The Center for Youth Ministry Training’s Innovation Laboratory, made possible with funding from the Lilly Endowment, has selected 10 partner churches to participate in the Innovation Lab. Each of these churches and their youth pastors (“Lead Innovators”) completed a rigorous application process and have been chosen from nearly 50 applicants. This cohort of churches represents five denominations in rural, suburban, and urban locations in seven states.
With the contention that traditional youth group is not the only way to accomplish youth ministry, the CYMT Innovation Lab has developed a five-phase Theological Innovation Process for its partner churches to use in order to develop new models for youth ministry. The end goal is twofold: to design and test innovative models of youth ministry that are practical, effective, and theologically rich; and to continue to tweak the Theological Innovation Process so that it can be widely replicated in various contexts.
The Lead Innovators who were selected to participate in the Innovation Lab showed evidence of theological ability, social capital, and effective leadership. Together, we expect that their diverse experiences and unique voices will strengthen the Lab with a richness that couldn’t be achieved without any one of them. Meet these Lead Innovators and learn about their churches below:
1) Stephanie Dodge has a M.A. in Religion with a focus in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary and a B.A. in biology from Carleton College. Originally from Minnesota, she is an ordained deacon in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church and is currently serving as the Lead Pastor at Glendale UMC and part-time Associate Pastor at Crievewood UMC, both in Nashville, TN. Steph enjoys cycling, triathlons, and playing pretty much every sport. She also likes reading books, going to movies, making yogurt in the Instant Pot, and getting free stuff.
Glendale UMC – Nashville is in the midst of what some have called “a church plant within an existing congregation.” The church is focused on welcoming ALL of God’s children and has become a place where people who have not felt welcomed elsewhere can finally find a place to call home. As such, Glendale has recently been experiencing growth predominately from young adults, young families, and college students. Average weekly Sunday attendance is 30-40.
2) Andrew Mochrie earned his Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary through the Center of Youth Ministry Training, and a bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric from Georgia College and State University. He worked in youth ministry for over 10 years in Georgia, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and North Carolina. His wife is a chef and they love to spend time trekking around the Blue Ridge Mountains with their daughter and two dogs. You can find Andrew outdoors, reading, rock climbing, or at a music festival.
Central United Methodist Church is in the heart of downtown Asheville and is the longest continuously operating church in Asheville, NC. It is a 3000-member church with an average weekly worship attendance of 650, pulling from all over Asheville/Buncombe County, and from bustling downtown to the country roads, including the heart of the South Asheville suburbs. Throughout the year members from Central can be found in the many pubs and breweries in Asheville, hosting theology talks and serving with its sister congregation Haywood St. Church. Central is present in the community at the many downtown festivals and partners with local public radio and event venues every summer to host Sanctuary Sessions in its historic space. Visit their website at http://www.centralumc.org
3) Candice Wynn currently serves as the Pastor of Next Generation Teams at Impact Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and has dedicated her life to transforming the lives of today’s youth so God may be glorified. A Youth Ministry veteran, Candice has served in the area of Children and Youth Ministry for 12 years. When Candice isn’t knee deep in bringing God alive to the next generation, she enjoys all things artsy and spending time with her family. Candice is married to Maxim and they have two children, four-year-old Mason and two-year-old Addison (Sunni).
Impact Church is a multi-site, multicultural gathering of people who are committed to sharing the love of Christ with the world. Impact Church persists in our God-given mandate to connect, pursue and build a community that smashes the status quo of what’s possible for and in our lives. We do church differently so that YOU can LIVE differently, remarkably beyond anyone’s imagination of what’s possible. Recently noted as one of the 100 fastest growing churches in the United States across all denominations, Impact is “Doing Church Differently!™” Please visit Impact at www.impactdcd.org.
4) Samantha Hassell has a Masters of Arts in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary and a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Bethel University. She has been serving youth through the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for over 17 years, serving churches in TN & KY. She and her husband, Victor, have served the Sturgis CP Church in Sturgis, KY for the last decade. Samantha loves sarcasm, books, laughing, making lists, being outside and her three kids – not necessarily all in that order.
Sturgis Cumberland Presbyterian Church is located in Sturgis, KY. The Sturgis Cumberland Presbyterian Church is a place where ALL are welcome, NO ONE is perfect, and ANYTHING is possible! It is a progressive church which seeks to please God through witness, service, and fellowship. Sturgis is home of the “West KY Bike Fest,” and the church offers breakfast and a place to cool off during the weekend each July, when thousands of bikers descend on their little town. Serving the community around us is central to who they are. Learn more about them at www.sturgiscpchurch.com or check them out on Facebook (Sturgis CPC).
