Spark12 opens fellowship application for innovative ministry

By Nicole Burdakin

Spark12 provides funding, coaching, and other support for young adult leaders and those working with young adults who have innovative ideas they believe will change the world. The deadline for applications has been extended to May 16.

Spark12, supported by the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, is accepting applications from teams or individuals who want to bring their ideas to life.

“The world is constantly changing as are the needs of our neighbors. The church needs new ideas infused into its work to keep what we’re doing relevant and meaningful. There are young people today with innovative ideas that will transform our communities. Spark12 is designed to help support promising ideas and individuals as they bring innovative solutions to a world in need of transformation,” said the Rev. Trip Lowery, director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment at GBHEM who oversees Spark12.

Those selected as Spark12 fellows will receive funding, mentors with expertise in a related field, and a network of peers eager to perfect the work of the team. Spiritual formation coaches will help fellows remain grounded and oriented toward doing the most good.

As a Spark12 fellow, participants will be challenged to refine their vision, learn how to express their goals, and be networked with people/organizations that might be inclined to support an idea like theirs. Spark12 organizers believe the process will help participants be more successful than if they launched their ideas alone.

Finalists will be interviewed in June, and those that are selected as fellows will be invited to a retreat in Nashville in August for coaching and mentoring sessions.

Worthy Girls, Worthy Lives

By John W. Coleman

Program Director Kirstyn Mayden, left back, and Assistant Director Ava Simpson with the girls who are showing off certificates they received after completing the 10-week program. Photo by John Coleman.

Program Director Kirstyn Mayden, left back, and Assistant Director Ava Simpson with the girls who are showing off certificates they received after completing the 10-week program. Photo by John Coleman.

Like too many girls, Ariel Gilliam, a shy 8 year old, was used to being bullied at school. She would keep to herself mostly, but then “act out” with aggression when she’d had enough, according to her mother.

So it was no surprise that learning to understand and to resist bullying through assertive behavior was Ariel’s favorite lesson at Worthy Girls, Worthy Lives, a new, 10-week education and mentoring program in Baltimore, Md.

Ariel’s shyness is giving way to growing self-expression. “They’re teaching her to be more confident, and she’s even becoming a role model to her friends,” said Linnea Wayman, a grateful mom who uses Facebook and other social media to eagerly tell friends and family about this newfound blessing in her daughter’s life.

The aptly named Worthy Girls, Worthy Lives (WGWL) is one of two innovative local ministries launched in 2013 and resourced through a new collaborative initiative called Spark12. Spark12, a pilot incubator program, was a collaborative effort by several United Methodist agencies, including the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Church and Society, and United Methodist Communications. The Leadership Table, which authorized the first year of the program, also included the General Board of Discipleship, and the General Board of Global Ministries.

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Spark12 Fellows Begin Their Work

The first group of Spark12 fellows met in Washington D.C. at the United Methodist Building on Capital Hill on January 6-8 to initiate their work alongside the resources of the program. Kirstyn Mayden and Ava Simpson of Baltimore, Md. and Kenneth Pruitt of St. Louis, Mo. were present for several concentrated days of resourcing and discussion. In addition to this training and a stipend, the cohort will be connected over the next 12 weeks to a variety of resources and leaders with expertise related to their specific projects.

At the orientation in D.C., United Methodist leaders including Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), Sherry Thiel, Chief Operating Officer of United Methodist Communications, Rev. DJ del Rosario, Executive Director of Spark12, and Bishop Grant J. Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area, all offered words of welcome and encouragement to the fellows.

Keron Blair, of the Midwest Academy, offered an extensive session on setting goals for the Spark12 fellows, challenging them to think strategically about the next 12 weeks and the time that follows. He offered advice on how to move from vision to concrete action steps with specific focus on doing so in a compressed timeframe. The Midwest Academy “advances movements for progressive social change by teaching strategic, rigorous, results-oriented approach to social action and organization building.“

Susan Burton, Program Director for Seminar Design, Education and Leadership Formation at GBCS, taught a seminar on the differences between mercy and justice, offering a paradigm for each team to consider the way their projects confront the problems they’ve identified. Aydin Ghajar, Director of Product Management at heard short ‘pitches’ from each group, offering feedback from a unique perspective as a start-up entrepreneur. Rev. Adriano Kilende was present as an observer and representative for GBHEM.

In addition, the team had the first of weekly check-ins with mentors for their projects. Rev. Theon Johnson III, Associate Pastor at Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco, California and Rev. Shalom Agtarap of First United Methodist Church of Ellensburg, Washington, will each serve as mentors.

Finally, the four members of the Spark12 leadership team will each continue to work alongside each group to offer council and strategically connect the fellows with the resources of the larger United Methodist Church.

Spark12 is a project of The United Methodist Church. It is designed to serve as incubator for the projects of young, innovative leaders; leveraging the resources of the church’s global connection. You can learn more about the project online at You can learn more about The United Methodist Church by visiting


Spark12 Announces First Fellows, Orientation Week

Washington D.C. – Spark12, a catalyst program for young entrepreneurs seeking to transform the world, is excited to announce their fellows for its pilot session. Two projects were selected after a multi-step application process from an original pool of 47 applicants.

The first project was submitted by Kenneth Pruitt, a United Methodist from St. Louis, Missouri. Pruitt will be working to creatively redefine the relationships between churches and volunteer-fed non-profits with the purpose of strengthening the connections between those volunteers and the work that they contribute to.
Kirstyn Mayden and Ava Simpson are developing a resource they are calling “Worthy Girls, Worthy Lives” for African-American girls age 9 to 12 to learn about their worth in God’s eyes and to help girls and young women learn how to find their voices in a world saturated with unrealistic media portrayals.
April Casperson, Director of Internal Operations for Spark12, notes that the team found Kenneth Pruitt’s project to be “innovative because it seeks to change a culture of volunteerism that can tend to lean towards charity, rather than authentic engagement with justice issues.” Reflecting on the “Worthy Girls, Worthy Lives” she noted her personal excitement for the project “because it works alongside girls and young teenagers, helping them to think about their identities in a new light. This project helps girls and young women explore different ways of thinking about self-worth and identity as an individual.”

The Spark12 fellows will gather with the Leadership Team and an initial groups of coaches and supporters for an orientation week toward the beginning of January at The United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. In addition to developing relationships and beginning the process of resourcing, facilitators and coaches will have opportunity to listen and learn more about the projects from the cohort.

Learning has been an ongoing part of the process for the Spark12 leadership team. Joe Kim, Director of Community Care for Spark12, offered an example, “We learned that we need to do a better job of defining what social justice means and how it requires that we engage communities in the process of our work.”

Additionally the group has wrestled with a challenge familiar to many in ministry. While Spark12 received a wealth of interesting ideas submitted by incredibly passionate people, they needed to make tough decisions based on the program’s capacity to make a real difference and that required both discernment, focus, and a willingness to say no to good ideas for the right reasons.

Spark12 Executive Director, DJ del Rosario is optimistic about the success of the first Spark12 cohort. “I believe these two projects have the potential to move from acts of mercy to social justice as they transform their communities and ultimately have the chance to provide adaptive ministry models as well.”

Spark12 is a project of The United Methodist Church. You can learn more about the project online at You can learn more about The United Methodist Church by visiting



Helping to Change the World One Idea at a Time

This past week, on the 1st day of April, applications were released for a new United Methodist initiative called Spark12. Spark12 invests in young entrepreneurs to launch innovative ideas that will transform the world.Spark12 is a faith-based catalyst that provides funding, coaching, and resourcing to bring these ideas to life.

Spark12 “seeks to make an intentional investment into particular ideas–whether a passionate person or a team–not just tackling a small idea, but an idea that in a very real sense could change a community–and also the world,“ says Spark12 design team member Rev. Theon Johnson III, Director of the Jackson State Wesley Foundation in Jackson, MS.

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Casperson Helps Provide the Spark For An Innovative UMC Venture

MTSO logo final 11-10
As the Leadership Table of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops began fleshing out a bold vision for young entrepreneurship, Rev. April Casperson got an email. Casperson, director of admissions for Methodist Theological School in Ohio, was asked to join the design team driving the fledgling effort. The resulting project, dubbed Spark12, took a big step forward Jan. 21 with the launch of its website,

So, what is it?

“Spark12 is an entry point for those interested in ministry leadership that allows them to discern while serving,” said Casperson, an ordained deacon who earned Master of Divinity and Master of Theological Studies degrees from MTSO. The church hopes to tap the fresh ideas and energy of young people who aren’t yet ordained – or perhaps aren’t choosing a path that leads to ordination.

Later this year, Casperson and her fellow leadership team members will sift the first batch of proposals for innovative ministry from individuals or small groups of 18- to 35-year-olds. Those whose projects are chosen will become Spark12 fellows and awarded funding from a $175,000 pool established by several United Methodist sources.

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UMC Gives Young People Tools for Social Justice

cplogoA new project by The United Methodist Church called Spark12 is focused on reaching and keeping youth in the church. The initiative will give young people tools, and funding, to create ministries that tackle their interests.

The Rev. April Casperson, an executive member of the Spark12 team, told The Christian Post that many young adults are already involved in secular social justice initiatives. She said her team found “that young adults want to make a difference in the world, but don’t always have the confidence in religious organizations.”

Spark12′s aim is to reach out to young people by changing that mindset and combining missions with social justice.

Focusing on young people has been a push in many churches since the Barna Group released a study last year finding that nearly three out of every five young Christians (59 percent) disconnect from church life, either permanently or for a long period of time after the age of 15.

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Young Adults Lead Social Justice Start-ups

A United Methodist News Service Report By Tita Parham
The United Methodist Church is taking a page from the tech start-up world, and the resulting initiative enables young adults to be leaders in ministry.

Called Spark12, it is an incubator for social justice ministries developed and implemented by young adults. It is one way the denomination is working to develop principled Christian leaders, one of four areas of focus adopted by the 2008 General Conference, the church’s top legislative body.

Directed by the Council of Bishops’ Leadership Table, a young adult team began in May 2011 to develop the initiative, which helps young adults bring to fruition their ideas for life-changing social justice ministries. The Council of Bishops endorsed the plan at its November 2011 meeting.

The project allows young adults to take the lead in ministry, rather than fitting into existing projects or ministry models.

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Wave of #UMC Social Justice Start-ups on the Horizon

hackingxvlogoHacking Christianity By Jeremy Smith of Hacking Christianity, a pastor’s blog on ministry, social justice, and internet-age group and systems theory.

I cannot tell you how excited I got when I opened my feed reader this morning and saw the writeup on a young adult-led initiative in the United Methodist Church. At first I was excited that I’m friends with 3/4 of the leadership team…and then when I saw what they were doing, I realized I didn’t need to be biased towards my friends; their actions and project speaks for itself.

It’s called Spark12:…

…As the Call To Action is (for better or for worse) moving us from boards who lead initiatives to grant-dispersing entities that support local or global ministry initiatives, it seems that the young adults are leading the church in modeling how such a move might look. Here’s how it works:

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Aydin Ghajar

AydinGhajarSocial entrepreneurship is in desperate need of a program like Spark12. According to Giving USA 2009, charitable giving in the United States exceeds $300 billion per year. Sadly, much of that giving doesn’t reach the people whose lives it’s intended to help. Large, bureaucratic organizations fail to adapt to a changing world and put that money to its most effective use. At the same time, passionate social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas lack the resources and support structure they need to bring those ideas to life.

Spark12 solves this problem. It connects social entrepreneurs with the resources, mentorship, and network they need to launch their ideas, and gives philanthropists the opportunity to identify and invest in passionate teams with innovative models to change the world.

Spark12 solves this problem.

I personally identify as agnostic and am not involved with the church. However, I’m genuinely excited to be a part of Spark12, because I believe in the impact a program like this can affect. I have first-hand experience with the value accelerators provide for-profit companies, and I’ve watched the rise of over 100 such programs across the country – a testament to the success of the model. The time has come to apply the lessons from for-profit accelerators to launch tomorrow’s social ventures, and for the church to take a leadership role in forming and supporting their success.

Aydin Ghajar
CEO at Thinkfuse & Partner at Corhouse, Inc.

Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean

kendadeanSpark12 gives me enormous hope–hope for encouraging the ministries of young adults, hope for removing “silos” within the church, hope that creativity and mission find one another when the church nourishes faithful imaginations.

I see Spark12 as a sign of things to come, and I am grateful that The United Methodist Church is leading the way in inviting a new generation of missional leadership.

Rev. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean
Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture
Department of Practical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

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