Ok, I’m just going to put it out there and say it: I think every ELCA congregation should participate in the ELCA Youth Gathering.
Every three years, the conversation kicks back up: “How can we justify spending (pick a number here…$1000…$1300…even $1600) to send kids to stay in a hotel for a week? What if we could spend that money on mission instead?”
I get that. I understand that we all need to make decisions about what we will and won’t participate in. I get calls every week from some group that wants us to bring people to their event…or wants to send us their material to ‘trial’ so that we can use it in our congregation.
I also get, and respect, that every context is different than every other, and blanket statements like the one I made at the top of this post might not be helpful. But here are my random thoughts, in no particular order:
- First, let’s get our data right. $1300? $1600? Sure, it’s possible to spend that much per person to get a group to the Gathering. But it’s also possible to spend much less. But it’s all about choices. If you choose to fly there, you might spend more. If you want to stay at hotels on the way driving there and back, yes that’s going to cost money. But it is possible to do this for way less than $1300. Maybe take a bus rather than fly. Not as quick or convenient, but probably less money. Partner with another congregation to share transportation expenses. If driving, sleep in churches rather than hotels. Bring your own food.
I’d also strongly encourage you to watch the Network 3rdTuesday Conversation webinar on fundraising by Mike Ward. It’s really good.
I’ve never spent more than $800-$900 per person to send a group to the Gathering. Still a lot of money. But it’s easier to come up with than $1300 or $1600.
- I’ve heard people compare the value of the Gathering to the value of a mission trip. I think we need to let that go. They are two totally different kinds of experiences and it’s apples and oranges; impossible to compare. While mission trips have a service and accompaniment focus (with a lot of other stuff too), the Gathering has a faith formation and accompaniment focus (with a lot of other stuff too). They both are extremely important, and should not be set in opposition with each other.
- The scope of the Gathering means that things can be experienced there that cannot be experienced elsewhere…like in our congregations. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to bring Maya Angelou, or Bishop Desmond Tutu, or Rob Bell, or Audio Adrenaline, or Switchfoot, or Peter Mayer, or Nadia Bolz-Weber to my congregation. But that’s going to be a big budget “no” for my church. I’m guessing the same for yours.
Likewise, to experience the gift of Word and Sacrament with 30,000 other people? I can’t explain why…but it’s one of the most amazing experiences out there. And it’s something we can only experience at the Gathering.
I’ve taken hundreds of kids on mission trips. I’ve taken hundreds of young people to the ELCA Youth Gathering. Years later, the same number of people tell me that the Gathering had a huge impact on their life and faith as those who tell me the same thing about our mission trips.
- The impact of the Gathering on the city we visit is immense. Financially it has been estimated at around $30 million dollars. Sure, some of that goes to hotel corporations, etc…but how many jobs are provided to people who need them? How many restaurants are buoyed? How many shops are filled? It’s ok to recognize that we can make a difference in ways other than swinging hammers. Oh….and by the way…even more importantly, the public witness of the church being present in the city we visit has an even larger impact. Look up the newspaper and blog articles in the city of Detroit while we were there in 2015.
- It’s an opportunity to partner. There are under-resourced congregations that struggle to get to the event. There are also congregations that have resources that they could share to assist those in need. What if they did? What if the Network helped to set that up? What if we could match churches in need with churches who would be willing to share?
Maybe it’s financial assistance? Or what if one church offered the empty seats on their bus to a church that can’t afford transportation? What if we made sure that we could all get there? If we put our minds to it, we can!
Here’s the thing: If we approach the Gathering like we’re the consumers and it’s the product, of course it’s going to seem outrageously expensive.
But we’re not consumers. We are the church. And the Gathering is not a product. It is a ministry. And we have the opportunity to participate…and I think we should.
The ministry of the gathering is a ministry of young people…not a ministry to them. In Houston this summer they will be the body of Christ, living out God’s mission in a unique way. And it is a ministry that will draw your young people together for at least a full year before the actual event, to prepare. And by preparing, I don’t mean fundraising. I’m talking about Bible study, community building, etc…
So I stand by my original statement: I think all of our congregations should participate in the Gathering, because we are stronger together. I know you won’t all agree with this…and that’s fine. But there is one thing I firmly believe:
We are stronger together.
So let’s be together.
I’ll be in Houston. I hope you will too!
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.
The Practice Discipleship (PD) Initiative has been one of the most powerful and influential faith formation ministries to take hold in the ELCA in the last 30 years. This is not exaggeration, nor is it hyperbole. It’s just real.
Literally tens of thousands of people have participated in training and education for leadership in congregational faith formation since the program began as a part of the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering.
The original intent, as envisioned by Catherine Anderson, was to prepare adult leaders to bring young people to the Youth Gathering by training them in basic youth ministry and faith formation skills. The the bar on preparation and training was to go up, groups would have a better Gathering experience, and at the end of the day, leaders would serve in their congregations more effectively. New curriculum was developed, coaches in just about every synod were trained and hundreds of in-person and on-line training events took place.
Through all this work, the PD Initiative helped to foster a culture of faith formation throughout the church.
The ELCA Churchwide Organization saw the value of the PD Initiative, and funded the program generously for 3 years. The PD leadership team actually stretched that grant to cover the program for 4 years, and now we find ourselves in the position of discernment.
There are several different elements that put us in the position of discernment:
- The funding from the Churchwide has run out
- Tammy Jones West, who has done a fantastic job directing the initiative, is stepping back to assume a team leadership role with the ELCA Youth Gathering. (We’re so grateful to Tammy for her leadership that there are barely words to adequately say ‘thank you.’ More on that another day.)
- The Board of Directors of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network is in the process of creating a new strategic plan, which will be “unveiled” at the Extravaganza this year. It will guide our growth and development over the next 3-5 years. While we’re not in a position to release details, I can say that we believe that this has the potential to directly reach and strengthen the ministry of every member of the Network.
So then, what’s the PD plan?
We believe Practice Discipleship is going to be a crucial element in the life of the ELCA into the future. And we feel like God is giving us an opportunity to think and dream about new ways to effectively strengthen your ministry, and we want to get that right. We don’t want to just find funding and continue what we’ ve been doing when we think there might be a whole new “thing” that PD can grow into.
We are going to take the upcoming year as a “hiatus” year…an opportunity to pray, think and talk. Our goal is to pull together some funding to hold a couple of meetings to talk about how PD and the Network’s new strategic plan can effectively interconnect with each other.
There will not be a coach’s training event at the Extravaganza this year, as we’re not totally sure yet what they would be being trained in. However, we are planning on a training event at the 2018 E in Houston. We do want to thank our current coaches for their great work and keep them connected. So we will be offering them a discount for the 2017 E in Louisville. (We also may invite those who are there into a meeting to help us think and plan for the PD future while we’re in Louisville. As much as we’d love to fly them all in for the E, that funding doesn’t exist right now. So we’ll just have to settle for inviting those who are able to be there.)
Details on the coach’s discount to the E will be coming in a separate e-mail.
I think it’s good that we occasionally stop what we’re doing, to talk, think and prays. Too much in the life of the church we find ourselves in the position of trying to change the car tires while the car is in motion. We feel strongly that God is calling us to “pause,” and to work through our options, and to discover what God is calling this thing called “Practice Discipleship” to become.
We’ll release updates here as we know them.
Thanks for your support, your prayers and your partnership!