Inaugural Dublin District Small Church Leadership Academy helps train and empower laity


The inaugural Dublin District Small Church Leadership Academy, held Saturday, Sept. 22 at Twin City United Methodist Church, was designed to bring together leaders of small congregations (less than 60 in average worship attendance) for leadership training, sharing of ministry ideas, and spiritual development. While clergy were invited and welcome to attend, the training focused more on laity leadership.

“While the districts are designed to focus on clergy leadership development, the design team felt a strong need to focus our training efforts on laity leadership with clergy supporting the efforts,” said Denise Walton, Dublin District Superintendent.

The first training, which focused on sharing the story of a small church experience, creative ways to engage and encourage leadership in the small church, and the vision of discipleship and the small membership church, had 68 lay and clergy leaders in attendance, plus one youth. Six additional youth who served as volunteers from Twin City UMC also participated in the training event.

The Small Church Leadership Academy (SCLA) is co-led by Rev. Randall Smith, senior pastor of Twin City UMC, and Shirley Thigpen, Dublin District lay leader. Rev. Smith, Thigpen and Rev. Walton served as program presenters.

In addition to training sessions, participants were given an opportunity to meet in small groups and share opportunities, challenges and ministry ideas. The entire group also participated in a large group time of sharing the questions that were important for their context.

A few comments from participants about the Small Church Leadership Academy include:

Patricia Peebles, a member Ebenezer United Methodist Church (on the Nepsey/Warren Charge), said, “I enjoyed all the information and it motivated me to go back and do more. In the spring, I plan to encourage more leaders from our charge to attend.”

Mary Heart, a 16-year-old youth from Harden’s Chapel United Methodist Church, said, “The training today gave us a chance to express our opinions publicly. Some of the problems are universal (to small churches) and there is an outcry for change.”

MacKayla (age 13), Mercedes (age 12), Kaci (age 12), Meghan (age 14) and Ryleigh (age 11) were youth volunteers who attend Twin City UMC. These youth stood before the entire group and encouraged the leaders to make the activities at church interesting and fun for young people. Twin City UMC was also preparing for a community wide youth explosion and expecting 800 youth from the entire county to participate. These youth volunteers were excited to be involved in a ministry that reaches so many in their community.

Nina Gunter, the youth director at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church (Mount Vernon/Long Pond Charge), said, “The greatest thing we learned today was the importance of community. We learned from one another and that same values can be carried into the churches to reach out into our communities and work more collaboratively. We should come together more in the church and community as the body of Christ to reach common goals in ministry.”

Tammy Claxton and Martha Johnson, members of New Hope United Methodist Church (Davisboro/New Hope Charge), said, “In our congregations we are the young adults. We came to the training today to learn to be better leaders in our local church. We are leaving understanding that through faith we are to work together and plan a vision for ministry and a vision for discipleship. We go back to our church to pray, plan and believe that with God nothing is impossible.”

Rev. David Boggs, pastor of the Bartow Charge, said, “Clergy and laity were together today and everyone participated. You felt like everyone had a voice.”

Raymond Fortner, a lay member of St. John United Methodist Church, gave the group the theme for the next event while participating in his small group experience. Raymond said, “We Still Have Hope!”

Overall, the evaluations were very positive, leaders say. Many attendees expressed a desire to have more time in the small group experience and focus more on developing ministries for children and youth.

The next Small Church Leadership Academy will be held in spring 2013 with a theme of, “We Still Have Hope.”