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Posts tagged ‘Network’

26
Jul

That One Time When Your Kid Met Your Friends

SamAndLisa

Sam and Lisa

Six days ago, our 14 year old son, Samuel, climbed aboard a 12-passenger van with other members of the youth group from our congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, Minnesota and the group began its journey to Detroit, Michigan.  The groups is spending the week working with Living Waters Ministries, one of the ELCA‘s amazing outdoor ministries.

Trinity had partnered with Living Waters in Chicago a couple of years ago and had a great experience.  This year, I didn’t expect a text that I received.

The day after our group arrived, my phone beeped and a photo appeared in my inbox.  It was a photo of Sam, sent to me by Lisa Jeffreys.  Lisa works in the Southeast Michigan Synod.  We’d worked together, and become friends, working on the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit.  I had no idea that Lisa was working with the Living Waters program this summer.

I saw the text, and I smiled.

And a couple of days later, Lisa sent me another photo, this time it was Sam, standing arm in arm with a good friend and mentor, Pastor Kelly Chatman, from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, who was also in Detroit with Living Waters this week. 

I found myself  moved emotionally, by seeing these photos.  I mean of course, it’s always

Kelly and Sam

Kelly and Sam

good to see the smiling face of your son.  But beyond that, I loved the fact that Sam was there with his friends from Trinity…with our adult volunteer leaders…and now with my friends from ministry; from the Network.

It is powerful because when Sam ran into Lisa…into Kelly…when Sam was present with the youth group, and its amazing adult leaders, he is experiencing the promises that God made to him in the waters of his baptism.  This week, Sam is experiencing what it is to live among God’s faithful people.

When Sam met Lisa…when Sam met Kelly, he was experiencing the family of God.  My friends became his friends.  The son whom I love met the friends whom I love.

Thank you Lisa, for being a friend.  Even though we only chat occasionally, and I really only get to see you at the Extravaganza, I am so glad that Sam gets to experience you this week.  Thank you Kelly, as much as you’ve been a fantastic powerful influence on my life, I’m so glad that Sam has had the opportunity to spend some time with you as well.

I’m reminded this week of what it is to be church.  We are all interconnected.  We all share a mission.  We are all, whether we’ve met or not, connected in a relationship that is centered in Christ.  I’m reminded of what it is to be Network.

I’m reminded what it is to be the people of God.

Thank you for being who God called you to be.  Thank you for being people who I want my kids to get to know, and spend time with.

And thanks be to God, for creating the church, this place where we are all connected, in the name of Christ.

God’s peace,
Todd

17
Jul

Network Global HQ is Moving…

MovingTrucks

Loading up for the move…

Effective today, the Global Headquarters (the original suggestion was “Galactic Headquarters,” but we thought that might be just a bit over the top) of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network is relocating.

 

The new Network address is:

150 Oakwood Lane
Owatonna, Minnesota 55060

The phone number (612.564.2195) of the Global HQ remains the same.  The address and phone number of the the Extravaganza registrar and database manager, Laurie Hoium in Moorhead, Minnesota will also remain unchanged.

Please note the change of address for any snail mail correspondence to the main office.

Blessings!

Todd

9
Jul

Nominations for Network Board of Directors Open

Board2014

The current Network Board

The Network is governed by a seven member Board of Directors.  (plus two non-voting members.)  The Board is responsible for setting the direction and vision of the Network, which is then carried out by a small, part-time staff and a huge, dedicated and dynamic group of almost 150 volunteer leaders.

The mission of the Network?  To strengthen and empower children, youth and family ministry leaders in service to Christ.

This year, there are 3 seats on the board that are open for nomination.

Nominations are made either by the individual themselves (self-nominated) or by someone else (3rd party nomination).  Both forms of nomination are equally valued.

The Nominating committee, made up of two board members, two regional facilitators and one at large member, receives input from the board on what its needs are to continue its work, and then it focuses on culling through the nominations and to find the best fit of gifts and need.  The Nominating committee presents its slate of names to the board at its fall meeting, and the board either accepts or rejects the slate.

