Leaders of United Methodist churches and higher education institutions will gather this spring at five events in each jurisdiction to discuss how the church and the academy can work together more closely.

One of the goals of the events organized by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is to consider ways to increase the number of United Methodist students enrolled in United Methodist-related schools, colleges and universities.

Meetings are planned in the South Central Jurisdiction in Arlington, Texas, Jan. 22-24; the Western Jurisdiction in Stockton, Calif., Feb. 5-7; Northeastern, Syracuse, N.Y., Feb. 19-21; North Central Jurisdiction, Naperville, Ill., March 5-7 (which includes Indiana); and in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, Daytona Beach, Fla., March 27-29.

"It is imperative that we take a look at our connectional infrastructure and invest in making it stronger. We have to reopen the lines of communication between our schools, colleges, universities and the church. That's the hope for the future. It's where our leaders come from," said Wanda Bigham, interim associate general secretary, Division of Higher Education, GBHEM.

Ingrid McIntyre, director of Connectional Relations at GBHEM, said the events will provide time for networking and connecting.

"We will talk about our roles in ministry with young people, how we can reach out to our United Methodist student leaders and provide current leadership tools that will be helpful in bridging the gap that sometimes inhibits our effectiveness," McIntyre said.

One of the keynote speakers at three of the events is Duane Anders, who contributed to the book 7 Myths of The United Methodist Church, written by Craig Kennett Miller. The book looks at the attitudes and beliefs that keep the church from fulfilling its call to create disciple-making faith communities. Beginning with the myth "We're a Connectional Church," the book challenges leaders to create environments of grace for people disconnected from the local church.

Breakout groups at each event include sessions on vocation and discernment, church relations, student leadership, loans and scholarships, John Wesley and higher education.

Those who might be interested in attending include: annual conference chairs of Higher Education and Campus Ministry; college and university presidents and deans; conference youth coordinators; youth ministers and volunteers; Christian education leaders; chaplains; college church-relations directors; directors of admissions and financial aid directors; district superintendents; and directors of connectional ministries.

To learn more about these events, visit www.gbhem.org/bridgingthegap. For the book, 7 Myths of The United Methodist Church, log on to www.cokesbury.com.