Next Ventures is an innovative approach to finding, connecting, and learning from emerging leaders who are shaping the future of the church. We begin the process by collaborating with our Venture Partners – churches and ministries with national influence – to discover a new wave of innovative projects and leaders and then provide them with small capital grants for encouragement.
We bring 10-15 of these innovators together each year at an event we call our Church Innovation Trade Show. This event allows each of the leaders to present a pitch for funding, attend a breakout session for further Q&A, and spend time collaborating, networking, and learning. Next Ventures is one of the ways we are intentionally investing in leaders and projects shaping the future of the church.
In this article, we will feature six of them as Part Two of this series.
– Jon Wiest, Director of Innovation NEXT
Claim Your Campus
By Olivia Williamson
A small group of high school students in Michigan began to pray for their schools and quickly discovered a pressing issue on their campus. The high school was plagued with violence as fights were breaking out every day in the halls.
The students prayed persistently for an end to the fighting and a few months later school officials reported that for some unknown reason, the fighting had completely ended. That initial prayer gathering sparked Claim Your Campus (CYC), a ministry dedicated to sparking a student-led prayer movement in middle schools and high schools across America.
As Claim Your Campus was growing and building momentum nationwide, four sophomores answered a call to regularly intercede for their high school in Marion, Indiana. They focused their prayers in three key areas: An end to violence, improving grades, and bold, Christ followers in their school.
With several fights happening each day and an “F rating” for plummeting test scores, these students longed to see God move. A few months later, the principal pulled one of the sophomores into his office to ask about the prayer meeting.
After explaining their prayer points, the principal shared that test scores had sky-rocketed, and they were now an “A-rated school.” He also shared that fighting had decreased and peace had invaded the hallways. The student encouraged the principal to attend their church and he was later baptized!
Incredible stories like these have been heard around the nation because young people are choosing to intercede for their schools and their generation. There are now CYC prayer groups happening in at least 34 states around the country from early Monday morning to Friday after school.
Gen Z is answering the call to pray, and God is bringing healing to the hallways of their schools. In fact, 30,000+ students have now answered the call to pray and been trained through Claim Your Campus resources.
Training happens at national conferences, churches, CYC Gatherings, virtual training calls, and on the free Claim Your Campus prayer app.
While student-led prayer is now happening inside middle and high school campuses, a new call is also being issued to those outside the schools.
Students can join the movement by downloading the Claim Your Campus app, inviting two or more friends to participate, and showing up to pray weekly at their school.
Adults can join this movement by prayer walking a school or mobilizing students to pray in their schools.
A prayer movement is important for our nation’s future, not just because of what students are doing but who they are connected to as they pray. A generation is learning how to communicate with the only One who can bring true transformation in our lives. Personal and nationwide revival will come when people are connected to God in prayer.
For more information, visit https://claimyourcampus.com/.
By Paul Watson
While growing up on the mission field overseas, I had the privilege of learning from my father as he was sent to one of the most unreached people groups on the planet, the Bhojpuri of Northern India.
His nontraditional methods resulted in 80,000 new church plants and over two million baptisms in less than 20 years. He helped launch a disciplemaking movement.
As I stepped into full-time ministry as an adult, I started training disciplemakers all over the world, and, in 2015, launched Contagious Disciple Making to transfer some of these principles to the United States. I didn’t imagine the journey would take me into a maximum-security prison in Amarillo, Texas. It began with a conversation.
“Hi, I’m Jack. I’m a prison chaplain and read your book Contagious Disciple Making. What you’re saying is biblical and should work here in the prison, but I’m struggling to figure it all out.”
I responded, “Well, Jack, that’s what I’m here for. Let’s talk.”
This simple exchange sparked a new disciplemaking initiative in prisons across the country. Jack tried to start a Discovery Bible Study with a few men on the inside and was committed to taking the gospel to one of the darkest places in the United States.
We soon began the process of examining the principles of disciplemaking movements and working out the tactics to apply those principles in a maximum-security prison. The breakthrough came after mobilizing our global network to fast and pray.
Within the month, Jack trained an inmate named Gregg to launch a Discovery Bible Study in a building that housed some of the most notorious prisoners. Soon after, they had more than 300 men participating in 37 Discovery Bible Studies that went five generations deep and resulted in several baptisms!
In 2022, Gregg was released from prison and began attending our online community prayer meeting. In one of our sessions, he shared that the national recidivism rate was almost 70 percent. I was stunned.
Over the next few months, our conversations gave birth to the Freedom Initiative, a new division of Contagious Disciple Making that provides a holistic approach to solving the problems of incarceration and crime by connecting the dots between Disciplemaking movements within the prison and reintegration to life on the outside.
As people learn more about the Freedom Initiative, they are inspired to start chapters in their own communities. The movement is spreading. This year, we’ve received word that disciple makers trained at the Clements Prison in Amarillo, Texas have started Discovery Bible Studies in four additional prisons.
In addition, the cycle of generational incarceration is being broken as we are hearing testimonies of former inmates sharing the Bible with their children and others around them.
Prisoners haven’t been forgotten by God any more than the Bhojpuri of Northern India. In fact, we are seeing disciplemakers transforming the darkest parts of our communities.
For more information, visit https://www.contagiousdisciplemaking.com/.
By Vince Garvey
Ambassadors Ministries is a unique organization dedicated to assisting local churches, gospel-centered non-profits, and other ministry initiatives fulfill their God-given callings.
Established in 2021, it serves as a bridge between ministry partners and generous donors, enabling these partners to gather support for their mission.
Ambassadors Ministries can be traced back to two distinct visions that converged in 2021. In 2008, Pastor Ryan Arneson founded the original Ambassadors Ministries with a mission to spread the gospel in his Arizona community. His desire was to collaborate with others in the body of Christ to reach specific groups of people with God’s message. This initiative allowed evangelists and local missionaries to pursue their callings both spiritually and vocationally.
In 2012, Vince Garvey founded Redemption Church Flagstaff in northern Arizona. By 2014, the church had grown significantly, but its funding, primarily from college students, was insufficient to support the needed staff expansion.
Vince reached out to Jason Raber, a member of the founding team, for a solution. This led to the creation of Praxis Ministries in 2014 to raise funds and support staff expansion at Redemption Church.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the church landscape in 2021, traditional funding models also faced challenges. Recognizing the need for a new approach, Ryan, Vince, and Jason united their visions and organizations, forming Ambassadors Ministries. Today, their mission is to help local churches employ staff as “missionaries” to their congregations and communities through fundraising, coaching, and administrative support, all at no cost to the church.
Ambassadors Ministries has witnessed remarkable growth, starting with a dozen ministry partners in 2021 and now expanding to more than 40 partners serving 20 ministries, including international locations. This partnership model has garnered enthusiastic responses from aspiring ministers, offering a fresh perspective on staffing and funding ministry in local churches. It has also evolved to serve co-vocational and bi-vocational ministry models as well.
Imagine being able to stay in front of the hiring needs in your church. What if you could launch a paid internship and residency through fundraising to maximize your internal leadership development pipeline? What if members at your church caught a vision for reaching a specific community or neighborhood in your city and became local missionaries, in partnership with passionate donors and your church? Ambassadors Ministries is a dynamic organization dedicated to transforming the way local churches and ministries fund their missions.
For more information, visit https://www.ambassadorsministries.com.
By Tommy Kyllonan
The world is rapidly becoming more urban and diverse. Cities are expanding and younger demographics are growing. Pew research predicts that in a few decades, the U.S. will be predominantly made up of what are currently considered minority groups.
However, the American church seems unprepared for this shift.
Most church planting efforts still focus on predominantly white suburban areas or gentrified city neighborhoods, primarily due to economic factors. Urban communities often get overlooked, and existing urban churches struggle, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, with many still facing challenges in attendance and giving.
In response to these challenges, Flavor Fest took its leadership training on a nationwide tour in 2023. Our mission is to empower urban church leaders to effectively reach their communities for Christ.
Their journey began in 2000 when we hosted a weekend training event in Tampa to share innovative, urban ministry strategies. A breakthrough came when one of the leaders released a Hip-Hop CD featuring urban youth engaged in their ministry. This sparked widespread interest, leading to inquiries from around the country and beyond.
In response, Flavor Fest launched an urban leadership conference, emphasizing innovative approaches to ministry. The conference included workshops, networking sessions, and a community outreach component. A key attraction was the evening Hip-Hop music festival, showcasing Christian Hip-Hop in a vibrant and engaging environment. This festival gained recognition and attracted notable artists, contributing to the Christian Hip-Hop movement’s growth.
Beyond music connections, Flavor Fest has aided in planting dozens of churches and revitalizing hundreds of urban congregations, with more than 5,000 leaders attending their events. Despite our success, we discovered that many urban church leaders felt isolated and misunderstood within their denominations or networks. Budget constraints and rising costs made it difficult for them to attend annual events in Tampa.
In response to these challenges, Flavor Fest decided to take their training tour to urban leaders in major cities, eliminating travel costs and allowing entire teams to attend. They selected New York City, LA, Atlanta, and Houston for their inaugural tour in 2023, reaching more than 800 people. The response was overwhelmingly positive with requests to return, and we now plan to expand our efforts in 2024, partnering with larger artists and speakers to impact even more leaders in these cities.
