Over time, I’ve noticed that ministry with those in the first third of life seems to be kind of “trend driven.” There are new ministry concepts…thoughts and ideas that tend to bubble up. They become a big deal…they become mainstream…they fade…they are replaced…
When I first started doing this work, congregational youth ministry was all about relational ministry (the Young Life type). I totally drank the kool-aid and was convinced that this was “the thing.” A few years later, we were told that we need to be doing to get kids into small groups. It was there, that faith would grow. Then, small groups refocused around how to create meaningful confirmation experiences (actually, large group/small group models.)
Then, everyone jumped onto the mission trip bandwagon. A couple of years later, good ministry was all about leadership development. That then morphed into peer ministry. We were then told that “if you’re not doing family ministry, you’re not doing ministry” (even though no one could define family ministry.) This was not to be confused with the trend towards “faith in the home.” Most recently, the “big thing” seems to be all about the integration between theology and ministry with young people.
Now first, let me be clear. I don’t want to diminish or belittle any of these things. Each is good. Each is important. Each is legitimate. And each has champions who have done good work to develop them. And my congregation has or is participating in pretty much all of them. But sometimes it feels like I’ve just chased these things around from one to the next, trying to do “good stuff.”
This can be a problem. And I believe that the problem lies not with these concepts, but rather the way we have gone about them. We have become experts at chasing the tail that is wagging the dog. We in the church have done these things, assuming that if we do them “well,” then we are doing good ministry, that we are being effective.
However, effectiveness is not about programs, trends or fads. These ministry areas are not ends. They are lenses through which we look at something much greater.
Ministry is about the cross and Christ crucified and resurrected. It’s actually simple. It is about yoking ourselves to Christ’s journey, and accompanying others on their journey. It is about pointing to the cross and naming Jesus in the business and mess of people’s lives. It is about speaking a word of hope to those who might feel hopeless. Ministry is about Jesus. Jesus is the end. He is the subject of our sentences.
Thinking about ministry theologically is crucial. Peer Ministry is a powerful ministry tool. Faith in the Home is a vital and dynamic ministry strategy. Leadership development is crucial and mission trips are powerful. These ministry forms are all vital and can be a part of good ministry insofar as they reveal Jesus in the midst of our community and our relationships. They create space for God to do mission. But they are not an end. They are not a result.
Jesus is the thread that ties this all together. And if we lose focus on him, if we begin chasing trends, and if we evaluate our effectiveness on how well we do these “things,” I fear we’ve just been chasing fads.
Peace in Christ,
(Note: Much of this line of thinking was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Jeremy Myers at Augsburg College. Thanks Jeremy for the good conversation!)
Last week, the Network’s Board of Directors had a final, online discussion, and voted to approve the new strategic plan for the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. This vote comes after a year of development that included prayer and conversation, writing, editing, re-writing, more editing, release of drafts, feedback, rewriting, writing, and so on and so on…
We received great feedback at the Extravaganza in Anaheim from regional meetings and other groups that were meeting during the event. All of this feedback has been looked at and considered. Much of it influenced the editing of the plan.
We are very excited about the direction this plan is going to take the Network as it grows and develops over the next 3-5 years. You can take a look at the completed plan here.
As I said, we received great feedback. Most of the questions and critique of the plan can be put into just a few categories. I thought it might be helpful to respond to a few of these as best as I’m able:
- “This plan is all about numbers. It feels cold. It doesn’t feel mission driven.” Please note that the piece we distributed last fall on the web site, and in paper at the Extravaganza is only the “strategic plan” portion of a much larger vision, which we have already worked on and adopted. So it makes total sense to me that when you just look at the “plan” portion it would not look missional. I think we didn’t make that clear when we distributed it. When this plan is seen nested inside the larger mission and vision, then I think it makes total sense, and it becomes more clear how it all ties together. No, the piece that we have been collecting feedback on, and approved last week is our new strategic plan. It is the “how” of how we’ll fuflill our mission and vision. And to be honest, for the last couple of years, we really haven’t had enough of a detailed plan. The approved document shows how the plan is nested within the Network’s mission and vision.
- 1000 is it? That seems low for a big goal! That was my initial reaction too. But then we remembered, while the goal is only 250-350 more than our current level of membership, it is also a goal that we have never hit. For the last few years we’ve kind of “plateaued” and “hovered” at our current level. To push through to a new level is going to take some additional effort and energy. Here’s hoping we hit it quickly! Then we can set a new goal!
- “There aren’t details. How are you going to do this?” Well first, let me be clear. “There is no “you” and “us.” To put this plan into reality is going to take all of us. The Network’s members are its owners. The members’ investment is their energy, passion and time, along with their membership dues. To build this Network into what we believe God is calling it to be will require all of us to be a part of the process. Second…you’re right. We’re lacking some of the details right now. This plan is the broad strokes of the areas in which we want to grow. Now we’ll drill down into each of the seven priorities and work the details. Now is where the work begins! This will be the agenda of the board when we meet at the end of April. More info on the details will be forthcoming!
- “The details of the various discounts and incentives for membership are a little confusing.” This was really helpful feedback. We’ve simplified and clarified in the final draft. Thank you!
