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.
This year, we identified and invested in 11 new projects. In this article, we will feature five of them as Part One of this series.
– Jon Wiest, Director of Innovation NEXT
By Molly Soderstrom
Sitting at a trendy café and sipping on my latte, I observe a room full of people between the ages of 20 and 40, engrossed in their screens. I wonder… “What if?” What if we could reach these people online and then usher them into meaningful relationships in person? What if those connections would bring about transformation and empower them to impact not only Denver, but the world?
A few years earlier I was sitting with a friend of mine along with my husband at our kitchen table. It was there that God planted a vision in our hearts to reach young professionals in Denver, a city where over half the people were between the ages of 20-40 and yet was recently ranked as the third loneliest city in the United States.
With prayer and faith, The Brook was born. We felt God calling us to launch a young professional, disciplemaking movement that uses digital outreach and in-person events to raise up faith leaders to have an impact in Denver and around the world! The Brook illustrates our belief that one life can have a huge impact. In the same way a brook trickles downstream to join rivers, lakes, and oceans, a person’s influence starts small but can ripple out to transform the world.
During Covid-19, we started connecting with individuals through Instagram and social media and then through FaceTime calls. We’d connect them to online “simple churches.” A simple church is a small group of people that meet on a regular basis to connect with each other, connect with God, and share what they have learned with others. These churches function as micro expressions of church.
The ministry was growing and as restrictions were lifted, we knew we needed a way for people to connect in person. Young professionals are hungry for community, but what type of event could we throw where people would feel comfortable showing up?
The answer was “Happy hour!”
It’s generally a familiar, disarming setting and we started offering these events once a month to connect people offline, bring them into personal relationships, and eventually into in-person simple churches that would multiply. Our events began to gain momentum with an average of 200 people in attendance and 40 percent who were newcomers.
Kiera’s story exemplifies how God has used this ministry. A typical young professional, Kiera was living at home working a remote job from her parent’s basement when she found The Brook on Instagram. Seeing the relatable content and upcoming events, she attended one of our monthly happy hours where she was embraced by more than 150 other young professionals, forming bonds that would change her life forever. I had the privilege of meeting Kiera that night, and after listening to her story, shared the Gospel with her and watched her give her life to Jesus.
She soon was baptized and I began teaching Kiera how to read the Bible, how to pray, and how to share her story in everyday conversations with her friends. Kiera began to volunteer, share her faith, and eventually went on to form a simple church with a few other friends. The church went so well that Madison multiplied another simple church out of it and then another church multiplied in a matter of nine months. That is four generations of disciples!
I am learning that young professionals aren’t opposed to God, they just need ways to investigate faith in a non-traditional way. Since its inception, The Brook has touched the lives of more than 6,300 young professionals online, engaged 2,600 individuals at in-person events, and witnessed 500 people actively involved in our simple churches. Our ultimate vision is to see movements like The Brook started in other cities, because I truly believe this is only the beginning of what God wants to do through young professionals.
For more information, visit thebrook.city.
Zero Hour Ministries
By Cory McElvain
Every year, more than one million young people walk away from the Christian faith, and Gen Z is now considered the first post-Christian generation in our nation’s history.
Yet statistics continue to remind us that most people place their faith in Jesus before the age of 35. We believe God has given us an incredible opportunity to envision something new and innovative with the next generation! If only one out of every 100 high schoolers were equipped and sent to make disciples of Jesus at their schools, those statistics could change.
When I was in 8th grade, our family took a formative trip to China where we were able to witness the underground house church movement firsthand. It transformed my understanding of disciplemaking and the Church and a few years later, I launched my very first microchurch in my local high school.
Over the next 10 years, I continued pursuing micro forms of church with a wide variety of groups and eventually that passion produced in me a deep hunger to provide an alternative to the traditional model of youth ministry. I wanted to see students activated as disciplemakers to multiply their lives into others.
It was out of this deep longing, that Zero Hour was born.
The ministry began with a trip to the Smoky Mountains in the summer of 2021 with 12 students that we trained in simple and reproducible methods of disciplemaking. We then launched them back into their high schools alongside adult coaches and we now have 11 teams of disciplemakers at different high schools around Kansas City. We’ve trained more than 250 students through our Disciple Making Pathway, seen 150 new spiritual conversations with unchurched students, and launched 17 Discovery Bible Studies. We now have a hub team of three full-time leaders owning the mission of students making disciples in Kansas City.
Elijah is one of those students.
A senior at a local high school, Elijah was trained in our Disciple Making Pathway and learned how to pray fervently, build relationships, and utilize a discovery-based process for reading the Word of God. School started and Elijah was approached by three different friends who began to ask him questions about God and his faith. One of those individuals grew up atheist and agreed to begin reading the Bible alongside Elijah. In addition, Elijah also started a Zero Hour Team of 15 students that operates like a microchurch. Each member of that team is now finding new opportunities to share their faith with others.
We long to see students multiplying their lives by making disciples in their schools, and are praying for disciplemaking teams in every high school within a 30-mile radius of Kansas City. It’s going to take Gen Z students to reach Gen Z!
For more information, visit zerohourministries.org.
Nerd Culture Ministry Summit
By Bubba Stallcup
If someone told me growing up that there would be a group of people who could use tabletop gaming, comic books, popular movies, and video games to tell others about Jesus, my response would have been, “Really? My church thinks those are a waste of time. How do they get away with it?”
But it’s true.
There is a growing group of people called to reach their nerdy neighbors and, in 2018, a few of my closest friends and I started Love Thy Nerd, a ministry focused on relational evangelism to nerds.
