Next Church starts on Monday, and as I have been for all but one of them since 2011, I will be there. I am way looking forward to it.
It’s been awhile since I blogged about this movement and its terrific annual gatherings. For the first four years of its existence, I tried to narrate what I saw happening at the conferences in Indianapolis, Dallas, Charlotte, and Minneapolis. Then I helped organize the one in Chicago and got a very different perspective on what it means to tee up a substantive conversation for a diverse national group of church leaders. I think that’s when my Next blogging stopped.
I think I had deluded myself for half a decade that what was unfolding at Next was linear and could be described in the terms framed by the leaders of the organization and its national events. But I saw pretty clearly in 2015 that the Next Church conversation changes significantly from year to year, and the people up front are only one part of choosing what it’s about.
I missed the event in 2017, and when I went back to it last spring I felt like a Presbyterian Rip Van Winkle. The people, the environment, the tone, the sheer scale of the thing: Next 2018 felt like something I’d never been part of before. It was disorienting, even a little disappointing; for most of my professional ministry I had counted on these annual gatherings to be like the first ones I experienced, relatively small and like-minded. But my ministry context changed in 2016. A lot changed in 2016. Next changed with it.
So it’s actually exciting to participate in a movement that is undergoing such drastic and substantive change, growth and development you can actually experience first hand annually. That the course of that change is being directed by an increasingly diverse team of leaders–in concert with the Spirit–responding to what feels like an increasingly unpredictable culture only means that no single group of adherents has possession of what it is and what it’s doing.
See you next week!