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Students Gather Biennially to Imagine What’s NEXT

Beth Neil
January 12, 2017

Students at NEXT

Every two years, college students, collegiate ministers, and church leaders gather for the Imagine What’s NEXT conference. While Imagine What’s NEXT is one event, on a broader scale, NEXT is a community of United Methodist students, friends and leaders who are called to make a difference by living the theme, “Dream. Go. Do.”

In 2016, the conference took place in Atlanta’s historic Tabernacle Theater with approximately 700 in attendance. NEXT is hosted by the Collegiate Ministry office at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) to encourage and support students who dream of making a difference in the world right now for Christ.

“Our office is committed to providing college students, and those who work with them, the resources they need to answer God’s call in their lives. The future of our church and world will be in the hands of these young people, and we want to play any role we can in helping them to transform our world for Christ,” said Rev. Sheila Bates, director of student faith and leadership formation at GBHEM. “It is an honor to host NEXT in conjunction with the United Methodist Student Movement.”

With three days full of inspirational presentations, roundtable discussions, community gatherings and fellowship among attendee, NEXT provides many opportunities to connect students to how they can make a difference in the world.

NEXT 2016 Featured Speakers

NEXT 2016 opened with mainstage speaker, Shane Claiborne, Christian activist and author, who spoke of his experiences feeding the hungry and fighting injustice, starting in Philadelphia during college. Claiborne used the story of the Good Samaritan to inspire attendees and encourage them to get outside of their “comfort zones” and allow their lives to be “interrupted by injustice” in the world.

Farhana Sultana, a global advocate for water rights and a faculty member at Syracuse University, a United Methodist school, invited NEXT attendees to make a change immediately to impact the global water crisis. “Get your school involved, your town and your state, and figure out what everyone can do at these different scales and how you can bring about change,” Sultana said.

Romal Tune, a communicator and community strategist, shared his personal challenges while pursuing his dreams as an inspirational example for attendees. Tune advised that not everyone will like the dream participants are pursing, but encourages them to continue in their mission anyway. “God did not create any of us to fit in, you must let your light shine that men might see it and glorify your Father in heaven,” said Tune.

View videos and the complete list of speakers at

NEXT Worship and Arts

The conference featured much more than inspirational speakers and presentations. The event included musicians and artists who used their gifts in worship. Worship Outreach, a group from Southwestern College, a United Methodist school, served as the house band. Stars Go Dim provided a musical performance during a praise and worship session. Daniel Reffner, potter, Dawn Scott, sand artist, and poet Nicolas “nYkp” Pettye, each added to worship experience for the students.  Learn more about the NEXT worship experiences at

Community Gatherings

NEXT attendees had the option to participate community gathering around Atlanta or roundtable discussions. The gatherings partnered participants with community organizations to engage in a time of learning and service. The roundtable discussions addressed the issues that are directly related to faith and who God is calling each person to be in the world. Topics ranged from ethnic concerns, immigration, and Black Lives Matter to financial resources available to help students budget and pay for college. More information about the community gatherings and roundtable discussions can be found at

What’s Next?

Those who attended are encouraged to continue the NEXT movement following the conference by participating in the final curriculum component, part of a six-week curriculum. The full curriculum intertwines the Dream. Go. Do. theme, and focuses on sustainability of the Church, self and creation care. The curriculum is available for download at:

In 2017, the Collegiate Ministry office is collaborating internationally for NEXT events in Germany and Brazil.

Visit to learn more and to access resources from the 2016 event. The NEXT 2016 playlist is available now on YouTube. You can join the movement and get the latest news by following @nextumc on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to prepare global leaders for a global church and the world. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.

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