Healthy Competition Sparks Opportunity for New Ministries

Spark Tank judges

Spark Tank's five judges will each have $10,000 in grant money to give to the best and most creative new faces in new spaces ideas

The concept is familiar. Five successful people sit on a panel judging new innovations and offering money to the best idea in the room. The North Texas Conference Center for Church Development is adapting the popular “Shark Tank” model to discover and provide support for novel approaches to reaching new faces in new spaces of ministry.

Spark Tank was borne out of CCD Director Rev. Owen Ross’ desire to jumpstart the New Faces New Spaces grants and ministry initiatives following two difficult years. He was aware of other Annual Conferences taking innovative approaches to their grant selection processes, and he had been watching a lot of Shark Tank videos on YouTube.

A panel of five “sharks” has been recruited from NTC laity and clergy. Each will have $10,000 in grant money to give to the best and most creative ministry approaches they hear. Each judge is allowed to split their $10,000 up to four ways. Multiple judges are allowed to invest in the same idea. And no presenter will walk away with more than $15,000.

Along with the funds, the panelists will give two hours of their time for consulting and support to each ministry they fund.

To make it to the Spark Tank event on Dec. 11, applicants must submit a New Faces New Spaces grant application by the Dec. 1 deadline. The CCD team will review the applications and decide which initiatives will make it into the Spark Tank.

Even those that are not picked to be presented to the panel – but do meet the minimum grant requirements – will receive a $500 to $1,000 microgrant from the CCD. Those applications that do not meet the grant requirements will be returned with feedback and will have the opportunity to apply again in the 2022 budget year.

“I pray that, for spaces that make it into the Tank, the sharing of their stories will spark new ideas and new ministries throughout the North Texas Conference and beyond,” Rev. Ross said.

When selecting the panel, Rev. Ross identified creative leaders who would add value to these new spaces. Those serving on the panel are Rev. Richie Butler, Gail Utter, Rev. Danielle Kim, Kenneth Wolverton and Rev. Mike Baughman.

Each of these sharks brings their own gifts and perspectives. Rev. Butler worked in the private equity world before entering full-time ministry and has launched several initiatives such as Project Unity. Having experienced success in both the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, Rev. Butler is uniquely positioned to identify potential in the creative expressions that will be presented.

“I’m an innovator,” said Rev. Butler, senior pastor at St. Luke “Community” UMC. “I have a new thought every day. So, considering that we have someone out there that has an idea and we can make transformational impact with them, it gets me pumped.”

Said Rev. Kim, associate pastor of Custer Road UMC: “I’m excited to see so many new ideas and see what’s worth investing in, to poke holes and see what may work."

Rev. Kim said she also looks forward to the creative process of doing this in community where innovators can bounce ideas off one another and gather data from different ministries that will benefit the NTC as a whole.

Wolverton, Lay Leader of the North Central District, spent most of his career building and selling companies as well as serving on non-profit boards.

“I believe God gave me these experiences so that I can now use that knowledge to help churches live into their calling to make disciples that make a difference for Jesus Christ,” Wolverton said. “I love seeing a vision become a reality. Often the thing holding us back is finding a way to get it started. The opportunity to eliminate that hurdle by helping to fund an idea and assist with a game plan to move forward is incredibly exciting. I can’t wait to see their ideas take flight.”

Rev. Ross said it was crucial to include laity such as Wolverton and Utter in this process because he believes new spaces will only become a movement if laity and lay leadership are involved.

Rev. Ross likens Spark Tank to the original Methodist movement and the social clubs that were lay-led.

“There are many comparisons that can be made between the U.S. today and England at Wesley’s time,” he said. “There is increased isolation and a drop in church participation. And Wesley, by gathering people in small groups, built a movement that transformed the nation and ushered in a revival. I believe if we in the NTC can gather people in small groups, we can combat the rising levels of loneliness and divisiveness, and can be part of ushering in a new season of revival.”

Rev. Butler echoed this notion of accessing our Wesleyan roots around innovation. He said that sometimes in the church we get stuck on tradition or always doing things a certain way and fail to remember the need to continually reinvent and innovate.

“A tradition is simply an innovation that stuck,” Rev. Butler said. “I hope that there will be a juggernaut of innovation and new ideas” with Spark Tank.

When asked what the sharks are looking for in ministries worth funding, the common response was the return on investment in lives that can be changed. Rev. Kim said she will be looking to see how the ministry is structured to make it easier for people to cross the threshold to be a part of what’s happening and, once the people are there, how they will be discipled. She will be asking applicants how they will define success and what are the next steps after that.

For Rev. Butler, what makes a good investment is something that is meeting an unmet need and doing it in a unique way.

“Especially in the work we’re in, since it’s not driven by dollars and cents, it has to be driven by impact,” he said. “It has to excite people, so if it energizes and meets a need it can be uniquely positioned to make an impact.”

Said Wolverton: “My hope is to see dreams come true, but to do it in a way that creates a playbook for other churches to follow.”


Published: Wednesday, October 27, 2021