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!
Every time an image of the flooding comes across my newsfeed, or my TV screen, my heart breaks a little bit. The images of the interstates completely submerged…of homes deep in water…and of people awaiting rescue takes my breath away.
And like many of you, my mind turns immediately to friends who live and work along the gulf coast: Peggy, Jessica, Michael, David, Rozella, Beth, Karen and others. And there are those people I’ve gotten to know who work at the Hyatt in Houston, where the Extravaganza will be held from January 26-29, 2018: Elizabeth, Michelle and David. And I worry, and I pray. I’m certain that you are praying too.
Disasters like floods, tornados and hurricanes are always awful experiences. But when you attach names to them, names of colleagues, friends and loved ones, the anxiety just continues to go up.
I’ve received messages from people wondering about the status of Extravaganza 2018 in Houston. And I’ve seen posts on Facebook with people wondering how these floods will affect the ELCA Youth Gathering next summer. The answer is: “of course the floods will have an effect.” It’s too early to know or understand that effect yet.
We will remain in contact with the Hyatt. I’m confident that they will be working to restore their property quickly. As Houston begins its clean up after the storms, the E-Team will be talking about how the events in Houston might affect the program in January.
And while I cannot speak for the Gathering, I’m certain that they too are already thinking, praying and wondering about how these events will give shape to how our young people will walk alongside the residents of Houston next summer.
In the meantime, please continue to pray.
- Pray for the people.
- Pray for their homes.
- Pray for the congregations there.
- Pray for safety.
- Pray for patience.
- Pray for the physical and emotional security of our friends in Houston.
And give. And encourage our congregations to give. As congregational leaders, we are in positions of influence within our communities. Please influence your people to give. Giving to Hurricane Harvey Relief through Lutheran Disaster Response is a great way to give. 100% of funds donated go straight to relief efforts.
And I’d encourage you to follow along with what is happening. Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod has been great about posting updates on social media. I encourage you to follow his blog.
To be church together means that we hold each other in times of joy and in times of pain. This is one of those times when we are called to surround a city with prayer, compassion and love.
Let’s be church together.
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network is seeking nominations of people who are qualified and willing to serve on the Network’s Board of Directors.
The Network’s Board is responsible for the setting the vision and goals for the Network, and works with the Executive Director to live in to that vision. The Board meets face-to-face three times during the year, once in the fall, again just prior to the Extravaganza and then again in the Spring.
To carry out its work, the board of directors seeks members who are visionary, possess solid communication skills, are willing to support the mission of the network, employ critical and creative thinking, display personal humility, and model a servant’s heart.
The term of a board member lasts three years and could be renewed for one additional term. This year, there are three board “seats” that are up for election. Both Rev. Regina Goodrich and Becky Cole, who each hold one of those seats, are eligible for a second term if willing and selected. Erik Ullestad has served two full terms and is not eligible for renewal.
Nominations for the Board this year are due September 15, 2017. This year, the term for new board members will begin at the conclusion of Extravaganza 2018 in Houston.
More detailed information on the Board nomination process can be found here. Both self-nominations and nominations of others are welcomed and encouraged.
The nomination form for the Board of Directors can be found here.
This year, the Network set a $4000 goal in fundraising from our network members and friends. This does not include organizational or partnership gifts. We’re talking about $4000 in donations from individuals whose ministry has been touched by the Network and who want to support its work.
With 28 days to go until the end of our fiscal year, we are only $295 short of our goal! That’s great news!
The funds we raise is used in two ways:
- It goes to support the general ministry and work of the Network. Basically, that’s everything it takes to power the organization.
- It goes to help support Extravaganza scholarships, making the event accessible even for those who cannot afford to be there on their own..
$295! That’s all!
Would you consider making a gift and helping us to meet our goal? You will be a part of the community that keeps the Network on its feet, focusing on renewal, education and connection to all who want and need to grow in their vocation.
Thanks for your willingness to give!
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.
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!
In 1996, there was a crew of about 20 people working to put together the first “Extravaganza” (named that year the “Ex-strato-ganza” because it was at the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas…clearly we were headed for marketing greatness). The whole event was put together on a dime and a prayer. There pretty much was no budget.
“Who can we get to come and speak? And to do it for free?” we wondered. We threw out invitations to a bunch of folks that we knew people would want to hear from.
One of the first people who called us back was Paul Hill. He said “of course!”
Paul has been a leader in children, youth and family ministry within our church for decades. First as a camp director in outdoor ministry, working as a team leader at the ELCA Youth Gathering (he is the man who introduced zip lines and rope courses to the interaction center), helping to give vision to Wartburg Seminary’s “Center for Youth Ministries,” teaching at Luther Seminary and then taking the helm at Vibrant Faith Ministries, Paul has been on the front end of innovation within our church.
Paul has led trainings, written books and spoken throughout the church.
And Paul has always been a strong supporter of the Network. He’s enough of a believer that he’s totally willing to give praise when things are really going well, and he’s also willing to share his concern if he thinks the Network is moving off of the rails. He does this because he cares about the Network and its future. Believe me when I tell you that I’m grateful for both forms of communication from Paul. I have always paid attention to what he says because he is wise.
I’ve always appreciated Paul’s eye for the bigger picture. He initiated partnerships and working relationships with other denominations and traditions, learned from them and brought the best back to strengthen ministry within the ELCA. Likewise, he would share with them what has been learned within our tribe.
Speaking personally, I’ve always been grateful for Paul’s friendship and his mentorship.
Yesterday was Paul’s last day serving as Executive Director of Vibrant Faith Ministries. Paul is stepping into retirement. However, those of us who know Paul understand that for him, “retirement” is a relative term. Paul isn’t done. He is going to continue his work in researching the impact of outdoor ministry, and looking for new ways for the seamless journey of faith to become an even stronger reality within the church.
Thank you Paul, for saying “yes” to the Extravaganza back in 1996. And thank you for all of the “yeses” that you’ve given since then. Thank you for living out your beliefs, and for nudging the church in the direction of greater effectiveness. On behalf of children, youth and family leaders across the church, thank you for sharing your expertise. And on behalf of a whole host of us, thank you for your support and friendship.
God bless you on the next chapter!
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.