3 Takeaways from the National Developers and Planters Conference
Something’s Gotta Give
I am hot off the heels of the National Developers and Planters Conference in Denver, Colorado. I am slightly jet-lagged, slightly sunburnt, and have plenty of thoughts - so I decided to share three of the most important things I gleaned from this experience.
I’m no spring chicken to the conference scene. Since 2020, I’ve spoken at and attended dozens of these fantastic events. The unstoppable Rachel Gilmore asked me last year to speak on some of the exciting ongoings of Checkpoint Church at this conference, and I happily agreed to share.
Since then, I’d learned that I would be hosting one of the workshops in one of the tracks at the event with a specific focus on Digital Ministry, along with some wonderful friends and peers: Luke Edwards (of The Listening Church), Abigail Browka (of Everyday Sanctuary), and Jason Moore (of Midnight Oil Productions).
The National Developers and Planters Conference is a gathering of hundreds of pastors and laity, mostly from the United Methodist tradition, with a specific focus on sharing the current trends and learnings of the church planting scene.
This event was an absolute whirlwind of speakers and workshops. Over 27 hours (including sleep and food), the team behind this conference packed over twenty hour-long workshops in four viable tracks and six keynote speakers - two of which included worship services.
I’m honestly exhausted just reflecting!
Despite the brief timeline, I gathered plenty of excellent information and even had a wonderful time with some incredible ministry innovators.
To save time, rather than recount the entire event, I offer these three key insights into my experience, specifically as a digital church planter in this space.
Digital Relationships Are Natural
The first takeaway from this event was acknowledging that I’ve attended this event before - sort of. I started planting in 2020, so in the first year (2021), this event didn’t even happen, if I recall correctly.
In 2022, they met in Dallas… on the exact week when my second daughter was to be born. I’m devoted to the call - but family is unquestionably a priority, so I could only be there in post-conversations last year.
All this being said, I’ve been among the people who were present many times… digitally. I used to spend hours at Clubhouse with many of these innovators.
I’ve even discussed starting a podcast with a few of those present (which I’m always down to return to, Laura, Nathan and David).
I bring all of this up to say - I didn’t feel awkward for even a second. As a chronic introvert with social anxiety out the wazoo, this fact continues to surprise me.
On the first day of the conference, I picked up one of Checkpoint’s early leaders, Shane, known as StainedGlazRebel online.
Moments into our drive, he also commented on how natural our meeting felt to him.
Technically speaking, it was the first time we met… in person. But we picked up on conversations, shoulder jabs, and sarcastic remarks from the get-go.
I continue to espouse this simple truth:
Digital relationships are genuine relationships.
I simply cannot be convinced otherwise. This leads nicely into my next key takeaway.
Digital Relationships Remain Unknown
I want to be very clear from the beginning: I don’t believe that anyone at this event had open animosity toward the digital expression of the church.
I mean - they had a whole track on digital ministry! That’s a huge step forward for any ministry conference.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the people who do ministry continue to drop the ball on learning about digital ministry.
A key example: of the hundreds of attendees, the Discord server the team built only has 48 members as of this writing. Considering that there are likely core team members on this server, around 40 or so event attendees joined the server.
In a word, folks - that’s embarrassing.
I am a diehard advocate of Discord, so I’m biased here. But this was the Church Developers and Planters Conference.
I heard from incredible speakers and innovators, but I worry about the future of planting if we aren’t willing to make bold attempts.
Planters must be risk-takers. We must be more daring than well-under half of those gathered venturing into the unknown of the digital space.
Even three years after the pandemic forced many into digital communities, there is this innate skepticism that leads to the lack of innovative people signing up for something as simple as a Discord server.
Above All Else, Hope Remains
After such a heavy section, offering up this third major takeaway brings me joy.
I want to acknowledge that - even amidst my criticism - the established Church and her pastors are exhausted.
One of the resounding themes of this event was to offer a space for hope amid uncertainty.
Whether they be challenges in planting a church, disaffiliation within the United Methodist Church, or just general life, it was clear that the speakers and the team behind the event wanted to both inspire creativity and also provide a space just to breathe and be for a little while.
I, too, needed that sigh of relief and enjoyed an entire week in Colorado with my wife in total relaxation.
And so I highlight that hope does indeed remain. And it remains in overwhelming abundance. There is still so much hope.
It is with hope for the future of the Kingdom of God that I write these takeaways. I am unafraid to share these because I am hopeful and see the goodness in the Church Universal, not just in the United Methodist Church.
Even still - I must highlight the reality that the future of the Church is unquestionably connected with the digital world.
Leaders, Pastors, Planters, Staff, and Laity - please hear my call here!
You simply must enter the conversation on digital ministry.
It will not go away if you ignore it long enough.
Your skepticism does not deny that lives are being changed and shaped.
The digital field is quickly becoming one of the most accelerated mission fields ever seen in the Church.
You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to support it. But you must begin the conversation.
To be frank - we need you.
We need naysayers to enter the conversation so that we can make it better and more actualized as the Kingdom of God that we are capable of forming it to be. We need constructive criticism. I would prefer active criticism over being ignored.
This community is one way that you can enter the conversation, but it can even just be a mindset shift of not tuning out that digital minister whenever you see them show up on your podcast feed or recommended book list. Engage with this mission field so that it can grow and be better than it is right now.
World 1-4 Complete
As I close this piece, I want to clarify that these takeaways are shared in love and grace. I want to thank Rachel and the team behind the event for inviting me and having me in this space. It was my absolute pleasure, and I hope to be present again next year - whether as a speaker or attendee. I love the United Methodist Church and am always excited to share my time with my fellow Methodists.
I want to thank all those who attended for being willing to innovate boldly - but I want to invite you to go a bit further toward consideration for the digital ministry being done and how you can learn from it.
So, next time, join the Discord. Ask the questions. Enter the conversation. You may feel late to the party, but - at least for this digital innovator - I am holding the doors open with all my might and shooting off all the red flares of invitation that I possibly can.
I believe in you.
You can do this.
There is hope.
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