Academy for Leadership & Innovation Celebrates Graduation


On Tuesday the 2022-2023 North Georgia Academy for Leadership & Innovation celebrated the conclusion of nine months of learning and growing together. The graduation was hosted by Gainesville First UMC.

Rev. Blair Boyd Zant brought words of encouragement and commendation to the group and they were sent forth by Bishop James Swanson with a charge to see, invite, and include the forgotten, the lonely and the hurting among us who need the love of Christ. 

"Bishop James Swanson preached a powerful sermon during this final session of the 2023 Academy, reminding us that God has ‘anointed and appointed’ us to take the Good News to those no one sees," shared Rev. Bennett Clough. "God is sending us out in power to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

Offered by the Center for Congregational Excellence and led by Rev. Richard Hunter, the annual training opportunity is open to pastors, ministry staff, students, and laity interested in learning about launching new faith communities and innovative ministries. The purpose of the Academy is to develop a pipeline of laity and pastors who are ready to start new faith communities and serve in our changing communities with innovation and creativity.

Meeting monthly since September of 2022, the group gained on-site inspiration from practitioners in startup churches and ministries across our conference, studied the changing models of church innovation in our current environment, and received coaching on developing a startup plan, building a team, and assembling partners.

Learn more at