Approximately 600 Presbyterians have gathered in Atlanta this week for the 2016 National Gathering of NEXT church.
Meeting Monday through Wednesday (Feb. 22-24, 2016) at the First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, the gathering is focusing on “Faith at the Crossroads,” and includes worship services, keynote speakers, workshops and fellowship.
On Tuesday morning, the Rev. Lori Raible of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian in Charlotte, N.C. and the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors of Brown Memorial Park Ave Presbyterian in Baltimore, Md., both leaders in the organization gave an update on NEXT.
“When we started the gathering our goal was not to create space to make sure we all agree,” said Raible, “but through a variety of diverse speakers and conversations our perceptions are challenged about the work of the church and our positions in that work and ultimately, who God is.”
NEXT was founded on the conviction that “we believe that God is active in the world and we are called to be a part of that action,” said Connors. “If the church is going to be a part of what God is doing in the world then we have to pay attention to how we are all in relationship with each other, because the church is — in essence — God’s people in relationship with a purpose.”
The conference participants were told that NEXT is more than a national gathering: “We are about more than talking.”
Realizing that “we need to do what we say at NEXT Church,” Raible said that the leadership team set a “new diversity benchmark with a goal of being 50 percent non-white by 2017.” Currently, NEXT has a racial diversity of 30 percent.
Last year, they said, NEXT partnered with other organizations to host a retreat at Montreat Conference Center for 150 newly ordained people, partnered with the Board of Pensions to host a second web site specifically geared toward the newly ordained in the church, held five regional gatherings and just completed a national listening campaign, hearing from nearly 500 leaders in the country through 50 small gatherings.
In other news, the organization has received a grant to explore the question “How do we measure the faithfulness and success of ministry in both traditional and experimental settings?”
A fund-raising pitch was also given.
“Last year we raised $118,000 which covered an amazing director, a creative part time specialist, a dynamic young adult volunteer, an awesome web site, a Beyonce soundtrack and a case of Miller Lite,” they said
The money came from 30 congregations and 50 individuals. “We need your support. We need to be able to continue not only the national gathering, but the great work of revitalizing our relationships with the conviction of God is at work among us. Plus you all know how expensive Miller Lite is.”
“As long as our denomination is in transition we know that there will be work for us to do,” said Raible,” and we just need some help doing it. We need you to invest.”