New book exploring ‘Sustainable Engagement’ offered as free download for GNW church leaders

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Since 2015, the Rev. Dr. William Gibson has been working with District Superintendents, innovators, and local churches across the Northwest to instigate new and renewed vitality in United Methodist communities of faith. After more than five years of cross-conference resourcing across the area, he now supports such efforts as a member of the Greater Northwest Area’s Innovation and Vitality Team, through the team’s change theory of inclusion, innovation, and multiplication.

The GNW IV Team recently published Gibson’s book, Sustainable Engagement: A How-To for The New Place Startup Process, as a resource for the planters/innovators they are working with and are excited to offer it to other church leaders as well. I recently met with Gibson virtually to discuss the project.

Why did you write this book?

I put together the New Church Startup Canvas back in 2016 for our planters/innovators. And LaVerne Lewis (now serving as our Associate Director of Innovation for a New Church) started using it in support of her coaching around social enterprise work. I later had asked Rik Jamieson to review the original resource, because I knew he appreciated innovation and entrepreneurship. He encouraged me to take that original resource and write a how-to process for folks who had little to no experience in business or startups.

Over the years, you’ve probably asked dozens of potential church planters for their elevator pitch. If you had 30-seconds to explain why someone should read this book, what would you say?

I have spent enough time resourcing the local church to realize that our tools really need to be chunked down into steps that move from theory to practice in our neighborhoods. It’s one thing to encourage leaders to “listen” to their wider community but it is a whole other thing to practice one to one listening sessions. Among other things, this book helps to explain how those activities contribute toward shaping a vision that takes into account the voices and experience of people who normally do not have agency around our committee tables. We have to re-engage our neighbors in ways that de-center the church and check our assumptions through the lived experiences of those outside of our immediate circles.

Rev. Dr. William Gibson
Rev. Dr. William Gibson

How does this book inform the work of the Innovation Vitality Team?

The book can help the reader to understand how the four primary resourcing areas of the IV Team — intercultural competency, faith-based community organizing, asset-based community development and intentional multiplication — are integrated in the work of community engagement, without creating mission creep. Because Discipleship is a dynamic part of our work, we have to approach it in decolonizing ways, creating safe space for everyone to be included. We believe these four areas of resourcing help us get there.

Many of our planters, innovators and pastors do not have the business background necessary to create alternative revenue streams or to leverage existing assets in ways that help change our wider communities. My hope is that this resource assists readers to develop flexible plans that reimagine what it means to be church again with our neighbors, creating new places with new people.

What conversations has this book prompted already with colleagues and planters who have read it?

It has sparked a number of really good conversations. And, I have appreciated the feedback. It is exciting to see others jump right in and engage the process and begin to stretch muscles that have never been used before. In the work of reimagining financial sustainability, this resource has allowed LaVerne Lewis and I to move beyond instructing and teaching to walking alongside folks as a collaborator.

Based on the feedback from many planters/innovators, we are developing lesson plans for the new place startup process for an online learning platform that will launch later this fall. Additionally, a couple of readers have suggested making an accompanying workbook, which is now being put together. So the book has been well received so far.

How can I get a copy of this book?

You download an ebook version immediately from the Greater Northwest Area website. But if you would like a physical copy, you can contact Patrick Ferguson at pferguson@greaternw.org and purchase a copy for $10, which covers the cost of printing and shipping. We wanted to make this new resource available for anyone across the Greater Northwest Area.

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