This year, the board has identified three areas of need as it looks at its current board make up:

  • Diversity of the board in terms of ethnicity
  • Diversity of the board in terms of geography
  • A need for someone with expertise in the area of children’s ministry

Of course, all nominations will be gladly received and considered.  The broader the pool the committee has, the better a decision will be made.

The Network’s hope is that perhaps you, or someone you know might be a good fit for the board.  It is a great group of leaders that makes a difference in the life of the church.  If you’re interested in serving, or know someone you believe would be a good fit, please visit the nominations page on the web site for more information.

If you have any questions, please send me an email.

Blessings!

Todd

 

24
Jun

YouthWorks signs on as a Network Partner

YW_Logo_CMYKYouthWorks, one of the premier organizations across the church to offer short-term mission experiences for youth groups, has signed on as a “Silver Partner” with the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.  The Network and its partner organizations commit to a relationship of mutual support.

Network Partners are a vital component of our community.  And the Network is grateful to all of the organizations that choose to enter into this intentional relationship.

YouthWorks provides life-changing Christ-centered mission trips for over 30,000 students and adult leaders in over 70 communities across North America. Their goal is for everyone to experience a mission trip; so they provide lots of affordable options while maintaining high quality experiences. More information on planning a short-term mission experience can be found at their web site, www.youthworks.com.

The Network offers partnerships at two levels:  silver and gold.

For more information on Network partnerships, visit our partnership home page.

10
Apr

The Value of the Network (in a crisis)

Guest Blog:  Rev. Paul Amlin, who serves as the Program Director for Youth Ministries in the churchwide offices of the ELCA, wanted to share this story of service and gratitude with the Network. 

I had a recent experience that demonstrated the value of the Network, and I feel the need to share it in a public way because of what it says about this group of peers and belonging to something larger than ourselves. I’d also like to publicly thank a Network member who dropped everything to help me handle a crisis. Two weekends ago I was blessed to host the Youth Core Leadership Team in Chicago at the churchwide offices. This is a fantastic group. Seriously. But that’s not the story here.

The story began with a flight home, an inexperienced flyer, a snowstorm and Chris Okey who serves at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. After a great weekend of learning, I sent the participants on their way to O’Hare with the other adult sponsors who were flying home. The young lady got on her flight and jetted off to Minneapolis only to find out that her flight to Fargo had been canceled and that there would be no other flights out until the following day and even then, not until late that evening. She called me with the kind of concern you might imagine and I was able to work with her, the airline and the phone line for stranded travelers needing hotel rooms and we found her a room.

ChrisOkey

Chris Okey

Because she was pretty upset, I decided to post something on the Network Facebook page to see if anyone was close by who might help out in case it was necessary. In a matter of moments, Chris Okey responded to me via a private message AND I had another offer in the comments section of the post with a phone number from Ian McConnell.

Chris gave me his phone number and let me know that he could be at the airport in five minutes if needed. What a gift and what a relief! I called the young lady back and she asked if it would be okay for Chris to come and pick her up to take her to the hotel. Chris loaded the family up and went off to the airport, then texted me to let me know that all was well and that she had been safely delivered. The young lady called me after she got into her room, in tears, and thankful that someone would be as kind as Chris and help someone that he didn’t know (and so quickly!).

That would be a nice ending, right? The next morning I got the call I asked for from the young lady to let me know that she was alright and that she had a plan for the day and her return to the airport. I was surprised to find out that she had been invited to the Mall of America to shop and have lunch with Chris and his family. “Seriously?” I thought to myself, “this is way beyond the call of duty” and “wow!” I got a phone call as she boarded the plane and she couldn’t stop talking about how great Chris was, even as I thought to myself how right she was. Later I received a text along with a really funny photo of her crashed on the floor of her home with her parents in the background to let me know she’d made it. The next day her mom called to sing the praises of the mystery person she’d never met in Minneapolis, and to say thank you for the care and concern the ELCA had for her child.