Flavor Fest is committed to supporting healthy, innovative, gospel-centered urban churches, recognizing the unique role they play in a changing world.
For more information, visit https://flavorfest.org/.
The Jesus Experience (JXP)
By Preston Ulmer and Jason Bowman
Jesus picked you.
You are his disciple.
You are “one of the twelve.”
That is the reality that The Jesus Experience (JXP) leans into. JXP is a framework for reading the biographies of Jesus with others and then practicing what it would look like to follow him. JXP groups meet weekly to read, question, and follow. After each reading and lesson, there are simple, yet profound practices for the week.
Less anxious ways.
More present ways.
More sacrificial ways.
JXP was launched in 2020 after COVID shook up the world and forced the church to return to studying the life and words of Jesus in small groups, without the Sunday morning gathering. I was recently hosting a JXP group through my home church in Springfield, Missouri. Our church decided to use JXP as our small group model, and we had more than 90 groups going through the book of Luke.
The meetings crept up on me. My wife and I rushed to clean our house (we have two little ones), hoping that no one would arrive too early. We are convicted to never let hospitality go by the wayside and, as inconvenient as it was, when our group started to arrive, we felt as if we were welcoming genuine Jesus followers into a sacred space.
There wasn’t a video to play, or an awkward game to get past the formalities. We were there to be disciples of a man named Jesus, and to do that together. We were convinced that spiritual formation happens best when we change the stories we believe, the community we create, and the practices we form.
JXP gave us the handles to being formed in this way. We started by checking in on the week. What was it like reading a chapter of Jesus’ life slowly? What was it like practicing an ancient way of prayer? What did we sense Jesus inviting us into? After the check in, we read a passage from Jesus’ life together and practiced Lectio Divina, reading something three times to understand it through our head, heart, and hands. The practice is designed to help us encounter Jesus and the questions at the end of the reading helped us listen. Finally, there were practices for the week that correlated with the reading. These practices aren’t afraid to introduce something new because we all know the old way isn’t working.
We are about to step into another season of JXP through the book of Acts, and my soul is already anticipating the reality of Jesus through his followers.
For our church, JXP hasn’t become a new thing to do, but a new way to do everything. Instead of fighting for a different model of church, it fits within every ministry paradigm. This is Jesus XP: A Jesus-centered discipleship journey in real life with real people.
For more information, visit https://thejesusxp.com/.
Urban Leadership Development
By Troy and Mark Evans
Hustle Pray Eat (HPE) is a Christ-centered, urban street brand committed to motivating people to work hard, seek the Lord, and reach their community for Jesus.
HPE was started in 2019 by uncle/nephew duo Troy and Mark Evans. Troy is a serial entrepreneur turned church planter and has pastored or planted four urban churches while serving as a consultant for dozens of other churches across the US and England.
Mark has owned his own companies, become a national recording artist, and served in a wide variety of other ministries.
Jade Richards (UK native) joined the family of HPE as VP of Retail and host of their growing podcast.
From its inception, HPE was never intended to be simply another t-shirt brand. Instead, we knew these three words would inspire, motivate, and challenge Christ followers through apparel, content, and media. Ministry in urban communities presents a unique set of challenges from poverty, gang influences, under-resourced schools, and a lack of productive activities for youth and young adults. We have turned these challenges into opportunities by taking our years of ministry and marketplace experiences to provide relevant training and resourcing.
HPE Urban Leadership was birthed after seeing that training and coaching for young urban core leaders was extremely expensive, only allowing the “elite” and well-resourced to have access. We decided to use our 20+ years in urban ministry experience to train and coach leaders and launched our first conference in 2021 with 120 urban leaders in attendance.
Our vision for HPE Urban Leadership is to equip 150 leaders who will collectively impact thousands of people in urban communities across the US. This project has now been streamlined to focus on three primary initiatives.
- Urban Residency – An opportunity for anyone interested in urban ministry to go to one of our participating sites to live, listen, and then learn about urban ministry.
- Leadership Training – Providing mentorship, coaching, and training for urban leaders on topics from discipleship, finances, to strategic planning.
- Annual Urban Leadership Conference – This conference is designed to gather urban leaders from the Great Lakes region and beyond to take a deep dive into learning how to build growing urban ministries.
We also partner with two non-profit organizations called The EDGE and Nitrogen Urban Network to help facilitate the great needs that exist among urban leaders. We are looking forward to God using our small t-shirt company to continue to impact people’s lives for Jesus across the US, England, and beyond.
For more information, visit https://hustleprayeat.com/.