By Lindsay Peyton

A whole new way to interact emerged during the pandemic, one that is here to stay. The Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) refers to the hybrid of physical and digital as “phygital space” and will host a conference to explore this new frontier next month.

“Launch 3.0: Formation and the Phygital Space” is open by invitation to courageous and innovative faith leaders. The event is scheduled for Monday, March 6 through Wednesday, March 8 in Houston.

The goal is to ignite imaginations for ministry, according to Rev. Dr. Blair Thompson-White, Vice-President Leadership Ministry at TMF, which provides financial and leadership services to churches, institutions and individuals.

“We want to get the right people in the room, ask the right questions and see where the Holy Spirit will go,” she said.

Rev. Dr. Thompson-White explained that the pandemic created a complete disruption in the traditional ways of doing things. Instead of dwelling on the negative ramifications, she asks, “What’s possible because of this disruption?”

“We’ve kind of been in a rut in the church,” she said. “It’s become very blocked in.”

Innovative ways of faith formation emerged during COVID, when churches were in lock-down and had to find new ways of reaching members. The TMF believes that is only the beginning.

“What have we learned that allows us to step in new directions? Let’s experiment and try new things,” Thompson-White said.

The TMF has hosted “Launch” events in the past, one in 2017 and again the following year. Thompson-White remembers attending the first. At the time, she served as a pastor in the North Texas Conference. “It really reinvigorated me for ministry,” she recalled. “I always left TMF events with a new energy for doing the work.”

She hopes that the 75 individuals invited to attend Launch 3.0 will feel the same way – and that energy home to their congregations.

Leaders were selected from across the United States, Thompson-White said. The criteria was showing courage, a deep interest in formation and a passion for innovative ministry.

Participants from the Texas Annual Conference include Pastors DeAndre Johnson and Emily Chapman. Attendees are not limited to clergy, Thompson-White said. Lay leaders are also invited.

The location of the event was also intentional, Thompson-White said. She explained that sociologists have identified Houston as 20 years ahead of the demographic trends of the country.

“We specifically chose Houston, because there is a lot of innovation happening in this city,” she said. “The city will be a key enlivener for us.”

Participants will visit the Ion, once a Sears showroom, reimagined into creative offices for entrepreneurs, as well as restaurants. Another day will bring attendees to the Post, known as the cultural hub for Houston’s downtown.

Speakers will be drawn from NASA, faith institutions and city leadership, including Ruth López Turley,  professor of sociology and the director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University and the Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija, Founding Director of TryTank in the Episcopal Church. Casper ter Kuile, author of “The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices,” will speak via Zoom.

Partners in “Launch,” Jason and Hillary DeMeo of We Are Curio, have curated the site visits and special guests. Each segment is meant to give participants space to dream, to engage with the Holy Spirit and to network with like-minded collaborators. “This will nourish people’s ideas,” Thompson-White said.

On Wednesday, each person will develop and pitch an idea to the group, and the best will be selected for seed funding. “They will get feedback, kind of like Shark Tank,” Thompson-White said.

Key questions that shaped the event’s itinerary include: What is formation and what is the church’s role in formation? What does the physical/digital space make possible in forming people?

“What gridlocks the imagination is when we keep doing the same things over and over,” Thompson-White said. “Right now is a critical moment. There’s an opportunity to expand our imaginations and try new ways of sharing the Gospel.”