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Northwest Coast Presbytery transforms leadership conference

‘Verge 2.0’ combines experience and inspiration in new format

What does it take to grow a good idea into a great one? For the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Presbytery of the Northwest Coast it meant combining a proven conference format with inspirational stories of innovation, and sharing it as widely as possible.

Aided by a $5,000 Developmental, Risky, Experimental, Adaptive Mission (DREAM) grant from the PC(USA) and a matching contribution from the presbytery, a planning team ventured out to transform its annual Verge leadership conference with a new format and the possibility for worldwide delivery.

Originally started in 2007, Verge was “designed to bring one nationally recognized person, author, missiologist, theologian (someone people are reading and learning from)” to Seattle for an all-day seminar, says the Rev. Corey Schlosser-Hall, executive presbyter of the Northwest Coast Presbytery. Notable figures such as Reggie McNeal, Diana Butler Bass, Leonard Sweet and Roger Nishioka had graced the conference stage in the past, providing an in-depth exploration of the work they were doing in church and society.

Over that time, Schlosser-Hall says the presbytery has overseen the launch of 11 new worshiping communities, and more than 35 congregations have started projects to explore how they can be “indispensible parts of their community”—all largely due to the inspiration found at Verge.

But like all living things, Verge eventually needed to change. That’s when Schlosser-Hall and his team decided to try something new for 2015. Instead of having just one person present, the group wondered what would happen if they invited several presenters.

Gaining inspiration from a popular format pioneered by TED Talks, the planning team decided to invite seven presenters to the 2015 training session, giving them each 18 or fewer minutes to present their inspirational message or project. They recorded each talk so the messages could be widely distributed via video sharing.

The result: Verge 2.0.

Schlosser-Hall says shorter talks means the “amount of preparation and rehearsal goes up,” but the “meaningfulness of what was presented was condensed… By restraining the time, we can make the resource available in digestible bites for any team, individual, session or group any time they want it.”

Presenters included the Rev. Brandon Bailey from Tidelands Church, a new missional church plant in Stanwood, Wash.; the Rev. James Kwon from Community Church of Seattle; the Rev. Ken Lucas from Park Community Church, a transforming congregation in South Plainfield, N.J.; the Rev. Milad Istafanous Nakhla from Community College Outreach at Everett, Edmonds, Shoreline, and Cascadia Community Colleges; the Rev. James B. Notkin from Union Church, a new church plant in Seattle; Melissa Robertson from Pepitas Bilingual Preschool in Lake Forest Park, Wash.; and Willow Weston, founder and director ofCollide: Run Into Jesus in Bellingham, Wash.

“One of the core things that is true of all these people, and is true of someone doing a more pioneering work, is that they’re going to function in a leadership role,” says Schlosser-Hall of the 2015 presenters. “You simply can’t wait around for someone to tell you what the expectations are. If what you’re looking for is someone to tell you ‘this is what I expect,’ then you’re going to be stuck… [These people] have an internal drive, they develop internal expectations and they expect to live into them.”

“We wanted to really deeply encourage innovation,” he continues. “We wanted to encourage people trying something new. Everything we featured was new—either for that church in the way it was developing, or it was a whole new organization or a whole new ministry.”

“We wanted to know, ‘What have you learned about starting something new, what does it take, what do you know, what can we learn from you?’” he says.

According to Schlosser-Hall, the new format received “fabulous feedback” from participants, including more than a dozen ecumenical partners, asking when the next Verge 2.0 would be held. He says the trend will continue, with Saturday of the presbytery’s two-day leadership summit focusing on the new format.

While the 2015 edition of Verge 2.0 focused on innovation, Schlosser-Hall says subsequent leadership summits will likely have different themes while retaining the speaker format and distribution plan that existed last year.

Schlosser-Hall is encouraged by the energy, faith-sharing and outreach generated by Verge 2.0. “This kind of living—being courageous and connected to one another and generous around our ideas, efforts and encouragement of one another—is the way to be the church today,” he says.

“One of the cool things about doing something like Verge 2.0 is you have no idea how much encouragement these ministries received by being invited and asked to share their stories,” concludes Schlosser-Hall.

“Share more courage with each other, and do it as a way of life.”

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