Wave of #UMC Social Justice startups on the horizon

Young Adults lead the church through Spark12

I cannot tell you how excited I got when I opened my feed reader this morning and saw the writeup on a young adult-led initiative in the United Methodist Church. At first I was excited that I’m friends with 3/4 of the leadership team…and then when I saw what they were doing, I realized I didn’t need to be biased towards my friends; their actions and project speaks for itself.

It’s called Spark12:

From the UMNS article: The United Methodist Church is taking a page from the tech startup world, and the resulting initiative enables young adults to be leaders in ministry.

Called Spark12, it is an incubator for social justice ministries developed and implemented by young adults. It is one way the denomination is working to develop principled Christian leaders, one of four areas of focus adopted by the 2008 General Conference, the church’s top legislative body.

From their website: Spark12 is designed to help to support the most promising ideas and individuals as they strive to bring innovative solutions to a world in need of transformation. Those selected as Spark12 fellows will receive funding. They will also have their ideas vetted by mentors with expertise in a related field and by peers eager to perfect the work of the team. Spiritual coaches will help them to remain grounded and oriented toward doing the most good. Our fellows will be challenged to refine their vision, learn how to express their goals, and be networked with people/organizations that might be inclined to support an idea like theirs.

We believe our process will allow participants of Spark12 to be more successful than if they had to go it alone. We suspect that their innovations will have a greater impact on more people more efficiently. We know that the world will be a better place when their spark is allowed to ignite.

Read the full article at UMNS here: Young adults lead social justice startups by Tita Parham.

As the Call To Action is (for better or for worse) moving us from boards who lead initiatives to grant-dispersing entities that support local or global ministry initiatives,  it seems that the young adults are leading the church in modeling how such a move might look. Here’s how it works:

Teams of one to three young adults ages 18 to 35 will submit ministry proposals to an executive design team…as well as representatives from general agencies, profit and nonprofit advisers and young adults. The design team will determine which ministries they will fund during each cycle.

The young adults leading the ministries have 12 weeks to launch, using funding from various investors, including general agencies, local churches, existing ministries and individuals.

“Twelve weeks is just long enough for a young adult to take a semester off (from college or seminary) without penalty and long enough to get a foothold in a project,” Casperson said. Spark12 “is meant to be a catalyst — (to) create a good, solid foundation.”

The projects must be innovative, with a social justice focus. The motivation must be the team members’ response to their faith and the belief that God is calling them to undertake the ministry. Team members need not be candidates for ordained ministry.

Regarding the types of programs to be funded, Casperson said the design team has left that “deliberately open and deliberately vague” because they don’t want to limit ideas.

“The goal is making a difference in the world,” Casperson said. “The focus is to do something truly sustainable.”

Even though spark12 is not merely a grant-dispering group but is a full breadth of ministry support team, the spark12 approach does address many of my concerns with grant-dispersing entities:

  • The Leadership and Design team represent a commitment to diversity. It’s really nice to not look across the table and see a bunch of white males like me.
  • The scope of programs is “deliberately vague” to allow for the full spectrum of possibilities to be considered, not dismissed because they don’t fit into rigid outlines.
  • The evaluators ARE young adults and ARE working with young adults so the evaluators have more in common with the applicants.
  • Their approach to guidance is more about coaching than directing, more about supporting the internal strengths of the applicants and context than directing from top-down the direction. This is a shift becoming more popular in counseling, spiritual direction, and ministry consultants, and I’m glad to see it here as well.

Finally, as with anything associated with del Rosario, Casperson, Joe Kim, or Scriven, Spark12 is extremely social media connected with Twitter and Facebook pages.

I hope the Hacking Christianity community passes this on to social justice-lovin’ young adults who might take advantage of this and apply to be one of the first initiatives. Check out their website to apply (deadline is the end of June but seriously: get on it) or to donate to the cause.


(Photo credit: Screenshot of spark12.org, taken 1/23/2012, used under Fair Use)
(Updated: updated blog post 1/23/2012 with corrected information per updated article by UMNS)
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  1. says

    This looks amazing! We’re already hearing a lot of buzz about it….
    Since Jeremy’s friends with – well, all of the leaders(!) – we wonder if we can get some answers to questions that we’ve seen surfacing…

    Mostly, would they be willing to consider & work with applicants who cannot work on their projects full-time for 12 weeks starting in January? For example:
    1)Some students’ scholarships require that they not take time off. Is doing 12 weeks full-time in the summer of 2013 an option?

    2) Are they open to applications from teams where 2 or 3 people are working on it less than full-time if the total staffing time is 40hrs/wk or more?

    3) Some – a lot! – of 18 to 35 year olds are not students. Is working on it, say, 20hrs/week for 24 weeks an option?

    Given financial realities, we suspect that most leaders of new “sustainable” ministries will require the ability to balance new ventures with the need to earn income at another job, so we’re curious to know how much flexibility this initiative will have…

    • says

      Those are all great questions. We might be able to answer some outright and others that we would need to have more information before we could hope to answer them. For example, the complexity of the proposed project and the size of the team making the proposal are additional variables to consider. Shoot an email to info@spark12.org and we would love to talk with you more to get a better sense of how things could work out.

      • says

        Thanks, Patrick! We know some amazing young adults working on some neat ideas, who might be impacted by these kinds of questions. We’ll share with them the email address & encourage them to be in touch. Overall, spark12 looks awesome – good luck, and we can’t wait to see new ministries in action!!


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