Special Guest Blogger: Ian McConnell; Student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
It was in a hotel ballroom in Anaheim maybe a decade ago that I heard for the first time, “Use this time however you need it. For renewal. For networking. For napping. For being away from a hectic work environment. For fun, for Pete’s sake!” I was in my early 20s, just recently “back in church” after a period of spiritual drifting—a statistical “none,” I suppose—and at the Extravaganza as a youth ministry volunteer from my home church. And I was hooked; while laying concrete blocks with the high school kids I had come to love for a trip to Ciudád Juárez in Mexico later that year, I decided to say “yes” to become the interim youth director for that congregation.
And in the dead of winter every year until this past winter, I have loved coming to the Extravaganza. Some years, I’ve come for networking, finding new ideas for Sunday School curriculums and games to fill time with notoriously bored teenagers. Other years, it’s felt like a warm family reunion filled with trips to restaurants and bars within walking distance. And at least once, the E has been a place to escape from a seriously, seriously dark work environment to be with people who could hear my pain. I will forever be grateful for who this network is, and what the Extravaganza continues to be.
Last winter, during my pastoral internship at Grace Lutheran in Wenatchee, Washington, the tasks were piling up. Funerals, meetings, limited budget and vacation days, and honestly, there was a bit of exhaustion. And for the first time in 10 years, I didn’t come to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. I had plenty of excuses, commitments, and reasons to justify missing out on the most helpful and encouraging network of ministry professionals I have come to know and love.
And let me tell you: I missed you all terribly.
This year is a big one, because like every third year, the E and the ELCA Youth Gathering are in the same city, and we find ourselves with the opportunity to take the edge off of our nerves about things like learning the best walking routes from hotel-to-dome-to-convention-center or finding relatively inexpensive places to eat with a group of young people (including that kid who “forgot” that he had a budget and blew his money on WHAT?!).
This year is a big one, because while we all know that young people are in a particularly exciting and haunted time in life anyways, there have been conversations continuing and amplifying on the news, in schools, on social media, and at dinner tables about serious and seriously difficult topics: sexual assault and violence against women, systemic racism and violence against our brothers and sisters of color, how to be a part of a society that would oftentimes rather put its head in the sand than learn how to best accompany young people learning about their own gender and sexual identities… Whether we like it or not, these are real issues for the families we have been called to serve. These are real issues for many of you already. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I need to work this stuff out in community. And the Extravaganza has always been a place where it’s been safe for me to do so.
If ever there were a time to commit to Finding Forward, this seems to be it, friends. We are living in this reality, and so we ask: now what? Where do we go from here? What does it mean to be disciples in this particular time and this particular reality?
You may be in the same boat as I have been in, wondering if you’ll be able to make it work to come to the E this year. And I sincerely hope to see you in Houston this upcoming January. I need to gather with you to worship and sing and pray. I need your help finding a way forward, seeking for ways to participate in what, exactly, God is calling us to be in year 501 and beyond of the Reformation. We need time to rest, to rejuvenate, to learn, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to share our stories for the sake of materializing God’s kingdom here on earth.
But first, a brief confession: I have not yet registered. So, I’ll wrap this up, open a new tab in my browser, and secure my spot at this year’s Extravaganza! Don’t tell the early bird folks, I don’t want to catch too much flack.
See y’all in Houston, I hope!
Rev. Scott Maxwell-Doherty, who has done amazing work over the last 12 years giving leadership to the Extravaganza Team, has chosen to step down from his position, following Extravaganza 2017 in Louisville.
In a note to the Extravaganza team leaders, Scott wrote that:
“As you all know I take great delight in several ‘extra-curricular’ church related activities. These events tap into my creativity, my delight in gathering folks from far and wide to deploy their skill sets, and the joy of being around people who I trust, heart and soul.This past year I had to come to terms with the lament, “how much O Lord?”
And the answer… it is time to lay this one down.
Is this a hard decision? OMG Yep, quite difficult…
…My departure from my role will commence following the Louisville event. The days that follow will be thoughtful and even sassy days of transition evaluating the next leadership design for The E Team, a process which will capably tended by Todd. Between now and then…there is much work to be done…so let our focus be on the efficacy and essence of the E.” Scott’s leadership has taken the E to a whole new level of depth and quality. He leads from both the “heart” and the “head.” To say we are thankful for Scott, is an incredible understatement.
