By Kara Witherow, Editor
Communication and connection.
That’s the focus for J. Knapp, who just completed his first year as the South Georgia Conference’s lay leader.
Knapp’s goal – to train and develop district lay leaders who, in turn, will train local church lay leaders – will be realized through increased communication and better connection with district and church leaders, he said.
“The role of the lay leader in the local church is to help strengthen and develop the local laity,” he said. “So we’re trying to make this a continuous flow of information that can start at the conference level and flow directly down to the local church lay leader and also start at the local church lay leader and also flow directly up to the conference level.”
One way that’s happening is through the South Georgia Laity Cabinet.
Made up of the six district lay leaders, the director of Communications, and the conference lay leader, the group meets monthly with Bishop Graves to learn, talk, plan, and represent the Conference’s laity.
While the Laity Cabinet isn’t a decision-making body, it is a collaboration and communications unit, Knapp said.
“It gives Bishop Graves direct access to the laity in the field, where the rubber meets the road. It gives him direct access to that perspective on a regular basis and he can get lay-led feedback and perspective which is really beneficial to him,” he said. “It is a powerful tool for the conference.”
The district lay leaders have sought to keep local church lay leaders connected and informed by using communication tools like newsletters, emails, phone calls, and video calls. They’ve conducted trainings and communicate regularly to keep everyone on the same page, said Debbie Hudgins, the Coastal District lay leader and a member of White Bluff United Methodist Church.
“During the past year, we decided the lay leaders of the six districts would focus on connecting, communicating, and collaborating,” she said. “It is still an exciting time in South Georgia and lots of churches are simply focusing on being the hands and feet of Christ in their communities. The church is still being the church in South Georgia and that is where our focus has tried to keep our laity. J and Bishop Graves have really kept our focus on local church ministries. It’s still an exciting time to be involved in the churches of our South Georgia Conference!”
Intentional and ongoing training for lay leaders is another major focus of Knapp’s. When he served as the Southwest District lay leader, Knapp said he was constantly asked for training and resources. During each Laity Cabinet meeting, a tool or resource is presented that can be taken back to the district or local church.
“We’re continuously putting information in front of them,” he said. “Continuing to develop and train the laity is a big focus.”
Knapp sees a need and an opportunity to strengthen the connections between South Georgia United Methodist congregations.
“We absolutely cannot allow our churches to sit out there like islands alone in the sea,” he said “They’re not alone. What impacts them impacts the rest of us, and vice versa.”
One way to foster the connection between local churches is through the lay speaker supply system.
“We’re … striving for the same goal,” he said.
Knapp, whose enthusiasm is infectious and energy seems boundless, believes the Conference’s biggest challenge is getting pastors and district superintendents to view their lay leaders as partners in ministry.
“The laity are not part of the church. The laity ARE the church, and we are to be partners in ministry with our clergy whose role it is to teach, train and equip us so that we, the laity, can then lead the ministry of the local church.”
But he’s positive, believing that progress has been made and will continue.
“I’m getting tremendous feedback from local church lay leaders. I see activity among district lay leaders that I’ve never seen before. I’m seeing enthusiasm and involvement from them in so many different aspects. We’re definitely getting some roots and we’re growing and strengthening the roles. It’s going to take time and consistency, but we’re seeing the connection and the communication strengthen.”
If you are a local church lay leader and have not established direct communication with your district lay leader, please contact your district office or J. Knapp.