This is a beautiful example, to me, of the value of being connected with each other. I’d like to think that if there were a crisis close to me, I’d respond in the same way as Ian and Chris. We are all connected, after all, in our faith and in our ministries. Each of us works together for the good of the other and because we take seriously what it means to be community, we are able to see God at work in, with and through each other. So, publicly and with a big smile I say thank you Chris Okey and thank you ELCA Youth Ministry Network for being my community.

Paul Amlin

Paul Amlin

And thank you for sharing this story Paul!

20
Mar

Why Join?

FirstYear

Honoring and blessing those in their first year of ministry at Extravaganza 2014

Amanda Schanze asks a great question on the Network Facebook page.  She asks:

Ok, people. I have enjoyed the information shared on this group, and the few things I have seen from the website. What is the advantage of actually joining “The Network.” What other benefits do I get with a membership that I don’t get for free?

Thanks for asking that, Amanda.  I think it’s important that we keep talking about this, and helping people understand the “what and why” of this whole thing.

Certainly there are lots of things that the Network gives away “for free.”  And many make use of some of the Network’s resources without ever joining.  We’ve got the Facebook group, the e-news, the Practice Discipleship Initiative resources, the placement listings; the Things That Matter podcast (co-sponsored), the Network App, ThinkMinistry.org, GatheringLeaks.com and various blogs and other resources.

But I think there are (at least) 3 really good reasons why people should join the Network.  Other folks may have other reasons, and I’d invite you to post them in the comments of this blog entry.  But here are my 3, in order from least important to most important

1.  Members of the Network get stuff.  Yes, there are resources that are limited to Network members, and accessing them is a benefit of membership in the organization.  These include:

So yes, there are benefits to membership that are quantifiable, and we hope that they alone would be worth the cost of membership.  However, there are two other reasons that I think are even more important:

2.  Belonging is what makes all of this possible.  Example:  I belong to Minnesota Public Radio.  Our family has joined, and I support it financially.  I support it because I believe in it and its mission; because there are things that I believe public radio provides that commercial radio can or will not, and I want to make sure that it continues into the future.  I could just listen, and not support it, but I want to be a part of making sure it continues to thrive.

We know that there are thousands of people who make use of the resources of the Network.  And about 750 (currently) are members.  These members (plus our partner organizations who share in financial support for the Network) make it possible for our free resources to be available for the whole church (including those who choose not to join).  And so I am a member of the Network at the “sponsoring” level, because I believe in what we’re trying to do.

The Network’s goal is 1000 members by the end of 2015.  When we reach that goal, our ability to support children, youth and family ministry across the church is going to grow exponentially.  And, can you imagine what it will be like, what kind of opportunities for renewal, education and connections will exist when we reach 1,500…or 2,000 members?  I get really excited thinking about it.

3.  If you’re a doctor, you belong to the American Medical Association.  It is their professional organization.  If you are a lawyer, you belong to the Bar Association.  It is their professional organization.  The ELCA Youth Ministry Network is the professional organization for those who work with children, youth and families in ELCA congregations.  And it is for those who are paid, and for those who are volunteer.  The Network has standards and guidelines that we adhere to; it represents us to the rest of the church and it provides resources for us to be the best we can be as we tend the faith journeys of the young and their families.

And there is no doubt that the work of the Network is moving the church.  Through its existence, the Network helps to shape a culture of those committed to faith formation, and that culture is changing the way that faith formation is viewed in congregations, synods and the churchwide organization.  Don’t you want to be a part of that?

I’ll put it simply:  If you do this work, you should belong to the Network.  We wish there didn’t have to be a cost to it.  But the resources we provide have a cost.  We do our best to keep that cost low.  And in all honesty, if someone contacts me and says “I’d love to be a member, but we cannot afford it” we can offer a scholarship.  We do this because we are a stronger, richer organization with you than without you.

So I’d reverse the question:  Knowing all this, why wouldn’t you join?

Peace,
Todd

PS – And Amanda…because you asked…if you join, I’ll even throw in a t-shirt.  😉

10
Mar

Extravaganza Evaluation Reflections

E2014RoomExtravaganza 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!

Peace,
Todd

1
Mar

Thank you Paul Hill!

PaulHill

Paul Hill

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!

