Eighteen clergy and laity from a dozen churches in the Texas Annual Conference attended a recent conference in Charlotte, NC, and came away with fresh new ideas for ministry.

Members of the group traveled or tuned in to the UMC’s Fresh Expressions conference Futuring Forward: The Re-awakening of the People Called Methodist and plans are in the works for presentations on what they learned in meetings around the TAC this Spring.

The conference was organized by Rev. Dr. Michael Beck – pastor, professor, author, and thought leader in the Fresh Expressions movement. Beck will be a keynote speaker at the Texas Annual Conference in June 2024.

Beck is a minister who serves both traditional congregations and a network of what he calls “fresh expressions” that gather in places like tattoo parlors, dog parks, salons, running tracks, community centers, burrito joints, and digital spaces.

Michelle Bush, one of lay leaders at Mercy Street – a sister church to Chapelwood UMC in Houston, said she returned from the conference revived.

“We dove into new ways to spread God’s love and saw so many people stepping out and going to where the people are hungry,” Bush said. “It set me on fire to want to be part of that movement.”

She said her favorite speaker at the conference spoke on sharing her faith at a bar.

“When she first walked into the bar, (the people at the bar) thought she was in the witness protection program. She was in a place where she didn’t appear to belong,” Bush said. “But she stayed and built up an organic relationship with the people and answered questions and talked about how God loves everyone and before she left, they asked her to lead a candlelight prayer.”

Bush, who works at a non-profit and doesn’t drink, said she was reminded of the television show Cheers set in a bar where “everybody knows your name,” according to the lyrics of the show’s theme song.

“That’s how I feel about my church. It’s the place I go where everybody knows my name,” she said.

She said this kind of love and friendship in the Church needs to be carried to those outside of the Church in these fresh expressions of the Christian faith.

Rev. Ryan Trushenski, pastor at new church start Waters Edge UMC in Conroe and associate pastor at Wildwood UMC in Magnolia, said he believes the missional model of “fresh expressions” is the future of the Church.

“I have a feeling that the denomination as a whole is more and more behind this. Our bishop is more and more behind this – speaking about taking risks and learning new things,” Trushenski said. “At Fresh Expressions, there were around 400 or so people with new ideas and it really got me more excited about where we are going, what is possible and what God is doing in all this.”

He said one idea he is considering is a worship experience for those in recovery – programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon.

Rev. Kate Walker, pastor at Grace in the Heights UMC in Houston, attended the conference online and felt inspired by the experience.

“There was a lot of deep discussion about what ‘fresh expressions’ is and what potential it has for local congregations,” she said. “Many of us inherited institutional churches that want to be about the work of fresh expression and learn what roles people can play in it and where the movement is heading.”

What she and others learned is that the definition is expansive and unique to ministry contexts.

Walker said her congregation plans to launch a brunch worship experience in May that they hope will appeal to those who live in the community.

Melissa Maher, TAC Director of New Ministry Strategies, said the conference plans to host fresh expression learning opportunities for clergy and laity in April and May.

“It’s in the works. Leading up to Annual Conference, we want to talk about what does it mean to live in the resurrection and breathe life into the Church,” Maher said.