in the minutia of ministry, and I feel caught up in the smaller details when I want to step back more regularly to see the big picture. My heart felt heavy walking with others who are caught in dark places of grief and ongoing treatment, depression, and isolation. I sensed that I was so focused on being immersed in my ministry that I couldn’t find perspective on what might be saving it. If I were truly honest with myself, I think I was worried about pursuing the question because, what if the answer was: nothing. What if nothing creative is happening in my ministry right now? What if I am following my sense of call with faith and conviction, but my ministry is not all that unique or life-changing?

Photo of the 2015 National Gathering by Chad Andrew Herring

Photo of the 2015 National Gathering by Chad Andrew Herring

Now the planning team has been asked to share what we are excited about as the National Gathering in Atlanta approaches, and I realized having NEXT on my calendar for mid-February is energizing for me, it is life-giving, and it will draw me out of my own small world of ministry and into the lives and stories of others. It gives me perspective and reminds me of the larger community of support to which I belong. I am looking forward to reconnecting with friends and building new relationships, and having challenging conversations about creating social change in our neighborhoods as leaders in the church. I am looking forward to being reminded, through worship and learning, that I am part of something bigger.

So, I wonder if someone else at NEXT will be worrying whether or not anything creative is happening in his ministry now, or if someone else is coming seeking guidance and hope and partners along the way. I wonder if a student or new pastor feels she is alone in wrestling with issues of reconciliation and justice as a person of faith. In case there are just a few others who feel questions creeping in they are avoiding answering, I’ll be there. I look forward to hearing your story, and sharing a bit of mine.

meghan gage finn

Meghan Gage-Finn serves as Executive Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, and as one of the co-chairs of the 2016 National Gathering. As an avid triathlete and marathon runner, this has proven valuable training for both ministry and chasing after three children, age 5 and under.

Reconciliation Lived Out

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Shannon Beck is one such presenter. Learn more about her workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Shannon Beck

When I was called to work for World Mission at the Presbyterian Church (USA), I took on the most amazing job title on the planet: Reconciliation Catalyst. Of course everyone, including me, was asking with a snicker, “How is she going to do that?” The funny part is that the job title was originally listed as “Violence and Reconciliation Catalyst.” Needless to say, I was not keen on being a violence catalyst, so we changed it. (I’m a stickler on details like that.)

presby peacemakersThe thing is, though, we live and work in a violent world. Much of what Presbyterian mission co-workers do in their context, is pastor, love, teach, and advocate in communities where wars, conflicts, corruption, and the violence of poverty persist, sometimes for decades. Israel and Palestine, Congo, Iraq, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the United States, just to name a few. And there are so many levels of violence we address. Hence, removing the word violence didn’t seem right. But ultimately we landed here on reconciliation. We work toward reconciliation. That is where we began as Christians, reconciled to God; that is the goal for God’s beloved world.

And to think: the 2016 National Gathering is an entire conference with reconciliation as the theme! I’m in!

Related to that is the fact that I have a particular interest in how we create change for the common good. On an essential level, I think of peace, justice, and reconciliation as the primary ingredients of social justice. This is the mission and witness we undertake as church. The church exists for mission. This much we know. How exactly we do that is dependent on many factors, especially our context. But, we find there are few venues for leaders to discuss this. How does change work? What ingredients do we need? What has worked for us?

Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and I work closely together and thought it would be an amazing experience to share together what has worked in a workshop. We have models of social change that can be instructive, but we know that our experiences will be our teachers.

What usually happens when the Spirit moves us toward deeper involvement? We are sooo excited that we…form a committee! Or we take off running, cape flying behind us.

Both ways can be helpful for a season, but often we do just one or the other. We either wander through the discernment vortex or we pull out our light sabers and head into battle. Either way, we can miss THE moment. You know the one – where God, the community, the world, our worshipping community come together and are the feet and face and presence of Christ in a way that moves humankind forward.

We make the road by walking it together. But it takes some creativity. And I believe a couple of things about creativity. One is that creativity is really just a tweak on something else. It’s not magic. Another thing is that when creative people come together, magic happens.

