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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church

    news article

    Study session two guides churches in making change

    July 5, 2017 / By Kathleen Christiansen

    The Rev. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, the 2017 Annual Conference session study leader, held her second study session “Doing a New Thing: The Church of No Excuses” in the afternoon on June 2. During this session, she focused on new spiritual communities and how churches can be open to change and adapt.

    Rev. Dean mentioned 1 Chronicles 12:32, saying “the children of Issachar, who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel could do.”

    She said we all need an understanding of our times and the wisdom to determine how to respond. Rev. Dean said she aimed to convince everyone that we are living in amazingly creative times to be in ministry and God’s already given us more to work with than we know.

    New spiritual communities are popping up daily. Question-hungry young people want to know what it means to be human and to know about God.

    Rev. Dean showed videos about a United Methodist church plant, Gastrochurch, and Dinner party, a nationwide community. She pointed out that both focus try to respond to new economy: principles of abundance, collaboration, and building value.

    Some examples of these new communities are Harry Potter as Sacred Text, which discusses Harry Potter like a Bible study every week; Camp Grounded, which helps millennial Silicon Valley employees “disconnect to reconnect;” and Robloxian Christians founded by then-11-year-old Daniel Herron is an online church with traditional services that now has 4,500 members.

    “All of these spiritual movements capitalizing on the principles of the new economy — doing things often overtly,” Rev. Dean said.

     While she said she does think some of these new spiritual communities are “nuts,” Rev. Dean said, “I don’t blame young people for trying ways to find community, meaning, and purpose when churches aren’t all helpful.”

    “And I don’t blame them for thinking that finding God might not be that important when sometimes churches don’t seem to give much evidence that God really does much of anything.”

    She said churches need to ask themselves, “What kind of evidence is your church going to provide young people that God is doing a new thing?” and “How do you become a new economy church — a place young people can once again turn who want to live creatively, abundantly, collaboratively and in ways that make a difference?”

    And Rev. Dean reiterated that it doesn’t have to be something weird.

     “Being willing to let go of the Church as we know it and follow Christ doesn’t mean God will want us to do that, but holding our most cherished traditions loosely instead of rigidly opens up all sorts of possibilities for the Holy Spirit to Act,” she said.

    Rev. Dean said there are three categories of churches: Fresh, Flipped and Fuzzy.

    Fresh Expression churches lead with mission and evangelism before ministry.

    “Until The United Methodist Church is willing to give up our institutions so people can encounter Christ in new ways, we will never truly be a missional Church,” Rev. Dean said.

    Fresh Expression churches often meet in third spaces, like United Methodist Pastor Michael Beck who leads Bible studies in a local tattoo parlor in Florida.

    Instead of churches using students as cheap labor to accomplish our ministries, Flipped churches come alongside young people to accomplish theirs. An example of this is Uniquely Abled founded by 17-year-old Nathan Harley, which employs and advocates for people with disabilities.

     “In a Flipped church, we come alongside young people, not to use their gifts to strengthen the church’s ministry, but because when a person uses their gifts, we see God,” Rev. Dean said.

    With Fuzzy churches, it’s difficult to tell where the church ends and enterprise starts. An example is Union coffee shop, founded by UMC Pastor Mike Baughman UMC Pastor in Texas, which gives 10 percent of proceeds to local charities, makes capes for children in hospitals every month, and hosts worship.

    “If we’re going to preach that God is up to a new thing, then we must show the world some evidence that God is making things new through us,” Rev. Dean said.

    She also pointed to a quote by Ministry Architects’ Mark DeVries:  “Your organization is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting.”

    Rev. Dean mentioned she recently discovered how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. When the caterpillar goes into its cocoon, it turns to “goo,” digests itself, and the caterpillar is no more. In time, goo solidifies, and eventually something new, a butterfly, emerges.

    “Our Church is like a cocoon full of caterpillar mush: What we become next won’t emerge from what we’ve been before,” she said. “God is not tweaking us. God is innovating, making us new. When whatever God has in mind for us becomes too magnificent for what we are now to hold us – that new church will shatter our tiny tombs.

    “We will not be a new and improved form of what we are now, we will have new life.”

    TAGGED / Annual Conference 2017

    With more than 144,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 91 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."