The Catalyst Initiative, a program of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, inspires and empowers local churches to thrive in mission and ministry by partnering with their communities in life-changing ways. The Baltimore-Washington Conference connects 603 diverse churches in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the panhandle of West Virginia. Its mission is to inspire and equip these local faith communities to develop disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world so that more “transformed lives transform lives.” The Catalyst Initiative is designed to complement that mission and vision. Propelled by a shared foundational doctrine to live out a love of God and a love of neighbor, it enables leaders from 100 churches to receive and extend grace in ways that create wellness, justice, hope, and vitality. Reflecting the racial and economic diversity of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, the initiative includes thriving congregations, united by a desire for spiritual growth, an eagerness for change, and a mandate to serve their community and world. Using a cohort model, the Catalyst Initiative provides participating congregations with resources, including: powerful diagnostic and self-reflection tools to understand the church and community they serve; a combination of digital and in-person training sessions that call on best practices for church growth, innovation, and community development; mentoring and peer-learning opportunities; and creative evaluation measurements to ensure that sound theory results in effective action. This initiative enables churches to claim a holy imagination, discover interesting ways of expressing their faith that make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, shape new discipleship systems, and develop achievable metrics for measuring impact. As participants continue to meet, they will pioneer new ideas about how they operate in a post-pandemic world, discern ways their congregations can be relevant to new generations, and build enthusiasm and contextual paths for growth in ministry and discipleship, all while remaining rooted in the best of Methodism.
The Dakotas Connection Initiative helps enhance the Conference's successful ministries and provides resources and platforms to ensure that vital ministry and community impact are happening in its rural communities. New leadership models that maximize the gifts and callings of laity who are indigenous to the community and innovative systems that accomplish the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ will allow congregations to maximize human, financial, and other resources. Strengthening the fabric of connection by connecting "hub" city churches to rural congregations will allow for the sharing of leadership, worship, and technology resources. An overall emphasis on team ministry -- whether that be multiple churches led by a clergy/lay pastoral team or a hub-city church teaming with multiple "mission outposts" -- will result in a shared understanding of changing demographics, the benefit of collaboration in these changing times, and a commitment to improving the overall health and vitality of churches as well as communities.
The Bridges Project is designed as a three-stage process to help churches practice deep empathy with their communities, rediscover their core values and mission, and creatively explore our ancient Christian practices as a result of these findings. It is the conference's belief that this process of noticing, mission, and Christian practice will help congregations thrive by tethering them to their calling in a way that makes intercultural competency, and scores of other healthy traits, naturally occurring byproducts of faithful congregational life. This project oversees three 18-month cohort experiences involving 75 vital congregations located in culturally and socially shifting areas. Participating congregations exhibit congregational demographics that have begun to diverge from the demographics of their surrounding communities. The project design is highly experiential and exposes congregational cohorts to the beauty and disorientation of difference, as the conference curates noteworthy experiences rooted in relationship, joy, site visits, storytelling, art, and reflection. As a result, participating congregations emerge from this program with a clearer understanding of their own social location, the skills to practice deep empathy (even amidst difference), a deeper theological understanding for the role of diversity in the Imago Dei, a clarified sense of their particular Christian values and mission, a renewed and localized engagement in meaningful spiritual practices (particularly testimony), and greater delight in both God and others.
The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (NCCUMC), the governing body for UMC churches east of Burlington, N.C., will work to refine the Living the Word Ministry-Wilson model and replicate it in two additional N.C. counties. How do we live the Word? A jurisdictional body of members who are 97% white, the NCC-UMC established dismantling racism as one of its priorities during the tenure of Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. The goals of LtW are to develop and implement a collaborative community ministry; foster congregational leadership and vitality; develop church-to-church collaboration; and promote collaboration between congregations and other community organizations. Congregations self-identify, assess their own readiness to participate, and form congregational teams of 3-5 clergy and laity members to participate in LtW. Members form a congregational learning community and take part in a year-long process of reflection, discernment, and skill-building that begins with a series of asset assessments. The NCC-UMC will expand and refine the church leadership and vitality activities of the LtW ministry by developing the congregational learning and action program; hire an outside evaluator to help staff and participants refine core LtW-W model activities and outcomes; and replicate the LtW-W justice and equity ministry model in 2 additional counties.
The United Methodist Health Ministry Fund (Health Fund) is a 33-year-old, $50 million health philanthropy located in Hutchinson, Kansas. Our mission is to improve the health of Kansans through cooperative and strategic philanthropy guided by Christian values. The Health Fund focuses on three strategic areas to accomplish this mission: access to care, early childhood development, and the Healthy Congregations program. Healthy Congregations addresses community health by providing Great Plains United Methodist Church congregations in Kansas and Nebraska with learning experiences, training, and grant opportunities. One such opportunity is the Good Neighbor Experiment (GNE). Created and led by The Neighboring Movement, the GNE is a nine-month-long learning cohort for congregations that gather for three training workshops, implement small group curriculum that connects asset-based community development (ABCD) with time-honored Christian practices, and take actionable steps toward practicing the learned skills of community neighboring. As part of the program, participants identify a project that aligns with ABCD practices and then connect with local resources to accomplish the project goals. Healthy Congregations churches have benefited from using ABCD to expand their discipleship through community engagement, in turn gaining clarity of mission and focus. Since 2017, the Neighboring Movement team has companioned 50 congregations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas through this material. Now we aim to expand that reach to 280 congregations over the five-year term, with a capacity for 100 congregations each year by 2026.
The Source Collaborative at Wesley Theological Seminary is a collective effort among churches, coaches, and the seminary to connect more deeply with God, our own stories, and our neighbors that we might drink more deeply of and become conduits for God’s love, justice, and mercy (Ezekiel 47:9). This two-year program will help congregations identify their own markers of thriving based on their community and context, create a strategic plan for congregational change that will allow them to move toward those markers, and implement the plan with the help of a coach and a small grant. Throughout the process, each congregation will commit to intentional prayer and other spiritual practices. Learning processes will be guided by the wisdom and experience of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, the Community Engagement Institute, and the Wesley Innovation Hub, in consultation with experienced congregational coaches. Seminarians will be engaged as research associates. Six regional United Methodist congregations will be selected for the pilot cohort; two additional cohorts of 10 congregations each will be selected to begin in 2022 and 2023. Ultimately, the research and learnings from the cohorts will be used to create sustainable tools and resources to share broadly with congregations through the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and the Community Engagement Institute.