Tech Grants 2.0: 32 Churches Named Technology Grant Recipients

12/31/2020

Pictured: A video still from online worship with Newnan Chapel UMC in the SouthWest District.

By Rev. Blair Boyd Zant

Just before Christmas, Rev. Joseph McBrayer posted a video to social media. Upon first glance, it appeared to be a standard worship promo from the church he serves, Oak Grove UMC in Atlanta. At second glance, it seemed more like an outtake, a blooper video, in which he kept adjusting and readjusting the camera. Then the subtitles popped up. He wasn’t speaking. Rather, the words on the screen translated the thoughts running through his head as he prepared to perform this strange, 2020-adapted role of Digital Minister. 

In this video, he captures the reality of so many of our church leaders turned digital ministry pioneers. While this is not the ministry anyone signed on for, this year our local church clergy, staff, leadership, and volunteers have created new pathways to connect with people, make disciples, and transform lives and communities.

In March 2020, in response to our Conference’s critical need for digital ministry adaptation, the NGUMC Center for Congregational Excellence partnered with the NGUMC Congregational Development Board to approve emergency funding for Digital Ministry and Technology Grants for local congregations. In total, that first-round granted $187,500 in emergency funding across 75 United Methodist churches in North Georgia.

Recipient churches went on to develop original content they shared for free with other churches in the connection. Recipient tech staff and tech directors donated their time to consult with churches attempting digital ministry without professional staff of their own. These funds went toward equipment necessary to up production quality, including halo lights, cameras, switcher boards, more robust internet, streaming licensure, zoom accounts, website redesigns, and social media support.

Since May, congregational experimentation and experiences have grown. More and more churches have launched pre-recorded or live-streamed services and/or video-chat-based small groups and meetings. More churches have recruited leadership and volunteers with digital ministry-related interests and skill sets. And based on the relational impact digital ministry has made – new people connecting, former people who had moved away or been homebound are now reconnecting – many congregations are committed to ensuring digital ministry is a part of their church’s future.

In October 2020, NGUMC’s Center for Congregational Excellence and Congregational Development announced a second round of grants in hopes of supporting a next round of churches in their digital ministry aspirations. This round was advertised to all North Georgia Conference churches in hopes of ensuring that any congregation who hadn’t yet received support would have the chance to apply. A transparent application process would also help Congregational Excellence staff and Congregational Development board members better understand the digital ministry needs and interests across the conference.

Our Board received a total of 155 applications. Available funding allowed for the approval of roughly one-fifth of applicant congregations at this time. Each application went through various levels of evaluation, including screening by members of our Conference’s Congregational Development Board, Congregational Excellence Staff, Clergy Excellence Staff, and an Application Reading Team. Our priority was to identify churches who are clear in their missional vision and innovative in their connection to church members and community members alike. We prioritized grant proposals we felt would make the most significant impact on the congregation’s level of digital ministry production and integration. We looked for churches holding themselves accountable to goals and metrics suited to their context. Finally, we looked for churches best positioned to put their plans into action quickly, but with long-term strategy in mind. This was not an easy task. But it was an inspiring one.

The following 32 churches were named as grant recipients in this second round.

CENTRAL WEST DISTRICT:
East Cobb UMC, Maple Ave., Bethany Smyrna, Hiram, New Hope
CENTRAL NORTH DISTRICT:
Connections at Metropolitan, Warren Memorial, Trinity ATL, Andrews Chapel, Central UMC
CENTRAL SOUTH DISTRICT:
Hampton, Wesley Chapel, Jodeco Road, Wesley Way, Bethel UMC
CENTRAL EAST DISTRICT:
Bogart, New Prospect, Statham
NORTH WEST DISTRICT:
Varnell, Emerson, Hillside, Calhoun First, Metropolitan, Rome First, Pine Log
NORTH EAST DISTRICT:
St. Paul Washington Street, The Fountain, Jones Chapel
SOUTH WEST DISTRICT:
Cokes Chapel, Jackson, Newnan Chapel
SOUTH EAST DISTRICT:
St. John Augusta

Some data points of note: North East District churches represented 12.9% of the applicant pool (20/155), but 21.9% of the recipient pool (7/32). South East District represents 3% of the recipient pool (1/32) and 6% of the applicant pool (10/155). Licensed Local Pastors represented 35% of the applicant pool ((54/155) and 15% of the recipient pool (5/32). CCE and CDB see this as evidence that further work must be done at Conference level to equitably support the work and ministry of licensed local pastors. Retired supply pastors represented 1% of the applicant pool and 3% (1) of the recipient pool. Pastors of Color constitute 19% of the overall active and retired supply population of clergy. Churches pastored by a pastor of color represented 33.5% of the applicant pool and 31% of the recipient pool.

These 32 churches received a sum total of $77,100 in grant support. Across both rounds of 2020 Tech Grants $264,600.00 was invested to support the digital ministry of 107 churches across North Georgia.
 
In 2021, Congregational Development Board and the Center for Congregational Excellence will continue investing in digital ministry. This will include:
  • Additional grant money allocations.
  • Sponsoring seminars, trainings, and consultation for digital ministry. Coming Soon: “Both/And: Maximizing Hybrid Worship Experiences for Online and In Person Audiences” with Jason Moore, Wed. Jan 6, 2021, 2:00-4:00pm. Enter “20OFF” for 20% off your registration.
  • Curating content and sharing best practices through NGUMC Conference Communications Office. Check out the Weary World Rejoices Digital Resources Bank: a collection of Digital Worship content donations from across the Conference and Connection for you to use to supplement your congregation’s digital worship offerings in the new year.
  • Celebrating local churches and leaders who are pioneering best practices for making disciples and transforming lives through digital expressions of ministry and technology.
Thank you again to all who applied. You demonstrate such courage and ambition. Making disciples and seeking transformation is not easy work to undertake, especially in these circumstances. But you are leading powerful change. May God continue to guide you in it.
 
Faithfully submitted,
Rev. Blair Boyd Zant
Director
NGUMC Center for Congregational Excellence
 


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