In Christ,
Todd

10
Jan

Tools

ToolsI am kind of a digital tools and productivity nerd.

Ok, I am totally a digital tools and productivity nerd.

Because my personality type (INFP) is by nature, not one that thinks or acts in a linear way, and this is complicated by the fact that I am also an “abstract random reflective”…well, it’s a miracle that I ever complete anything.

So I find myself having to compensate for my nature with tools that help me to keep on track.  I find that I work best when I have clear systems that allow me to stay on the rails.  When I find myself not taking advantage of these tools, well…”SQUIRREL!”

So I’ve always loved shopping around for new ways of trying to keep organized and on track.  I love walking around office supply stores (nerd alert!).  I love shopping the app store under the categories of “organization” and “productivity.”  I love trying new methods and systems to see if they help me to be more organized.  I also love hearing what other folks do.

So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite digital tools and systems, in hopes that you’ll reply and share yours.  First, I need to give you my “operating system.”  For my personal life, as well as my Network work, I use a MacBook Pro.  I also use an iPhone and an iPad.  At my desk at my congregation, it is a Dell laptop.  So I have to live and work in both the PC and Apple worlds, and need systems that will allow these two worlds to talk with each other.

Here’s what I use:

Calendar – I use the standard calendar app that comes with the Mac and syncs with both the iPad and the iPhone.  It’s very serviceable, though I’m not a fan of the “look” of the app (the month view in particular) since the new operating systems launched.  I would be very open to looking at a new option, as long as it will sync between all my devices.  Any suggestions?

NozbeNozbe It’s not the prettiest “to-do” app, but it’s got a lot of muscle under the hood, and it is regularly being updated and maintained.  You can assign tasks to different contexts (i.e. ‘errands’ or ‘office’) and can create your own contexts (i.e. ‘caribou.’)  You can also assign times to the task, for how long you estimate something will take.  Which means you could say to yourself “I’m at Caribou and have 5 minutes before I need to leave…any tasks that I can do that fit those criteria?”  It has multiple views (calendar is my favorite and it has robust notification options, and you can attach documents or notes.  It’s also relatively easy to use.  The interface could use a redesign, but it’s not bad.

 

EvernoteEvernote – I love Evernote.  I just wished I remembered to use it more.  It can do a ton of stuff, and it syncs between all of my devices.  I can use it for notes, for planning…I just haven’t turned it into my default “g0-to” note taking platform yet.  I’d like to develop that as more of a habit.

DropboxDropbox – I love Dropbox.  It is a non-negotiable for me.  I use it for backing up all my data files, and for sharing those files between my different devices.  I can start a sermon on my PC in the office, and finish it on my Mac at the coffee shop.  I also use it to share large files with others that are too large to e-mail.  My wife and I have our family photos in a shared folder.  I pay for the enhanced service with more storage.  It’s totally worth it to me.


basecamp-logo1

Basecamp This is a great collaborative project management, cloud-based piece of software.  It highlights threaded message boards, with e-mail notifications, file storage, a collaborative text writing tool and “to-do” functions that you can assign and which automatically reminds people of before they are done.  Some of the same functions are available for free from Google, but they aren’t integrated nearly as well, and the interface is much harder to work with.  Basecamp’s philosophy is that less clutter is more.  I love working in Basecamp.  It’s especially great for Network stuff…when we’re working with teams who are dispersed all over the country, it’s really an indispensable tool.

HootSuiteHootSuite – HootSuite is another one that I think I underutilize.  It is a social media dashboard and interface.  You can schedule tweets and Facebook posts to go at different times, and you can work collaboratively.  It’s what we use to schedule the Network’s social media.  It’s fairly intuitive.  I’d really love to learn more about the other stuff it can do.

Google Voice – And it’s free?  You can get a phone number and some cool tools that automate how calls are handled.  (i.e. multiple voicemail responses that can be assigned to different callers.)  A personal and a professional voicemail?  But it also sends you texts with transcripts of your voicemails.

Kindle – I’m guessing you read a lot.  I do.  It’s one of the primary ways we stay connected to the world around us.  So I’ve moved probably 80% of my reading to the Kindle platform.  I find that I read more, because I always have e-books with me.  Reading more is good.