Anytime there is a personnel shift, it gives an organization the opportunity to evaluate and to think differently about its leadership. Since Scott let me know about this transition, we’ve been working to develop a leadership model for the event.
- Tending to the administrative end of the E. This would include:
- The planning schedule
- Team communications
- Publicity and promotion
- The Extravaganza is a large event, and there is much work in this area. I am excited to announce that this area of Extravaganza leadership will be handled by Catherine Anderson. Catherine, for those who don’t know her, works in the Northeast Minnesota Synod Office. She has worked in the Youth Gathering, and was the primary leader who developed the Practice Discipleship Initiative. Catherine has the gifts and skills for this vital role. We are grateful for Catherine’s willingness to take this on.
The other side of the equation is what I’m calling “Participant Experience.” It’s all of the programmatic and experiential elements of the E. It includes:
- Main Stage
- Exhibit Hall
- There are other areas as well, and obviously there is a lot of cross-over between “participant experience” and “administration.” (After all, their experience really begins with publicity and registration, doesn’t it?) So there will be a lot of teamwork in these areas. I’m excited that Charlie Roberts has agreed to provide leadership to this aspect of the E. Charlie, for those who don’t know, works in the Lower Susquehanna Synod office. He also has served as a team leader for the Gathering, and has done a lot of work to equip, develop and support leadership for children, youth and family ministry in his region. Charlie has also served in Extravaganza leadership for a few years, helping to coordinate the exhibit hall area.
- The last area of E leadership revolves around the hotel negotiation and contract work. This is work that I will continue to do. Many of the other areas that I have worked in however, primarily in communications, will be handed off into the new administrative area, freeing me up to work on other projects.
The Network is about leadership. We are blessed to be gifted with great leaders for the sake of God’s mission. You are all among those people. Thank you for your ministry.
And today, I’m especially grateful for these three: Scott, Catherine and Charlie. Let’s keep them in our prayers as they step into new roles, and as the Network continues to grow and move forward.
At Extravaganza 2017, we’ll have the opportunity to screen a brand new documentary called “No Joke.” It’s a film about 3 religious leaders from Peoria, Illinois, a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim Imam and a Christian pastor, who have all become close friends. And it’s about how their understanding of each other’s faiths, and their approach to interfaith conversation has been shifted by their friendship.
It’s a powerful opportunity for us to rethink how we approach interfaith dialog…an area that the church has traditionally stepped into carefully.
The film will be screened in the Grand Ballroom of the hotel on Sunday afternoon at 1:30pm of the E, as one of several different options offered during that time. One of the film’s producers will be with us, and we are hopeful that one, two or all three of the religious leaders from Peoria will be with us as well, to participate in a Q&A following the screening.
More information on the event at the E, including a film trailer and links to the film’s web site can be found at www.elcaymnet.org/NoJoke
The E-Team leaders have spent the past week or two going over the details of the evaluations from Extravaganza 2016 in Anaheim. I wanted to follow up with what we learned from this year’s evals.
First, thank you very much to those who took the time to fill out the evaluation forms. The full evaluation report is (10 point font, Ariel) 46 pages long. That’s a ton of data. And we’re grateful. We’ve gone over every numerical answer, and every comment.
225 of you filled out the evaluation form, which represents a 33% return rate, which is a fantastic rate of return for an event like ours. It reminds all of us that people who participate in the Extravaganza really care about this event. It is important, and people want to see it continue to get better and better. It reminds us that tending the E is a trust that we take very seriously.
Looking at the results, clearly we had a great event together in Anaheim. I’ll summarize some of the data:
- One of the key questions we look at is the first question asked: Would you recommend the Extravaganza to a friend? There are two ways that we examine this data.
- The answers to this question form what’s called a “Net Promoter Score,” (NPS) which is a way to evaluate how people feel about this event. A NPS can range from -100 to +100. Anything above zero is considered good. Above 50 is considered excellent and above 70 is unbelievable. The E this year scored 77. We’re very, very happy with this score!
- The other way is to look at the average score on a scale of 1-10. Ext16’s average score on this question was 9.34, which is the highest score we’ve ever had.
Clearly, this was a great event! Thank you to all of you who were a part of it, and helped make it that way!
- Another very important question for us is “Was this event worth the money spent?” We know that this is a big investment for many, and the E team works hard to make sure that there is good value. Again, in 2016, we scored the highest in our history on this question. The average response was 9.45. We’re glad that people felt this event was financially “worth it.”
- All of the other major program areas were also evaluated, and we were very grateful for very good scores across the board. Another score that really stood out was the score for how well the Hyatt in Anaheim worked. Here, we also received the highest score on this question in our history. The Hyatt scored 9.4. And we agree. Our experience there was very, very good. We’re actually in conversation with them about bringing the E back there again at some point in the future.
- The last numerical question is also one that we look at. It is “I will be back next year.” 173 responded: “Count me in!” 48 said “I might take a year or two off” and 4 said “No chance.” Of those 4, 3 indicated it was because of scheduling conflicts, or “I’m having a baby right before that.” We’ll accept that excuse!
The comments are always the most interesting parts of the evaluations to read. And again, we’re grateful for the time people took to share their thoughts. Some general themes emerged that were very helpful for the planning team to be made aware of.
- People generally loved our worship and general sessions. We live right in the middle of the “music” opinions. Some people really love hymns. Some like contemporary worship music, and some really love camp-type songs. Likewise, some people liked the various version of the creed, the prayers and the words of institution…other people, not so much. We tried for a variety this year and it appears that generally that was effective, though some people clearly wanted more of one of the other styles. We’ll keep working on balancing the desires for the familiar and the new, the contemporary and the traditional.
- Workshops were well received. As always, we have some that were stronger than others. Some comments were made that some of the workshop descriptions really didn’t align with what actually happened in the workshops. We’ll continue to work at this to help workshop leaders accurately describe what participants will experience.Our philosophy of workshops is simple: We hope to present the best, cutting edge thinking on children, youth and family ministry as possible. We also hope to continue to raise up new leadership for the mission of the church. And so we are willing to give people, some of whom are doing workshops for the very first time, an opportunity to lead. And we pass along the evaluations and feedback for them so that they can grow in their leadership.
- People loved Anna Madsen. That was clear. There were many positive comments on her presentation.
- Some people didn’t like that the E fell over Super Bowl weekend. I get that. When we negotiate, we give the hotels a “window” of weekend between Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, and President’s weekend (not including the weekends.) Then we work to find the weekend that gives the best prices and the most value. We too would prefer that it were not Super Bowl weekend, (it winds up being a 6 hour time-suck in our schedule) but sometimes it makes too much financial sense to do it then. Next year, we’re not over Super Bowl weekend.
- The issue of race and ethnicity continues to come up in evaluations. Some people thought that we had made good progress in increasing the level of diversity in the event, and others thought we have a long way to go. 11.2% of Extravaganza registrants self-identified as people of color, which is a dramatic increase from previous years. And the Network is working to increase the diversity of its leadership among all of our teams. And we’ve made some progress in this.Please know that this is an area of growth that the Network is committed to, and that we continue to make progress.
- It was mentioned, and we know, that the way the Exhibit space is laid out wasn’t ideal. But it’s the best we could do given the hotel’s space constraints. We’ve already made it clear with the Hyatt that if we’re back there, we’d need a different space configuration to make the exhibit space flow better.
- Even though it’s not directly “E” related, lots of people were very excited about the new MartinsList.org. So are we!
Those were the general themes we heard. Of course, there was much, much more. And as I said, we will go over and learn from every comment.
Thanks again for your willingness to share your thoughts, feelings and ideas about the E. And thanks for caring about this event, and ultimately this community, gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ.
Have you downloaded the Network app?
Prior to coming to California, you’ll want to download the Network app! On the app, you can check the up-to-date Extravaganza schedule in the “events” section. And if there are any schedule updates or changes, we’ll also be posting those in the “blog” section.
At our worship, we’ll even use the “giving” function of the app to take offering, if you choose to.
The Network app is available in both the Android Marketplace and the iTunes App store. You can also get to it by going to http://www.elcaymnet.org/app. The app is free to download and use.
You’ll want it to help you navigate the E!
Extravaganza 2014 is in the history books. The final hotel bill has been paid, and most of the random boxes of leftover stuff have been crammed back into the warehouse at the Network’s Global Headquarters (my basement).
And, we’ve been pouring through the Extravaganza evaluations.
Thank you to all of you who shared your thoughts, feelings and experiences from this year’s event. 44.8% of you took the time to fill out an Extravaganza evaluation form. That’s a tremendous return rate. I think it shows the deep level of care that people have for the Network and the Extravaganza. It reminds me that the E isn’t just “something we go to,” rather it is a community to which we belong; it is renewal, it is education and it is networking. On behalf of those of us who work on the project, we are very grateful for your commitment to the E, and especially to those who took the time to fill out the evaluation form.
This year, for the first time, we use a tool called a “Net Promoter Score” as an overall evaluation. The possible range of Net Promoter Scores is -100 to +100. Anything above a 0 is generally considered good. Above 50 is considered very good; Above 70 is amazing. The Extravaganza in 2014 scored a 78.
Another question we pay a lot of attention is the question of “On a scale of 1-10, was the Extravaganza worth the money spent?” This year this question rated an 8.96, the highest score the event has ever received. We feel very good about that! In 2013, the score for this question was 8.56.
As we’ve gone through the comments, there have been a few themes that have surfaced that I think deserve an acknowledgement, or a bit of a response.
- A consistent theme was how much people appreciated the Hyatt Hotel. It was a good property, in a good location, with great space. E-goers really appreciated the meal “deals” and “discounts” that the hotel had put together. That’s great! Choosing a hotel property is always a bit nerve-wracking. One of the things we’ll be able to do at future hotels now is to point to what the Hyatt in St. Louis did as a model for offering discounts. Hopefully that will help to provide affordable meals in the near future. It was also helpful that there were a lot of restaurants in close walking distance. From a leadership perspective, we also really appreciated working with the hotel. They did a great job.
- Folks who were forced into the overflow hotel at the Drury Plaza loved it. Folks at the Sheraton…wished that they were at the Hyatt. Yep. We know. When we book space at the hotel, we are pretty conservative in our contracts because we con’t want to wind up “short” on the rooms we guarantee. Then we’d incur stiff penalties. And we’ve been on a growth trend in the last few years. We are ratcheting our number of contracted rooms every year. Hopefully we can avoid this in the future.
- The main stage music had issues. The concept of doing the “open-source” music remains one that we really liked. It didn’t quite pull off like we’d hoped it would this year, though the musicians themselves did a very good job. We haven’t given up on the concept necessarily, but if we do it again in the future, we’d probably do it differently.
- 95% of people loved the “Ted Talk” format of the main stage speakers. About 5% really hated it. There was no middle ground. I think it’s interesting that two people can be sitting side by side at an event and have totally different experiences.
- “There were too many changes from what was printed in the program book, especially with workshops.” We will keep working on making this better. Also, some of the workshop room sizes were too small. We tried to guess which workshops would best fit in which rooms. Sometimes we guess wrong. In the past, we have toyed with the idea of people pre-registering for workshops, or a track of workshops, but generally people have told us that they prefer the flexibility and freedom of deciding “on the spot.”
- “I wish more meals had been provided.” Us too. This is largely a budget issue. The meals through the hotel are very expensive. The hotel gives us the meeting space for free, based on a minimum amount of catering that we’ll buy. So when we pay for a meal, we are really paying for the food, the service, and also also space. That’s how the hotel makes it’s money. So we could charge much more and provide more meals. But we choose to charge less in registration fees, provide the meals we can and let you buy the other meals on your own at local restaurants. It’s cheaper for you that way.
- People loved the number and the variety of exhibitors who were at the event, and how the exhibit space “worked.” We agree. The space was really good. We’re going to learn from this and work to emulate the vibe of that space every year, as much as we can.
- A question that came up was “How do I volunteer to help with the E?” Great question! The Extravaganza has both E-Team members (planners) and E-Volunteers (doers.) Every year new folks come in to both groups. Often, people who have been E-volunteers, move into E-Team roles. As specific needs come up on each team and the working groups, we pull new folks into these roles. We’ll post requests for help as they come up on Facebook and on the website. Watch for more information there.
The total evaluation report was 38 pages long. So we’re not going to respond to every thought here. But these were the themes that came up consistently throughout the evaluation forms.
The last question I want to highlight: “I will be back next year.” 87% said “yes” and 13% said “I might take a year off.” No one…not one person…said “no.”
Thanks again to all of you for being a part of the E!
I heard a story from the Extravaganza that I need to share with you. It’s pretty amazing.
If you were there, you know that we rented a Segway for use during the “segue” moments on the main stage. We rented from a local St. Louis company, who would bring the Segway before each general session, would hang around, and then would take it with them at the end of every general session. (hmmm…perhaps they didn’t trust us with it? Ok, can’t blame them.)
They were loading the Segway out of their van into the hotel when Pastor Manuel Retamoza, a member of the Extravaganza Team, was heading out to make an airport run. Dawn, one of the other team members said to Manuel, “could you chat with this gentleman? He has some questions about our church.” “Sure,” said Manuel. Manuel grew up in an American/Southern Baptist tradition, and we were in St. Louis. So he stepped into the conversation carefully. They talked about our theology, our emphasis on grace, infant baptism, and our strong focus on service of those in need. The Segway guy said “what can you tell me about your marital rights?” Oh boy. Manuel, again carefully, described our approach to marriage. It was a pleasant, respectful conversation, and about ten minutes later, they went on their respective ways.
The Segue guy sits in the back of the ballroom, waiting for each general session to come to a close, to take the Segue back to its nest (or wherever they keep it.) So the next day, during the session when Rev. Brenda Bos was speaking about how we in the church welcome LGBTQ young people (Remember? “How do you welcome a LGBTQ young person into the church? You say ‘Welcome to the church.’”). After Brenda had finished speaking Manuel was walking through the back of the ballroom, saw the Segway guy, and made eye contact. He then realized that the Segway guy, while not crying, was obviously emotional. His eyes were filled with tears. Manuel walked over to check on him.
“I’ve been in a committed relationship for over 17 years, and I’ve not been in a church in that time. I’ve never heard this message before and I think it’s time for us to find a church home.”
This is the power of the Word of God, shared in love and grace. It happens in places you don’t expect. It happens in ways you don’t anticipate. The Extravaganza is framed for those who come for our congregations. But maybe…just maybe…at this general session, it was also for framed for someone else.
It was for the Segway guy.
There aren’t enough ways that I can say “thank you.” I wish there were, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. I’m still in St. Louis, here for one of the post-E meetings that typically takes place at the end of the event. I have to admit that I’m having just a little bit of trouble focusing, because my mind is still completely wrapped around the Extravaganza we just experienced.
This was a great event! I know that we’ll go through evaluations soon, and that there will be good, constructive criticism that comes from those evaluations. And, we’ll learn from them. But my gut tells me that it was a good event.
How does this all of this happen? There are a whole bunch of people who make it possible.
The E-Team is 26 of the strongest servant leaders I have experienced in the church. They worked in unbelievably creative ways to pull together an event with more than enough space for the Holy Spirit to do its work. And they are led by Scott Maxwell-Doherty, one of the church’s strongest and most creative leaders. These people need to be thanked.
But there are more: The Network’s Board of Directors, the Regional Facilitators, and so on and so on. The Network is full of leaders.
But here’s the deal: These gifted, blessed children of God are not the reason the Extravaganza was great. They’re a part of the reason, but they are not the whole. I often say that the Extravaganza isn’t an event, it’s a community. We gather as friends to share in our common mission. An Extravaganza is a “wiki-like” experience, created by community. And for that to happen, it takes exactly 653 people. Because that’s how many people were “in the house” for the Extravaganza.
653 of you put together this Extravaganza. They gave their time and energy. They shared their knowledge and wisdom. They contributed to the conversation. They gave, and they received.
I wish I could thank you all individually. Because it is all of you who made this happen. Thank you for being in St. Louis. Thank you for sharing who you are with the rest of us. we are all stronger in our ministry because of it. So I’d like to make 653 thank you’s. One for each of you. Because you made this event work. So please, please, please accept my thanks.
With gratitude, and networked in Christ,