Shannon BeckShannon Beck serves as the Reconciliation Catalyst in World Mission for the PC(USA). She connects individuals, congregations, and other entities with each other and with PC(USA) global partners engaged in building peace and reconciliation in cultures of violence. She is currently focused on an international Presbyterian campaign to stop sexual violence. In her spare time she is a blogger, poet, peace activist and writes and performs “Heart-driven contemporary folk music”. She is co-leading a workshop entitled “Holy Impatience” at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Finding Hope in Conflict

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?” Andrew Plocher is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Andrew Plocher

Conflict is all around us. It seems even more present this Advent than in years past, and it fits well with the beauty of God’s light breaking into the world’s darkness. Conflict. Good versus evil, light versus dark, Advent hymns versus Christmas ones, fear versus love, spritz versus gingerbread cookies. Whether trivial or existential, there are conflicts all around us.

photo credit: love-candle via photopin (license)

photo credit: love-candle via photopin (license)

Learning to agree or disagree in love is not easy. Conflict has a bad rap in our culture and especially the church, where it brings up visions of parking lot conversations and membership in exodus. Yet conflict is not a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is regularly saving my ministry. I don’t know when I first learned to value conflict, but I think it parallels my learning to bake artisan breads. While conflict has the potential to be terribly destructive, it also has the potential to be generative. In baking bread, the leaven (e.g. yeast) is in conflict with the salt. If the leaven wins, the bread lacks texture and flavor. If the salt wins the bread fails to rise and is far too salty. The two have two work together to find a balance so that the perfect texture and flavor are met in the baking of the bread. Finding that balance is part science and part art. The same holds true to navigating the conflicts we face in our daily lives and our congregations.

As I face the seasonal conflicts in congregational life, I try to view them as generative. In every conflict there is the potential for creativity, for death and resurrection, for something new to arise. In the annual squabble over who will be baby Jesus there’s a chance to reframe a pageant, to explore how we value children in worship, and grow as a church family. In a conflict over politics, there’s an opportunity to explore how we communicate with one another, learn to listen, and navigate the intersection of personal values and public faith. None of that is easy, but every time I walk through conflict I do so knowing that there’s the potential for light and life. It doesn’t matter if I’m working with a congregation torn apart, an individual wrestling with how to lead through conflict, or navigating the challenges of my own family politics during the holiday season.

No matter what the conflict, there is hope. It’s in the beauty of Advent and the light coming into the world. It’s in the beauty of baking a perfect sourdough bread. It’s in the beauty of witnessing a community find healing or an individual find a path through a challenging time. It’s witnessing the wonder of agreeing and disagreeing in love. It sounds crazy, but conflict is saving my ministry, and I hope that it might, in some way, do the same for you.


Andrew PlocherAndrew’s workshop: Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love

Conflict has always been a part of religious communities. It is something every congregation, whether just beginning or centuries into its life, experiences. These disagreements can be forces for creation or destruction and navigating that balance is challenging. Come hear about strategies to disagree in love and to join in conversation about how conflict is changing and how we can, as a community of faith, creatively address it in our different contexts. Offered Tuesday during workshop block 2. Learn more and register now.

Andrew Plocher is the new pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Gwinn, Michigan, and a minister member of National Capital Presbytery. He has a decade of experience working with conflicted congregations and non-profit organizations. He is also working on finishing his D.Min. in pastoral counseling at Louisville Seminary.

2016 National Gathering: Feb 22-24 – Register Today!

Faith at the Crossroads


What’s at stake?

For you? For your congregation? For your community?

First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

Feb 22-24, 2016

This NEXT Church National Gathering—timed at the beginning of Lent—will engage questions that invite us into the transformative power of reconciliation and inspire us by the stories of those witnesses who go before us. We will hear stories of reconciliation from Allan Boesak, liberation theologian and advocate for social justice in apartheid South Africa. Atlanta native, Bob Lupton will share experience to prevent charity from becoming toxic. Andrew Foster Connors, Bishop Doug Miles, and Glenna Huber of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) will witness to the importance of community organizing in creating social change and reconciliation.

We will worship together and be enriched in workshops, testimonies, IGNITE presentations, and relationship building. The questions framing our time together are:

  • How do we navigate the choices before us in faith-filled, Christ-honoring ways?
  • What’s at stake in the mission of the church today? Why does the church matter to the world?
  • What does it look like when the community of faith engages in reconciling work in a fractured city?
  • For what are we willing to give up the past and present form of the church we know and love? For what are we willing to sacrifice ourselves and lose our lives?
  • How do we practice the reconciling work about which we preach without giving in to partisanship or confines of ideology?
  • How do we give voice to places of sin, brokenness, and violence without becoming stuck and overcome by guilt, but able to move forward in hope and humility?

There are choices to be made in how we go forward as Christ’s church — as individual disciples, as congregations, as a denomination.

Learn more and register here!

2015 National Gathering: Linda Valentine

Linda Valentine provides testimony on the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

2015 National Gathering: Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor speaks at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago on behalf of the Presbyterian Foundation.

2015 National Gathering Ignite: Erin Thomas & Paul Knopf

Erin Thomas and Paul Knopf share their Ignite presentation on the Tapestry Youth Collective at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago.