Have you ever been to a conference where after you arrived back home you realized that the best conversations took place in the “in between” spaces? In other words, it was when you went out for drinks with fellow conferees or had morning coffee with new friends. Have you ever been to a conference and wished that there was more time to share ideas and collaborate with your fellow conferees instead of being talked at by “experts” for most of the conference? What if you realized during the conference that you had expertise on a particular theme or topic, but that there was not a way of sharing it widely?
Back in 2015 I went to an “un-conference” at Stony Point, NY. It was and is still called UNCO. This particular un-conference was around 40-50 participants deeply interested in Jesus, the present church, the future church, creative expressions of worship and doing ministry, current events, and more. There were no conference speakers or workshops led by experts. Instead each person was asked before they arrived at UNCO to reflect on ways that they could contribute to the experience.
In other words, what gifts and talents did God equip you with that you could add to UNCO (e.g. do you play guitar or saxophone?)? What expertise do you bring to the table (e.g. did you run a church coffeehouse or start a new type of worship service?)? What are you passionate about that you would like to share (e.g. what great book did you just finish or what new skill have you been developing?)? What are you just plain good at (e.g. preaching, praying, youth ministry)?
In addition to questions like these to get your juices flowing, the organizers also ask each person to reflect and think about what they would like to get out of UNCO. What are they curious about? What would they like to learn? What would they like to take away? How is the Holy Spirit stirring within them?
When you arrive at the host site, there are large pieces of papers taped on a wall where participants are invited to write the answers to the questions that they have been ruminating on before their arrival. This is how the participants create the agenda and breakout sessions together. During the breakout sessions you might be facilitating the discussion because you are the one with expertise or interest. Or you might go to a session and contribute by listening and offering your own experience.
I have found the UNCO model a great way to experience the breadth and depth of everyone’s passions, interests, gifts, and talents whether you are extroverted or introverted. UNCO is an “in between” space sort of learning experience where you don’t have to wait until coffee hour or drinks in the evening to engage in creativity, brainstorming, and discussion.
Rev. Ryan Byers is the pastor of Christ Church UCC in Ft. Thomas, KY and a board member of UNCO. He will be facilitating an UNCO at the Ohio Conference Annual Gathering on Sept. 15, 2017. Registration is coming soon!