The 30x30 Challenge is a clever play on the number 30: 30 members of 30 churches giving $30 to the Future Generations Fund to provide grants for programs that groom young Methodists under 30 for leadership—all by Aug. 30.
The campaign may be clever, but its long-term purpose is serious. Rev. Mark Becker, president of Florida United Methodist Foundation, stressed the Challenge is designed to address a critical situation facing the church.
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“It has become very evident to me and others that the next generation could be lost to the faith,” Becker said. “We are a graying denomination. We are losing the millennials and their children.
“I’m a firm believer that Christianity isn’t innate. It’s taught. Someone brought us to the faith. The grants help fund new and innovative programs to reach this generation before they’re lost.”
Lynn Mercer, pastor at Parrish United Methodist Church in Parrish, said 35 members there responded to an appeal published in the bulletin. First United Methodist in Lake Wales posted the appeal on its Facebook page.
The Future Generations Fund, established in 2016, is not an endowment, Becker said. Only about 50 percent of the fund’s balance can be distributed in a year.
Last year, four grants totaling $23,820 were awarded. They include:
$10,000 — Hispanic Community Creative Arts at On Eagles Wings United Methodist Church, Kissimmee: The grant helped the church provide workshops in theater, dance, pantomime and music, as well as English language classes for young people, including newly arrived families from Puerto Rico who were escaping devastation wrought last year by Hurricane Maria.
$6,320 — Young Adult Leadership Incubator at Grace United Methodist Church, Cape Coral: The grant helped fund the vital next-generation leadership incubator for young people pursuing full- or part-time ministry.
$5,000 — Youth leader training at Youth Ministry Institute, Orlando: The grant helped fund Youth Ministry Institute, which has trained youth ministers for more than a decade through assessments, one-on-one and peer group coaching and strategic plan development.
$2,500 — Wesley Roasts coffee house/study space at Stetson University Wesley Foundation, DeLand: The grant helped Wesley House establish a co-working area in partnership with a local artisan coffee roaster to create a hospitality space for the university community to foster outreach.
Though the grants aren’t large, Becker says, they can have a long-term impact.
“It’s not the size of the grant or the size of the ministry,” Becker said. “It’s how creative and focused it can be.”
Grace Church’s leadership incubator works with 16 young adults who either have been called or are wrestling with a call to either full-time or part-time ministry.
“Pastor [Jorge] Acevedo felt it could benefit the ongoing ministry we have for young adults. It’s a way of investing in them for current and future ministries,” said Taylor Foley, pastor of family ministry at the Coral Gables campus.
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“We have been blessed and encouraged by this. It pushes us to be better with young adults as a congregation. It creates an emphasis for us to lead young people well and love them well and prepare them well for a call to ministry which might be in our congregation or another one. It has been incredibly helpful for us.”
Grace’s program is team-oriented to help young adults learn to lead others in the context of accountability, Foley said. Each young adult meets regularly with ministry department leaders to answer two questions: How is it with your soul? And, how is your ministry?
“We want them to develop spiritually and learn how to apply it in our ministry context and create some new opportunities,” Foley said.
The grant helped the church take a group to the Orange Conference, an annual gathering for family ministers in Duluth, Ga.
“Being away with each other really fostered some good conversations about our gifts and God’s call,” Foley said.
Just as important, it allowed participants to focus on their vital role for the church now, as well as in the coming years.
“We often say that young people are the future of the church. The reality is they are the church now,” Foley said. “We have a generation that is leaving the faith. By investing financially, we are reaching a generation today.”
—Lilla Ross is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville.