Spark Tank Rewards Innovative Ideas, Doles Out $47,500

Spark Tank judges

Rev. Melissa Hatch (red shirt) pitched her idea of Buttons and Bows Foster Closet and Ministry to (left to right on stage) Philip Neelley, Rev. Silvia Wang, Rev. Dr. Andy Stoker, Jessica Vargas, Gregg Hickman and Pastor Debbie Lyons. Rev. Hatch, the pastor from Button Memorial UMC, walked away with $7,500. 

The 'sharks' will serve as mentors and help guide the eight projects

Sparks of creativity were flying at First UMC Whitesboro on Dec. 3 when eight presenters pitched their creative ministry ideas for a chance to receive up to $10,000 in New Faces New Spaces grant money. The event, sponsored by the NTC Center for Church Development, is in its second year and is modeled after the popular TV show, Shark Tank. Six lay and clergy “sharks” awarded grants to the ideas they felt had the most potential. They will serve as mentors and shepherds to help guide the projects they funded over the next year.

The sharks included:

  • Gregg Hickman, lay member of Whitesboro UMC and owner and CEO of First Texas Home Health
  • Pastor Debbie Lyons, pastor of First UMC Winnsboro
  • Rev. Silvia Wang, pastor of First UMC Archer City
  • Philip Neelley, lay member of Whaley UMC and President / CEO of his second start-up, Trident Process Systems
  • Rev. Dr. Andy Stoker, chief engagement officer for the Thanks-Giving Foundation
  • Jessica Vargas, mission coordinator for the NTC Center for Church Development

The ideas presented ranged from offering reflective kayak experiences to nurture the spiritual lives of seekers, to a clothing closet for foster parents who sometimes must scramble to provide for foster children and youth at a moment’s notice, to a food truck ministry for discipling unchurched neighbors and a vast array in between.

The awarded grants include:

  • Bridging the Gap, a ministry of Mt. Zion UMC in Paris, Texas, that will offer a safe space for children and youth to be after school and will provide mentoring, tutoring, life skills and support from the congregation’s senior members. Pastor Doris Smith and her church received $10,000 to launch this new ministry that will bridge the gaps between the generations in their community.
  • Buttons and Bows Foster Closet and Ministry, pitched by Rev. Melissa Hatch from Button Memorial UMC in Little Elm, Texas, will establish a foster clothing closet and a monthly gathering for foster families to find resources, support and spiritual care. They received $7,500 in grants, and one shark was so inspired by this idea he offered an additional donation out of his own pocket to support the new venture.
  • Healthcare in Worship, presented by Kala Raglin of The Village UMC in Dallas, will use their $5,000 in grant funding to support healthcare entities including nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and hospitals in the Dallas area by providing tangible resources for spiritual care of patients and offering the staff a moment of pause, prayer and worship at their given facilities.
  • Hope, Peace, Love, Joy Senior Ministry at Good Shepherd UMC in Lucas, Texas, received $5,000 to establish a weekly gathering for senior citizens that will include guest speakers, games, lunch and a bible study. Rev. Rebecca Grogan is launching the ministry to reach new faces in a community that encompasses a large number of retirees.
  • The Loft at Casa Emanu-El in Dallas was awarded $5,000 to establish a space that is relevant to young adults in which they will create a stronger relationship with God and with each other. As leaders of a bicultural and bilingual church, Rev. Paul Barton and lay member Abraham Escutia have identified young adults in the Casa View neighborhood as the group that currently has little to no support and The Loft seeks to remedy this.
  • Reflection Kayaks will provide an opportunity to experience God in nature as students from Paris Junior College Wesley Campus Ministry and other adults in the surrounding area of Paris, Texas, gather on kayaks to reflect upon nature, their lives and spirituality. Campus Minister Michelle Wood received $7,500 to purchase kayaks and launch this ministry which will primarily serve unchurched individuals.
  • The Sacred Table, presented by Rev. Martha Hagan Smith of Whaley UMC, will use the $5,000 grant received to create a weekly farm-to-table dining experience and outdoor worship for those from the Gainesville, Texas, area who are not currently engaged in their Sunday worshiping community.
  • The Tastes of Anna was awarded $2,500 to establish a food truck park in the lot adjacent to The Gathering’s newly remodeled ministry center. As planting pastor Dallen Morgan noted, their spot in the heart of downtown Anna, Texas, is a prime location for ministry with those who live and work downtown and will fulfill a need for the city and create an income stream to support future planting efforts for The Gathering.

Watch for episodes of Spark Tank to stream in January, and be inspired by all the good that God is doing through these innovative approaches to ministry.

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2022