By Erik Alsgaard
To “think outside the box,” you must first know the box is there. Members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference are starting a project for people who don’t even know the box exists.
Called the Change Maker Project, the goal is to create a “sustainable ecosystem of Christian innovation with and for college-aged students and young adults (ages 18 to 30) that will increase the number of young clergy.”
That, however, is not the only goal, according to Christie Latona, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She said the Change Makers Project will create “fresh expressions of church,” using mentoring, design thinking, cohorts and immersion experiences that will foster not just growth, but innovation. In short, it’s connecting people who want to make a difference with each other, with God, and with resources.
“We talk about the mission of the church as making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Latona said. “A change maker is someone who (has been) changed by a relationship with God, and out of that comes a desire to make a difference in the world.”
Done in partnership with Wesley Theological Seminary, InspireDC, and young people’s ministries, the focus of the Change Makers Project is young adults exploring their call through innovation. Potential change makers, Latona said, could be those who want to apply design thinking for Gospel-driven social change, or others who love Jesus but who can’t imagine inviting their friends or neighbors to current expressions of church.
“There are those young adults who say, ‘There’s gotta be a different way to do church,’” Latona said. “They may be potential change makers. It comes out of a sense of purpose; it comes out of the sense that ‘I am being called to make a difference.’”
The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry provided a $302,350 grant for a period of 3 years for the project as part of their Young Clergy Initiative. Latona sees part of the Change Makers Project as an innovative way for people to explore their call while they’re making a difference.
“That’s a really different way of doing things,” she said. “It’s not just a program, it’s this whole system and process of experience, learning and dialogue, but also actually doing something different in the world informed by those experiences and relationships.”
If you or someone you know might be a candidate for the Change Makers Project, a series of three events, called “Taste and See,” are being offered. The Taste and See events, open to all, are a way for people to get a small experience of what it might look like to do ministry differently, Latona said. She described the Taste and See events as one part inspiration, one part application and one part immersion, designed to encourage and support people in taking innovative yet practical next steps so that they and their friends can start new communities with new people to do good with God.
The first Taste and See will be held at American University in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23. Two other Taste and See events will be held in Baltimore and Frostburg early in 2018.
“It provides a way for people to get hands-on experience with these ideas that we will explore further in the Change Maker project,” Latona said about Taste and See. “But also, it’s available for people of all ages to take these concepts back to their local church and do ministry differently.”
Latona urged United Methodists throughout the BWC who know young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, who they’ve seen as always trying to figure out what they could do next to make a difference as a follower of Jesus, to send them to Taste and See.
At the Taste and See events, participants will be encouraged to commit to a next step. Participating in the Change Makers Project is one of three options.
Latona said they are looking for roughly 30 young adults to be part of the initial Change Makers cohort. Each will be formed geographically, focused on accountability and spiritual growth while also integrating the best thinking about Christian social innovation.
Cohort members will be invited to visit London, England, for a week-long immersive training experience in a part of the world with deep Methodist roots that has been experiencing a downturn in traditional Christian expressions for longer than we have in the U.S. As part of their learning about vision casting and fundraising, cohorts will raise half of their travel expenses through both traditional (i.e., church offerings) and newer (i.e., GoFundMe) means. The grant covers the other half.
A Missional Entrepreneurship week concludes the project in the summer of 2019. Change Makers will work with coaches and potential investors to fine tune their ministry models and find potential resources and collaborators. At the end of the week, participants will “pitch” their project to “impact investors” who will have the opportunity to help fund the new venture with a goal of starting 10 Christian social innovation projects (a.k.a., faith communities) by Fall 2019.