Launch 3.0 Sparks Ministry Innovation And Creativity

Aaron Manes, Ashley Anne Sipe, Phil Dieke, Baylee Davis, and Rohini Drake

(From left) Aaron Manes, Ashley Anne Sipe, Phil Dieke, Baylee Davis and Rohini Drake.

Pastors encouraged to find opportunities at the intersection of digital and in-person ministry

The Spirit was moving as nearly 100 people from across the country gathered March 6-8 in Houston for “Launch 3.0: Formation and the Phygital Space,” hosted by the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). TMF refers to the work of navigating physical and digital discipleship as “phygital” and is equipping leaders to chart this new frontier for the Christian church.

North Texas Conference attendees were Baylee Davis, Pepa Paniagua, Ashley Anne Sipe, Phil Dieke, Matt Temple, Rohini Drake and Aaron Manes, as well as Carol Montgomery, Blair Thompson-White and Lisa Greenwood from TMF.

“The goal is to ignite imaginations for ministry,” said Rev. Dr. Blair Thompson-White, vice president of leadership ministry at TMF, which provides financial and leadership services to churches, institutions and individuals. “We want to get the right people in the room, ask the right questions and see where the Holy Spirit will go,” she said.

Sipe makes her pitch

Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe, pastor of Vista Ridge UMC, pitched her idea of a makerspace restoration ministry called Reclaaimed. Her idea was voted the crowd favorite and awarded $3,000 in seed money.

Charting a new frontier

Reflecting on the new opportunities created through the intersection of digital and in-person ministry, Drake noted her unique position at First UMC Richardson as both director of online ministries and director of welcoming.

“What does this look like in a space where I don't actually see people and one where the focus is on the experience of somebody who is absolutely only in person,” Drake asked. “I think the benefit of my role is that I care deeply about both spaces, so I don't feel like I'm focused just on one and neglecting the other. I'm trying to figure out where they are able to blend.

“For the people who are online, it’s important to realize that they don’t just want a worship service to consume and check it off their list. They want connection, they want community, but it looks totally different. We wanted to know what their needs are instead of just assuming. We decided we needed to ask them, so surveys have been really important for us.”

Through the use of these feedback loops, First UMC Richardson continually innovates and refines their online worship, podcasts and other digital ministries to better align with people’s real needs for connecting with God and others.

In charting these new waters, Thompson-White said: “The goal is never innovation itself. The goal is always loving people well. To do that we innovate, we try new things. The people are always the focus.”

Rev. Phil Dieke echoed the idea of innovating to engage individuals in a new, deeper way. “The next iterations of social gatherings are going to be niche, as opposed to trying to gather everybody,” he said. “We’re going to coalesce around certain ideas. People always thought that with digital it’s limitless, so cast the net widely. But if you don’t have a target audience you’re talking to nobody.

“I think the church needs to invest in how do we go deeper, not further or wider. We need to figure out a way for people to go deeper together, so that transformation really does happen in individuals. And as individuals are changed, so are our communities.”

12 pitchers at conference

Twelve participants pitched their ideas at Launch 3.0, including Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe (fifth from right) and Matt Temple (far right). 

Incubating fresh ideas

Throughout their time in Houston, We Are Curio innovation studio guided the assembled innovators through a process of incubating an idea and shaping it into a viable ministry.

For Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe, pastor of Vista Ridge UMC, the experience allowed her to live into a dream she’s felt God calling her to and to tap into the divine spark of creativity within her.

“I want to start a makerspace restoration ministry called Reclaaimed," she said. "I have done restoration projects for years and they've not only fed my artistic hunger, but they've also drawn me closer to the creative and restorative nature of God."

Sipe was one of 12 participants selected to pitch their idea to the whole group at Launch 3.0. Reclaaimed, which is designed to give people an opportunity to connect with others, build a faith community and tap into the divine spark within them, was selected as the crowd favorite and awarded $3,000 in seed money. TMF awarded a total of $15,000 to help new ministries come to fruition.

Matt Temple, associate director of the Center for Congregational Development and pastor of New Story in Chicago, did not arrive in Houston with an idea in mind. He left with a vision for an app that would work like a dating app to help people refine how they best nurture their spiritual lives and connect them with others who are drawn to the same spiritual disciplines.

“Getting to connect with other leaders was really meaningful to me,” Temple said. “To be in a space that allowed me to get away from all the busyness and just relax and ideate and hear what other people are doing – that was really inspiring to me.”

Like Sipe, he also was selected to pitch his idea to the larger group and ranked third in the votes for crowd favorite.

Hearing the variety of ministries in action and those in the ideation stage, the future church will benefit from more spaces like Launch 3.0. These are the places that Thompson-White says “give permission to play, to imagine, to dream God-sized dreams. … A space where your ideas are nurtured and your spirit is nurtured.”

Published: Wednesday, April 5, 2023