Office Apps – I grew up on Microsoft Office, but it’s big and cumbersome.  Using Microsoft Office is kind of like swatting a fly with a sledge hammer.  The Mac world is relatively new to me, but I’m learning to really like Numbers, Pages and the other Apple products.  They are much more nimble.  I just wish the rest of the world used them.  I have to have Microsoft Office because that’s what I need for sending files back and forth.

That’s basically it.  There are probably other pieces too, but these I use almost daily in some way, shape or form.

So I’m curious what you use to keep yourself on track?  Of if you have any feedback on my choices above.  Please reply and share your thoughts.  The nerd in me would like to know.

Networked in Christ,
Todd

2
Dec

Why is No One Talking About This?

Slide1A few months ago, I came across a powerpoint slide that Beth Lewis, CEO of Augsburg Fortress Publishers had used as a presentation to a group of pastors at a conference in Florida.  (Thanks to Beth Lewis for the slide!)

When I saw the numbers, in all honesty, it took my breath away.

The slide presented a twenty year trend line for the number of children enrolled in Sunday School in ELCA congregations between 1990 and 2010.  The slide also showed the differential during the same time period in enrollment in Vacation Bible School.

The data came from the Office of Research and Evaluation in the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago, and was culled from annual reports of ELCA congregations.

Here’s the data in a nutshell:  During this twenty year period, the number of children enrolled in our Sunday School ministries decreased from 1,007,774 to 400,375.  That is roughly 61%.

61% fewer young people were enrolled in Sunday School in ELCA congregations in 2010 than were in 1990.

Perhaps I’m overreacting.  But my gut instinct is that this is a pretty big deal.  No…it’s a really big deal.  We’ve heard talk about the shrinking church for years, but reading these numbers creates (at least within me) a new level of reality and immediacy.

Perhaps this just mirrors the membership trend in the ELCA?  Looking at ELCA data from the same source, membership over roughly the same time period decreased from 5.2 million to around 4.2 million.  Substantial…but roughly a 20% decrease.  Worship attendance over that period decreased by roughly 53%, much closer (but still less than)  the church school numbers.

Interestingly, the numbers of young people enrolled in Vacation Bible School have remained more stable than the numbers in Sunday School, decreasing “only” somewhere between 35% and 40%.  I’m not sure what that means, but it’s interesting that those numbers have not declined nearly as quickly as Sunday School or worship attendance.

But if these trends continue…we’re on a course towards ecclesiastical irrelevance (at best) and extinction (at worst).  Sure, we roll our eyes when we hear people say that children and youth are the church of tomorrow, knowing that they are the church today.  But we’ve got to be honest:  they also are the church of tomorrow.  And trends like this make it clear that our church is at risk.  I fear that the slogan of the future might be “God’s Work – No Hands.”

What most alarms me?  There is no broader conversation about this.  The conversation is taking place in isolated pockets…at seminaries…in local networks…at the Extravaganza…but why isn’t this a part of a larger churchwide conversation?  Why is there not a sense of urgency about these numbers?  The ELCA responds well to crisis.  When a tornado or hurricane strikes, the ELCA is present with the promise that we will accompany those victims for the long haul.

A 61% decline in young people participating in one of our foundational faith formation ministries is a crisis.  I’m not advocating that we continue on the same path we have been on.  Clearly our problem has been “business as usual”.  And the solution is more than just adopting a different model…or a new program.  I believe that the problem lies within our church’s very understanding of faith formation; it lies in our very DNA.

I don’t have a quick solution.  I’m not sure one exists.  But whatever the future looks like, wherever God is calling this church, we need to take on this crisis with the same level of urgency and commitment that we do when a storm hits.  And don’t get me wrong.  I do believe there is a solution.  I believe God is calling us to something new, something powerful and dynamic.  And I believe God has given us the gifts to figure this out.

I am hopeful that these conversations will move from the periphery to the center of our church. We are committed to push for,  and to create space for these conversations.

Please join us.

Networked in Christ,
Todd