How Might We Transform the World: M-LAB Laity/Clergy Innovation Gathering Held in Atlanta



The first-ever Laity/Clergy M-LAB (UMC Movement – Learning Action Board) brought nearly 100 creative North Georgia Conference laity along with a pastor from their church to Atlanta Technology Village in Buckhead Nov. 2-3.

Participants set aside this time to learn design thinking principles and ask how might we innovate in our local churches and begin moving ideas toward action.

“One thing we know for sure, we need each other, and we need to embrace change if we want to see our movement continue to grow,” wrote the M-LAB design team.

The weekend began with a discussion between Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and Conference Lay Leader Bill Martin.

Bishop Sue emphasized across the weekend that the Holy Spirit doesn’t only speak to clergy. God also doesn’t give ideas based on how old you are or how long you’ve been a member, she said. The best innovation comes from a clergy/laity partnership.

She challenged clergy to equip the saints for carrying out their ideas.

“Laity, y’all are in arenas clergy aren’t in,” said Bishop Sue. “You’re part of a bigger connection. Enlist neighbor churches, local government, community groups, and our United Methodist connection.”

Participants heard from David Cummings, founder of the Atlanta Technology Village, and a member of Peachtree Road UMC. Cummings is an accomplished entrepreneur and invested in the Atlanta startup community by purchasing the 100,000 square-foot building to launch the Atlanta Tech Village.

Cummings told participants to ask at every team meeting, staff meeting, committee meeting: “What’s failed since we last met?” Make failure an important part of the culture of innovation and value-driven risk taking, he said.
On Saturday a panel of innovators spoke to the group. Kathleen Bertrand, Founder and Executive Producer of the BronzeLens Film Festival; Ryan Leveille, Global Design Manger for GE Transportation; and Jamie Lackey, CEO of Helping Mamas, Inc. shared their stories and answered questions from M-LAB participants. Jason Demeo of We Are Curio, a member of the M-LAB Design team, moderated the panel.

One participant asked how to pitch a creative idea to church leaders who may be thinking about things from a different angle or are happy with the way things are.

Lackey says to put your idea in their language. Though her non-profit is all about helping moms, she lets numbers tell her story when she’s talking to her board.
Leveille is working on developing autonomous trains.

“In an industry that’s 100 years old, I didn’t start by asking permission. I started on my own time,” he said.

Bertrand’s best advice is to find an advocate, someone who can stand with you and vouch for you.

Another M-LAB participant asked how churches can stop a ministry that’s no longer useful or no longer making disciples.

Bertrand said it’s a matter of honest evaluation.

“If the reality is that this is just not working (or not working any more), ask yourself, are your resources being used well?” said Bertrand.

Leveille agreed. He also said to give a lot of thought to consequences.

“We have a responsibility as innovators to think about the negative impact,” said Leveille.

Demeo suggests asking, does this align with our mission? How does it drive our mission forward?

In the afternoon, Nicole and Khalil Thompson, founders of the nonprofit Empowered Readers Literacy Project spoke about their work to eradicate the epidemic of illiteracy among children and their families by transforming reading from a chore to fun. They’ve launched clubs in public schools, free after-school programs, in-how family initiates and library building in underserved communities.

As participants dreamed up and considered new ministry ideas, they asked again and again: “How might we?”

“95 percent of strategy is execution,” said Demeo. In other words, the fun part of dreaming up a great idea is a tiny part of the work.

Led by the Holy Spirit, each person formed an idea through the process and began to prototype their idea. They asked questions like, What problem am I attempting to solve? What is my proposed solution? Who do I need on my team? How will I communicate my vision and build momentum? Then they made a plan of action.

“The most powerful things I heard were from Jamie to ‘speak up,’ from Ryan to ‘show them,’ from Kathleen to ‘find an advocate.’ Those three pieces are a formula. It’s ministry 101 but from a business perspective,” said Rev. Yvette Massey of the M-LAB Design Team.

Claudia Minge from Covington First UMC enjoyed the M-LAB experience. 

"It was great to collaborate with other energetic, faithful followers of Jesus!" she said. 

Bishop Sue encouraged every participant to keep innovating and keep listening for God’s guidance.

“All of this must be grounded in your spiritual disciplines,” said Bishop Sue. “The Holy Spirit is the master of creativity.”

North Georgia Laity/Clergy M-LAB was the third M-LAB experience (and the first to include laity). Learn more about this movement at Welcome to M-LAB: An Innovation Collaborative for United Methodists.