The fourth NEXT Church national gathering is next week in Minneapolis. I’ve been to each of these gatherings so far, and I’ve come away each time with lots to think about and experiment with. This week we’ll look back at the first three NEXT gatherings and suggest things I’m looking forward to at this year’s gathering.
[Also, as I’ve said before, I love Chad Andrew Herring, and he’s one of the event’s organizers]
The inaugural gathering was held at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis in 2011. Its timing coincided with the publication of a white paper by a group of pastors that later came to be called The Fellowship of Presbyterians and that, within a year, had launched an alternative Presbyterian denomination. Many assumed that NEXT was a reaction to those developments. It wasn’t, but it may as well have been.
I wrote three posts related to the 2011 gathering. A basic summary, a testy defense, and throwdown with Landon (there was also this comparison of NEXT with The Fellowship) There was a great deal of hand-wringing at the lack of racial, gender, and officer diversity on display, and some participants criticized NEXT’s ambitions as too “like-minded.” I wrote in response:
…I don’t think any association of individuals who are trying to change an institution can get very far with an unlimited plurality of opinion. It just won’t work. I’m no slave to the mantra of efficiency, but conversations like NEXT and the Fellowship PC(USA) are after some kind of concrete change. That requires a modicum of like-mindedness.
The concern for diversity has been front and center at the three subsequent NEXT gatherings, and I expect nothing less in Minneapolis. The diversity of participants in this movement is one of its great strengths, even as it remains a constant need.
The 2011 event broadcast NEXT’s intended direction in Tom Are’s opening remarks, when he asked, “Why don’t Presbyterians build hospitals anymore?” Speakers then shared insights gleaned from community organizing and entrepreneurship to suggest that institution building need not simply be a chapter in the denomination’s past. This trajectory has characterized NEXT from day one: movement toward the building of structures, processes, and relationships that are constructive. From alternative ordination tracks to administrative commissions, NEXT has largely been about sharing ways of building infrastructure for a church fit for the 21st century.
I’m eager to see how the fourth gathering takes this trajectory forward. The workshop schedule features conversations about leadership, which is where you’ll find me.
Were you in Indianapolis in 2011? What do you remember about it?
Are you going next week? What are you anticipating?