5) A CYMT graduate, Becca Bibee has a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary and a Bachelors of Music Education from Birmingham Southern College. She is in her third year of youth ministry at her home church, Trinity United Methodist in Huntsville, Alabama. Becca has a passion for building community and doing the work of theology with her students. She feels most at home laughing and playing board games with her group. When she isn’t doing youth ministry, Becca reads books, wanders the aisles of Target, and shows people unsolicited pictures of her overly adorable niece.
Trinity is a large United Methodist Church in the middle of Huntsville that was started in the 1950s when a bunch of NASA engineers wanted a Methodist church closer to where they lived. To this day, it is still full of rocket scientists and engineers. Trinity averages around 800 weekly worshippers and has a youth ministry of about 150 active students. Take a look at all that is going on at www.trinityhsv.org!
6) Rob Click serves as the Pastor to Youth and Families at College Church of the Nazarene in Olathe, KS. Rob is an alum of Southern Nazarene University and has been in ministry for more than 10 years in a variety of areas from worship and creative arts, to children and family ministry, from down south in Texas, to Oklahoma, Idaho and now in Kansas. He and his wife have three beautiful little girls who love traveling to see family and visiting every coffee shop along the route.
College Church of the Nazarene relocated to its current location over 60 years ago with the hope to partner with a newly established college to reach the growing community of Olathe, on the south end of Kansas City, KS. Today, their mission is to still to partner with the community to reach people with the gospel – at the university, through title one schools, in Mapou, Haiti, and intentionally across our five mile radius. They believe they are right where God has called them to be and maintain the bright hope that they are moving together to Imagine A Place where more is available with God. Learn more at www.collegechurch.com.
7) Keri Cress currently serves as the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministry at Hillcrest UMC in South Nashville, where she has served on staff for the last eight years. She grew up in Minnesota, graduating from Bemidji State University with a degree in social work. She worked in various roles in the Tennessee child welfare system for nearly a decade before joining the Hillcrest staff to work with youth and community outreach. Keri recently completed her MAYM at Memphis Theological Seminary through CYMT. She is mother to a feisty but sweet little girl named Helen and likes hiking and social justice.
Hillcrest United Methodist Church focuses on community outreach and serves approximately 70 families twice monthly with its Food Bank. The church collects school supplies throughout the year for local schools. Nestled in one of the most diverse areas in South Nashville, ten countries are represented in this congregation. Learn more at www.hillcrestumc.org.
8) Rev. Chris Cummings is the Pastor to Youth and Families at The Village UMC in Nashville and has been in youth ministry for 14 years. He is passionate about connecting teens in the community to Jesus and loves helping people discover and live into their callings. He is married to Rev. Joanna Cummings, who is the Pastor to Children and Families at the same church, and has a high energy dog named Shalom. In his “spare time,” Chris enjoys woodworking with reclaimed wood.
The Village is a two-and-a-half year old United Methodist Church plant in the South Nashville area with a vision to be a church for the community. It was planted to reach disconnected people to Jesus and a community of Jesus followers, and intentionally does things differently to do so. People from all backgrounds have become a part of The Village and are working to change the community. Read more at thevillagenashville.com
9) Kelly Mongoven was born and raised in Fort Myers, Florida. She has her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Florida State University and holds a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary and the Center for Youth Ministry Training. Before accepting the call of Associate Pastor at Hopeful, Kelly worked as a social worker and served churches in Birmingham, Alabama and Fort Myers, Florida. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys yoga, cooking and being with friends and family.
Hopeful Lutheran Church is in Florence, Kentucky and is associated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). Hopeful was founded in 1806 and is the oldest Lutheran church west of the Allegheny mountains. Hopeful believes that that God has called them to; welcome people to faith in Jesus, equip people with a faith that works in real life, and send people in service into the world in Jesus’ name. For more information please see www.hopefulchurch.org
10) Rev. Olivia Stewart, ordained in the PC(USA), currently serves as the Minister for Children, Youth, and Families at Central Reformed Church. A graduate of Hope College and Princeton Theological Seminary, Olivia is also the executive director of the Children & Worship Institute for which she travels the country leading training workshops. She has always been enamored with children and youth and is dedicated to fostering a culture of openness, spontaneity, joy, and eagerness for a relationship with God. Olivia also loves paddle-boarding, skiing, and scuba diving and is the mother of a busy, curious, and sweet little boy named Willem.
Central Reformed Church is located just outside of downtown Grand Rapids in the Mitten state (Michigan) and belongs to the Reformed Church in America (RCA). 180 people attend worship on Sundays, including a large contingent of Dutch immigrants. Members will often play what they endearingly call Dutch bingo: “Did you know so-and-so is related to so-and-so, oh! Are you related to so-and-so??” Last year Central was the third largest venue in Grand Rapids for an annual art festival called ArtPrize, and it has a professed interminable fear of screens in the sanctuary. Check out Central at https://www.centralreformedchurch.org/
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.