NEPTUNE – “You could actually feel the excitement in the air,” exclaimed GNJ Lay leader Rosa Williams. “All of the laity were eager, excited, and engaged in learning with delightful energy and a spirit of hope.” The Mission and Resource Center was packed and bustling with laity from across GNJ participating in the day long 2017 Laity Leadership Academy on September 9.
Designed to provide the tools and skills required for lay leaders to empower their churches for the challenges of the 21st century, the academy featured six different tracks with action plans for laity to bring back to their congregations.
“It’s an inspiration to witness the faithfulness of the laity that attended this training event,” said Diana who? , “Some of them got up very early and traveled far to be with us for the day. It’s truly a joy to support of the Board of Laity in all that they do to equip the laity of GNJ.”
Trey Wince, Director of New Disciples led an evangelism track on “connecting with your community in not-so-scary ways.”
“People are just so excited to be invested,” said Wince. “And that’s what makes it a fun group.”
The evangelism track focused on ways their churches could seek out local issues and meet with community leaders to link the church with the community. They discussed marketing their church and actively making connections with people outside their church.
Eric Drew, Director of Worship, led a track called “I’m with the band” focused particularly on leading worship. With members of worship bands from throughout GNJ coming to engage in learning and dialogue, the group also had a chance to jam together.
“We learned a lot from each other about challenges in our churches as well as things that are working well,” said Drew, who was especially excited to have Rev. Charles Perez of Morristown UMC come with a student from his church’s Holy Hoops Ministry. In the group’s time of worship band coaching they incorporated freestyle Christian rap.
“That was pretty fun,” said Drew.
Arthur Harrell and Helen Hunter, who both have a healthcare background, led a track about vital ministries with older adults due to the amount of congregants in GNJ who are aging and have family members responsible for taking care of them.
“There’s a lot of stress associated with the aging process and we wanted to try to address some of the stresses and effectively alleviate them for care givers,” said Harrell. “We sought to provide participants with local resources for both care givers and the people they’re caring for.”
Harrell and Hunter hope to set up a model program within the Raritan Valley District where they reside, to act as a springboard resource for others in GNJ to do something similar.
“The workshop was really well structured,” said Hunter. “People contributed so much and everyone seemed to really benefit from the experience. They left excited to go back to their churches with fresh ideas.”
Eric Valosin’s track on creating a church website was particularly innovative for those in attendance. The group discussed emerging trends in web design, tips from the United Methodist branding manual, the tools needed to host a website and a hands-on website building tutorial; working together to build a page for a hypothetical church website. Participants sketched out on paper the pages age of the website they wished to build and gave a short presentation of each page, explaining their reasoning behind their decisions for the group to critique.
“Being tied only to the pencil and paper rather than an existing online framework freed the group to come up with some very imaginative designs,” said Valosin. “It was fun to see them continue to discuss with each other even after the workshop had ended, visibly having several small epiphanies and getting more excited about their website-in-progress.”
Other tracks included an expressive liturgical and praise dance workshop led by Pamela D. Gordy, and building an effective church social media strategy, facilitated by Debbie Bruce, George Lagos, and Eric Lottes.
“It seems that there’s a distinct awareness that by not making social media a priority, the UMC could ultimately lose members and fail to attract new members,” said Lagos, GNJ Director of Lay Servant Ministries and President of Rockland Computer Service, LLC. “Social media is the way followers are found and made.”
Speakers from Raptor Marketing Group and Blue Vista Solutions educated the group in the many areas of defining church core values, determining target audiences, selecting the right social channels, and creating professionally branded imagery.
“Applying these vital strategies ensures that we engage and grow our church community for the future. How can we not afford to make social media an immediate priority?” said Lagos. “In addition, real budget monies need to be dedicated to this area when setting said budgets.”