Nonprofit Church Leadership Program makes impact, welcomes new participants

July 25, 2019
The 2019 graduates of the Nonprofit Church Leadership Certificate Program; they include both Minnesota and Dakotas pastors.

By: Christa Meland, with contributions from Dakotas Conference Intern Dylan Dethlefsen

Earlier this month, nine Minnesota clergy completed and graduated from a year-long Nonprofit Church Leadership Program at Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU)—and 11 Minnesota pastors entered the program, now in its second year. (See list of participants.) What the recent graduates learned is already benefiting the local churches they serve.
In a nutshell, the program provides participants with the business acumen required to meet the demands of a growing church, along with training in how to handle aspects of fundraising, organizational leadership, and human resources. The program is 21 graduate credits, delivered in eight courses that emphasize stewardship of all resources—money, people, talent, and vision. It is designed to strengthen competencies that pastors need to lead effectively in today’s world but did not necessarily obtain during their undergraduate, graduate, or seminary education. 
Reflecting on the first year
Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) in Mitchell, South Dakota, and the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church launched the Nonprofit Church Leadership Program last year. Dakotas and Minnesota clergy participate together and benefit from each other’s experiences in addition to the academic curriculum. Online learning is supplemented by three in-person gatherings, and each participant works with a coach.
“It was very rewarding and helpful in that it facilitated really intentional learning and development,” said Rev. Jeff Ozanne, a recent graduate who serves Willmar UMC. He said many of the assignments required an interaction with each participant’s setting. So the class was a catalyst for his church to examine and analyze things like demographic data and giving patterns over time.
Rev. Carol Zaagsma, a recent graduate who serves Portland Avenue UMC in Bloomington, had a career in the financial services industry before becoming a pastor. Although she felt pretty well versed in the area of financial stewardship, she still learned a lot.
“I valued the depth of what we studied,” she said. “This certificate can bring value to the most tenured of clergy as well as to someone right out of seminary.”
The idea for the certificate program came from the leadership and planning team for the $1 million Lilly Grant that the Dakotas-Minnesota Area received in 2016. The grant is helping underwrite the cost of the certificate program for participants, although clergy and their churches are also funding a portion of the cost.

Lilly Grant Program Director Diane Owen was at Dakota Wesleyan University to help award certificates to graduates. Photo by David Stucke, Dakotas Conference
“The willingness and desire to experiment and be innovative, I think, is rooted in the culture of Dakota Wesleyan,” said Diane Owen, Lilly Grant program director. “The fact that this pilot program is proving to be largely successful demonstrates the culture that seems to be evident here. The word is getting out that there is something unique and special happening at DWU through this collaboration. It does create a place for expansion and growth beyond our region. We are excited that we tried something new, and it seems to be sticking.”
Owen said one piece of key feedback she’s heard from participants is that they are able to immediately apply what they are learning in their local church setting. The program’s practical application is part of what makes it successful.
Ozanne affirmed that sentiment. Although he had some familiarity with all of the big concepts presented through the program—some of which he taught himself while pastoring—he came away with lots of best practices and new ideas to take his knowledge to the next level. For example, having a culture of learning within his congregation is something he already knew was important, but it hadn’t occurred to him to lead a teaching session for church leaders each time he engages in continuing education—both to extend the learning opportunity to others and to reinforce it in his own mind. He also came away with new ideas for performance review processes to make them less of a laundry list of things for an employee to do over the next year and more about the specific role each employee will take on order to help the church achieve its larger goals.
Each participant also completed two applied projects that benefited their local church. (Read summary of all applied projects.)
Ozanne’s projects focused on creating a culture of generosity within his church and evaluating its committee structure to create alignment with its mission and vision.
One of Zaagsma’s projects was bringing electronic giving to her congregation—and already, there’s been an uptick in giving to special offerings as a result. Her second project involved forming a “Navigators” team (consisting of her, the lay leader, and the church council chair) to create a structure around their shared task of stewarding the church’s vision; she also led a process of developing guidelines for all of the congregation’s elected leaders.
Rev. Nate Melcher said the program helped prepare him for his new appointment at Richfield UMC—his first in the role of senior pastor. Leading a stewardship campaign and managing human resources are key responsibilities in his new position, and the program gave him the skills and tools he needs to do them well.
“I’m a big believer in using entrepreneurial and nonprofit business tactics if it’s going to get the job done—a lot of what the church does and what the nonprofit sector does do merge!” he said.
Kicking off the second year
Twenty-five Dakotas-Minnesota clergy just entered the Nonprofit Church Leadership Program, now in its second year.

Clergy entering the program for its second year say they look forward to strengthening their skills and learning new practices to bring to their local churches.
“I want to be able to help the congregation that I serve grow in healthy ways, and so I want to build my capacity for the kind of organizational management and leadership that will best equip us to live out our vision and mission,” said Rev. Rachael Warner, who serves UMC of Anoka. “Navigating the nonprofit sector is different than it was 15 years ago when I went through seminary.”
Warner’s first applied project will focus on building culture of generosity. She hopes to help her congregation “look at who they already are and what they already believe about who God is calling them to be and translate that into what it looks like to respond to God’s generosity through our generosity.”
Rev. Erica Koser, meanwhile, said she entered the program to enhance her skills in leading Centenary UMC’s Holy Grounds ministry, which provides breakfast to and shares God’s love with Mankato’s homeless and food-insecure six mornings each week. 
“Holy Grounds is a bridge between the church and the world, and having nonprofit leadership certification will help do that excellently,” she said. “My applied project will be putting structure around Holy Grounds so it will be sustainable for the future.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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