150 registrants. 16 workshop leaders. 15 vendors. Seven denominations. All coming together for three days!

Despite being held online for a second year running, this didn’t stop church planters, regional representatives, and lay leaders from taking part in New Church Ministry’s Leadership Academy. In fact, registration was almost double what it was in 2020, with attendees reflecting age and racial diversity.

Moreover, with the Multiply Track session—a new addition for 2021—program staff, boards, and clergy of established congregations were able to learn alongside their peers, too. This cohort, facilitated by Pastor Terrell L McTyer (Minister of New Church Strategies) and Christie Love (pastor and church planter of The Connecting Grounds in Springfield, MO), was the largest track with 60 registrants who explored vision and problem statements, as well as growth and fixed mindsets.

But what keeps past participants returning year after year? Not only is it other tracks for core teams at the same stage of the church launch process, but it’s also thought-provoking plenaries, interactive practical workshops, and dedicated time for fellowship.

Learning in their own contexts

During the Start Track, core teams who had not yet planted their communities of faith joined from as far away as Maryland and California. Led by New Church Ministry Associate Minister Rev. Dr. Jose Martinez and New Church Ministry coach Pastor Jorge “Joey” Cotto, core teams of emerging faith communities explored how church planting has changed since the pandemic and how tools such as a spiritual gifts inventory can help leaders identify their skills and talents.

Meanwhile, in the Sustain Track, Sandy Harvey (long-time Leadership Academy track facilitator and President and CEO of Exodus Consulting Group), Carla Leon (New Initiatives Manager for the United Church of Canada’s EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development), and Rev. Selena Reyes (chair of the Florida region’s New Church Ministry Commission and the event’s Spanish translator) discussed money and marketing/branding with core teams that had recently launched their places of worship.

“As a founder, you are your brand,” shared Carla, who has previously teamed up with New Church Ministry on an episode of New Church Hacks and the Hopeful Economics UnConference

Sharing wisdom and experiences

Leadership Academy’s plenaries, or DOCTalks, are joint sessions led by a thought leader who addresses missional transformation. This year, the thought leaders were first-timer Rev. Dr. Eun Strawser (co-vocational church planter and physician), who spoke about disciple-making; returning guest Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija (Founding Director of TryTank), who spoke about innovation; and Rev. Dr. Delesslyn Kennebrew (Minister for New and Transforming Churches in the Greater Kansas City region), who led the event’s Commissioning Service.

“Discipleship is meant for everyone and not just some,” Rev. Dr. Eun told those present. “It’s meant to imitate Jesus and to have concrete models around us in order to imitate Jesus.”

Learn.Explore.Actuate.Discover.Laboratories

Leadership Academy’s workshops, or LEADLabs, are designed to help leaders imagine, innovate, and implement sustainable concepts. While the workshop leaders, called Spiritual Scientists and Subject Matter Experts, discussed topics ranging from building management to financial independence, the topic of rest was a common one that resonated with participants.

“Leadership Academy saved me from overworking myself and reminded me to lead with God first,” recalled Queen of New Eyes Village Church in Fort Collins, CO, a Leadership Academy participant.

Building connections

Participants had time to get to know one another during Wednesday morning’s Breakout & Breakfast session, a staple of the last couple years that has proven to be popular with those in attendance.

“The Leadership Academy is empowering me to align myself with God’s call, knowing that I’m not alone,” wrote Rev. Kristin Aardema Faigh, a Leadership Academy participant, in her feedback for the event, “and that what I am called to do is important, and possible.”

Breakout rooms were also used during tracks to enable participants to collaborate in small groups.

The future of Leadership Academy

What enabled this potentially unwieldy undertaking to take place? The hard work and dedication of Project Coordinator Wesley King, who organized speakers, facilitated registration, and helped attendees navigate the event’s digital platforms such as Zoom, Teachable, and Whova, the latter of which was also a 2021 addition.

“This was my first Leadership Academy,” explained Wesley, “and it was amazing to see the way that God is moving and working in the lives and ministries of folks all over the United States and Canada!”

And next year? Well, next year, Leadership Academy will continue to be an exclusively digital gathering, and the Church can only imagine the various opportunities that God will provide us to see the Spirit moving.

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