We would go on to develop a podcast network, a website with dedicated resources to Nerd Culture, and our own online communities on Facebook and Discord.
Covid-19 arrived in 2020, and the landscape of ministry changed overnight. Several churches reached out to inquire about ways to engage their congregations, groups, or demographics online and we immediately went to work with our friends at Satellite Gaming and Urban Youth Workers Institute to create a tool dedicated to developing digital disciples specifically targeted at youth workers.
Then in late 2022, Love Thy Nerd partnered with Lux Digital Church to bring Christian content creators from all over the United States together for a weekend of encouragement, training, and camaraderie. It was during that weekend that the Nerd Culture Ministry Collective started to take shape.
Our hope is to connect Nerd Culture missionaries with the resources they need to be successful and we are partnering to create the first Nerd Culture Ministry Summit, a three-day learning environment for ministry leaders to hear from experts and learn how they can better love and serve the nerds in their spaces.
Our hope is that people will see the value in engaging an entire culture that has been marginalized by the church. The goal of the Nerd Culture Ministry Summit is to give every person who attends the concepts and practical application to love and serve their nerdy neighbors when they return home.
Maybe you don’t care about things like Fortnite, Call of Duty or the latest Marvel movie, but find rest in the fact there are many who do, and many more willing to be the love of Jesus to nerds and Nerd Culture.
Gathering of Nomads
By Shane Boyd
The church has always played a significant role in my faith journey, and, in 2014, God called me into vocational ministry.
A few years later, I left my full-time management position to serve as the youth pastor of a local church and soon found myself serving as the senior pastor of a growing church in Northern California.
While leading the church, I wondered why certain people in my life never found their way into the local church. God slowly revealed the problem. People had made the comforts of this world and material possessions their idol. In response to this realization, my wife and I embarked on a remarkable journey that led us to sell our spacious home and embrace a minimalist lifestyle living in a 400 sq.ft. fifth wheel. This decision opened our eyes to a thriving RV community of people not being reached by any local churches.
We were astounded by the statistics.
Between 2020 and 2022, there was a 220 percent increase in campground reservations and almost 25 percent of RV owners were young families aged 18-34. With rising home prices, it seems more families are exploring the idea of a small and nomadic lifestyle. We began asking the question, “If we are called to minister to this rapidly growing segment of our society, how do we plant a church in a community without a zip code?” We focused on training people by guiding them into a meaningful connection with God and then training them to reach others. We would call these “chapters.”
By the late summer 2023, we reached 19 campgrounds, ministered to more than 500 people, and established nine committed chapters of what we now call the Gathering of Nomads, families of Jesus followers who have joined our network, committed to making disciples and sharing the gospel. By the end of 2026, our vision is for 50 chapters, ministering to 5,000 people globally each year.
Our training and methods are built around eating and breaking bread with others, serving others with their gifts, and telling stories to those around them. These simple practices are producing incredible fruit. This type of ministry doesn’t come without its challenges. Financial sustainability, providing practical resources to nomads, and connecting people to mature disciplemakers continue to be three primary obstacles moving forward. But God is helping us. We’ve started developing an app for nomads, training resources, and continue to expand our network.
By training and focusing on building relationships, fostering discipleship, and prioritizing God’s Kingdom, we have witnessed the transformative power of planting people and chapters rather than traditional churches. This makes multiplication easier to duplicate and the rewards have been immeasurable. As we continue to grow and adapt, we remain committed to making a lasting impact on the lives of nomads worldwide, one chapter at a time.
For more information, visit gatheringofnomads.com.
By Anna Bosarge
Frank Ntambi was an 18-year old from Mityana, Uganda when he first connected with The Chapel Online, a Facebook group that is part of our larger ministry at Digital Discipleship.
His mother had passed away in 2018 and I discovered that Frank was the head of a household of five younger children and close to living on the streets. We worked with some other members of our group to help Frank find a stable place to live, found them sponsors, and were able to see them enroll in school. Frank went on to start a discipleship group in his community, and he is now a global disciplemaker actively helping people all over the world grow in their faith.
Digital Discipleship exists to reignite a passion for discipleship around the globe. We connect with people like Frank, right where they are, and we come together in daily discipleship and weekly prayer, sharing our lives, needs, concerns, and joys. We are a community of faith now connected across 50 different countries and all walks of life. Our desire is to become more like Jesus.
Digital Discipleship is an umbrella for three primary ministries.
The first is The Chapel Online, a global community of faith that exists on Facebook and WhatsApp and provides daily discipleship and authentic Christian community. We seek to ignite a passion for discipleship in the hearts and minds of people around the globe and, as our community grows, we are now training geographic group leaders like Frank who are discipling and caring for one other locally through digital and in-person avenues. We now have six groups in Uganda, three in Zimbabwe, one in Kenya, two in Malawi, and one in Pakistan.
Victory Children’s Outreach is a child sponsorship program in Uganda that was started to help people put their faith into action. As people began to make digital connections with people around the world, many of them were moved to reach out to those who were suffering the effects of poverty and lack of access to quality education. Victory Children’s Outreach was started to fill this need.
Finally, we launched Becoming More, a global digital women’s ministry that exists on Facebook, WhatsApp, and through seasonal small groups via Zoom. We provide women with the opportunity to connect with each other through online biblical teaching and then try to come together once a year for in-person retreats.
The purpose of Digital Discipleship is crystal clear – we are about making disciples who disciple others through digital platforms. We have discovered through this ministry that many people are hungering for something more than a weekly worship service or cultural Christianity. They are longing for a vibrant, faithful, joy-filled life that results from being in constant community online and it’s happening every single day in our global village.
For more information, visit The Chapel Online.