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Imagine Day inspires Fresh Expressions across Dakotas-Minnesota Area

By: Doreen Gosmire and Dave Stucke, Dakotas Conference communications

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Fred Vanderwerf, back left, and Micheal Beck check out the marshmallow towers at the Sioux Falls site. Photo by Dave Stucke, Dakotas UMC.

"Fresh expression truly means making something known that wasn't previously known, and then placing that into the world and making God known." Bishop Lanette Plambeck, resident bishop for the Daktoas-Minnesota Area, shared these words with nearly 500 people from 125 churches gathered for Imagine Day.

People gathered at 15 hub sites for teaching, interaction, and discussion. Everyone connected through chat, speaker stations, and Q&A. Facilitators guided the activity at each location and reported back to the studio.

Across the United States, God is up to something amid a Christian landscape that looks and feels like a desert of decline. Inherited congregations with long histories deeply rooted in their traditions are experimenting with cultivating "fresh expressions" of church. A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for those not yet part of any church.

"This is the largest Imagine Day, Fresh Expressions gathering ever," said Rev. Dr. Michael Becker, an elder in the Florida Conference and Director of Fresh Expressions UM. "It certainly is one of the most technological presentations I have seen."

Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, Assistant to the Bishop for Transitions and Development in the Minnesota Conference, opened the day with prayer and reading Luke 10— "After this the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go." Luke 10:1, NRSV

Beck then invited each team gathered to build a marshmallow tower out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and a marshmallow. It is a design thinking exercise that breaks open imaginative gridlock. Teams divided into groups of four to build the tallest tower possible in 18 minutes that would support the marshmallow.  

Several teams reported towers taller than two feet, some close to three feet. The stability of the towers ranged from collapsed to still standing. Teams were asked to talk about the process of building the towers, the collaboration, and the different roles that emerged.

After building marshmallow towers, Michael Beck led participants through four sessions:

Session 1 "A New Missional Frontier"—Participants examined cultural shifts, the phenomenon of decline, and an introductory explanation of fresh expressions. Vanderwerf guided teams through the exercise, "What is Church? "

Session 2 "Why the Blended Ecology"—Michael Beck invited everyone to reimagine our contexts as communal ecosystems and provide the "why" for a blended ecology. Teams at each site explored their contexts through a "People Map."

Session 3 "How the Blended Ecology"—Michael Beck shared a framework for a "how" to cultivate fresh expressions from the local church setting. 

Session 4 "Where Do I Fit?"—Fred Vanderwerf described team-based ministry and the three primary roles in fresh expressions: adventurer, advocate, and authorizer. The fresh expressions movement releases the whole people of God, the "priesthood of all believers," to be in ministry with the community. Both lay and clergy can fulfill three essential roles that enable all local church people to be involved: Adventurers are passionate about mission on the edges. Advocates: are passionate about supporting and releasing pioneers. Authorizers: use their role to foster pioneers' release and influence the system to be more willing to experiment. 

The day ended with a Q & A session. Here is what some of the participants had to say about the day:

It was a day of inspiration, deep thinking, and very energizing.

I am so thankful for today. We have a diverse community and need to make connections. We have stalled what we are and who we are as a church. 

I am so grateful for this opportunity to be an inherited church and imagine how to reach new people in new ways. 

I am leaving filled with hope and good food!

Thank you to all the district superintendents who encouraged and supported local pastors and lay persons to engage in this event. I hope all the other sites were as engaged and had as good discussions as we did at our site. 

Imagine Day was held online Saturday, September 30, hosted by Rev. Michael Beck and Fred Vanderwerf. This special Dakotas-Minnesota Area event was the kickoff for almost 500 United Methodists at churches from Duluth to Rapid City, to begin a year-long process of taking their congregations outside the "box"(church building), and meeting people where they are to share the love of Jesus. The photos here are from most of the remote sites where participants gathered in teams to learn and foster excitement for Fresh Expressions of their ministries.

Read this description about the Fresh Expressions movement taking place now throughout the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences.

Imagine Day 9-30-2023

Report on Rev. Dr. Michael Beck's Fresh Expressions presentation to the Dakotas Annual Conference in June, 2023.

Kickoff announcement, information, and invitation for the September 30 , 2023 event.

Books by Michael Beck.


Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church 605.996.6552 1331 University Ave. Mitchell SD 57301-0460 US 43.69689310 -98.03291320 122 W. Franklin Avenue Ste 400 Minneapolis MN 55404 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 W University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000