As Evana Network formalizes relationships with more strategic partners, its congregational membership has held steady as additions have been offset by withdrawals.
The evangelical Anabaptist network, which began in 2015, counts 42 member congregations, down slightly from 45 in 2019. The network stretches from Iowa to Pennsylvania, with a handful of congregations in Florida, Maryland and Virginia, though most are in Indiana and Ohio.
Evana executive director Matt Hamsher anticipates growth in numbers and geographic stretch as congregations reach out.
“We have realized, in terms of staff time and resourcing, that we need to be prepared for more travel and more time to go to some of those conversations,” he said. “It may be larger in the future.”
Hamsher said Evana is open to any church being part of the network if it can affirm Evana’s covenant. Evana does not require a congregation to leave an existing affiliation. Seven Evana churches have joint membership with LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference) or Mennonite Church USA’s Atlantic Coast Conference and Virginia Mennonite Conference.
“We certainly are open to conversations with anyone,” he said. “We have tried hard not to insert ourselves into other conversations, and to my knowledge we have not gone to any individual churches or conferences saying you should leave. It’s frankly none of our business. We don’t want to interfere with that discernment process. There are certainly a lot of conversations ongoing.”
Multiple conferences within MC USA have held votes or discernment processes about their affiliation in the last few years — more doing so after a special delegate assembly last May in Kansas City rescinded Membership Guidelines that prohibited pastors from participating in same-sex wedding ceremonies and approved an LGBTQ-affirming “Repentance and Transformation” resolution.
Evana’s three newest member congregations all come from MC USA conferences. Agora Christian Fellowship in Columbus, Ohio, finalized its membership March 1 with Evana. Eicher Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Wayland, Iowa, voted in October to join. Holdeman Mennonite Church in Wakarusa, Ind., joined formally at the beginning of this year.
Eicher Emmanuel became the second Evana congregation in Iowa, joining Lower Deer Creek Mennonite Church in Kalona. Eicher Emmanuel’s pastor, Joshua Wenger, came from Lower Deer Creek at the beginning of 2022 and was ordained by Evana that February, eight months before Eicher Emmanuel joined the network.
“There wasn’t anybody here at Eicher who went to Kansas City, but they really wanted to see what would happen there,” Wenger said. “From the actions at Kansas City, it was clear it wasn’t the group that Eicher Emmanuel wanted to be affiliated with.”
He said the congregation and Central Plains Mennonite Conference drifted apart over a number of years.
“There’s still a desire to be connected to Anabaptism, but a lot of the congregation doesn’t have that,” Wenger said. “They’ve been able to reach out to people who didn’t necessarily grow up in the Anabaptist tradition, but the people in leadership do have that Anabaptist connection. . . .
“We had a really good connection with the assuredness of the Evana covenant of agreement and more confidence with what they expect of us and what we expect of the network.”
Evana has identified strategic partners — organizations, including mission agencies and schools — that share its vision and values. It recently added two partners, Rosedale Bible College and Malone University, bringing the total to 16.
Rosedale Bible College in Irwin, Ohio, is affiliated with Rosedale Network, formerly Conservative Mennonite Conference. Malone University in Canton, Ohio, is affiliated with the Evangelical Friends Church.
Former Malone President David King, an Eastern Mennonite University graduate, retired last summer.
“Having grown up in a Mennonite church himself, he was very familiar with us,” Hamsher said. “And then that conversation continued with the new president, Dr. Greg Miller. His vision for Malone and where they are headed as a school just resonates quite a bit with where we’re at.”
Mennonite Brethren institutions Fresno Pacific University and Tabor College are partners as well. Wendell Loewen, Tabor professor of youth, church and culture, led a seminar on youth and family ministry in February at Flourish, Evana’s annual pastor/spouse retreat.
“We didn’t feel the need to establish our own mission agency or school,” Hamsher said. “We were quite happy instead to say there are a number of great organizations that exist already where we can find common cause.”
Mission agency strategic partners are Rosedale International, Eastern Mennonite Missions and Virginia Mennonite Missions. Other ministry partners include Anabaptist Peace Center in Upland, Calif., Camp Luz in Kidron, Ohio, Southern Illinois Mission Partnership in Hopedale and Christian Community Center in Peoria, Ariz.
While not an Evana strategic partner, Taylor University in Upland, Ind., has hosted the network’s biennial gathering, ReGen, since it began in 2015. A youth convention and delegate assembly, ReGen will return to Taylor June 26-30. Writer and musician Olivia Williamson, director of Claim Your Campus and founder of Enlightened Students ministry, will be the keynote speaker.