- “In our congregations, we are being asked to do more and more with less and less. Can the Network expand to support those of us who are also working in children’s ministry, or young adult ministry?” Yes, we can. In the last couple of years, at the behest of our members, we have been doing more to support those who also work in children’s ministry. We will continue to explore other ways we can support folks in ministry as responsibilities continue to expand. We’ve added Extravaganza workshops in children’s ministry, and have a growing library of children’s ministry resources in MartinsList. Of course, this depends on our members submitting workshop topics and online resources. Please do!
- Some of the language around “professional,” “volunteer,” “lay” and “rostered” needs to be cleaned up and made consistent. Great feedback! We tried to do that. Please read through it and see if there were areas we missed. Thank you!
- The plan talks about diversity, but then only really digs into ethnic and geographic. What about other kinds of diversity? That’s a fantastic question, and one that we spent a lot of time talking about. There are lots of kinds of diversity that we need to pay attention to. While we worked up a long list, we didn’t want to list them all in the plan for fear of leaving one out. However, both ethnic and geographic diversity are ones that rose to the top as we talked about felt needs within the Network. Ethnic and cultural diversity has been one of our goals for a long time and while we’ve made some incremental progress, we need to continue to grow in this area. Geographically, there are whole parts of the country, entire synods, that are unaware of the Network and the resources it provides. These tend to be the regions that we think might benefit the most. So we listed these to lift them up as areas that we want to include special focus upon in the next couple of years. But the other forms of diversity are important and will not be ignored as well.
- Can volunteers have a different (lower) membership rate? I wish that we could. As it is, we run on a budget where our membership rates don’t even completely cover our costs. We fundraise for the difference. And the reality is, it doesn’t cost the Network less to be the Network for a volunteer than it does for a professional. We did introduce on March 1, as a part of our plan, both 3 year (discounted) memberships, and congregational team (bulk discount) memberships. Hopefully those options provide ways to continue to make membership accessible.
Those are some of the questions we heard more consistently through the process. Really, really helpful questions. Thank you very much! If you continue to have questions, please contact me.
I want to thank the members of our board, in particular, Rev. Mike Ward of Lutheridge+Lutherock Ministries in North Carolina, who walked the board through the strategic planning process. He did a fantastic job.
Networked in Christ,
There is change happening in the church. Maybe it’s a new awareness…perhaps it’s a new reformation…I’m not sure what to call it. But something is different. There are new conversations taking place. There are new questions being asked. When I enter into conversations with those who do ministry alongside young people and their families, the first question I hear is no longer “what should I do at youth group on Sunday?” or “How do I do fundraising?”
The questions that I hearing now are more along the lines of:
- “I’m wondering where God is calling us to go?”
- “We’re trying to figure out what’s working?”
- “How do we understand God’s mission in this place?”
- “What is faith formation?”
While these may not seem like they should be new questions, in the world of faith-formation with the young, they kind of are. The primary concern used to be with technique…strategy…programs. The assumption was that faith language was not foreign to young people. My sense is that the landscape has shifted and that folks are now taking a 10,000 foot view, and are wondering much more fundamental questions. This because the world in which we live is changing, and the landscape the church occupies is so radically different than it was even 10 years ago. The old assumptions clearly don’t apply anymore.
These are the issues the Extravaganza tackled this year (Form: Faith Formation in a Missional Age). These are the issues that the Practice Discipleship Initiative are tackling. These are the issues that are being talked about on the Network’s Facebook group, in the webinars and other resources from Vibrant Faith Ministries and our other partners. This is what the SYMBOL Network (Synod staff people who work in children’s or youth ministry) is talking about. Outdoor ministries is looking for new directions. Our seminaries are stepping directly into the path of these conversations and are offering much research and wisdom. And our churchwide organization is figuring out how to re-invent itself, that it might serve well in this new, missional age.
Are any one of these things either the “cause” or the “cure” for figuring this out? No.
But my sense is that really for the first time in a long time, all of these different organizations are beginning to “paddle in the same direction” in terms of figuring this stuff out.
Some people look at the indicators of these changes in our culture and speak of the end of the church. I don’t think so. I have a much more hopeful view. I don’t believe God is done with the church yet. Though it doesn’t come naturally to the institutional church, I believe that we will change. I believe we will adapt to a shifting world. And I think the key for these changes lies right in our own sandbox. It is, I think, the world of faith formation with the young that is going to lead the change. The culture we inhabit together realizes that the old must pass away. We cannot be afraid to continue asking the questions and seeking God’s call for our ministry. As faith formation reinvents itself, I believe the rest of the church will follow. Really I do.
I believe that someday we’re all going to be able to say “we were there when…” and describe how God’s Holy Spirit moved within the world and within the church.
I am hopeful and excited for the future. And I am grateful to God for what God is up to, and for this community in which questions can be asked, and new directions discovered. Thanks to you, for being a part of it!
Networked in Christ,
Text from Rev. Larry Wagner’s presentation:
While tonight’s announcement regarding the recipient of the 2013 Tommy Award won’t be covered by any of the major networks, and it won’t likely be printed in the morning edition of the LA Times, it matters deeply to those of us who are gathered in this ballroom tonight. One of our own is being celebrated as someone who has had a significant impact on the faith formation of countless numbers of youth and their families.
Listen to some of the descriptions used by her peers and proteges:
- She is joyfully tireless, but not in a workaholic sense.
- She is deeply compassionate
- She has a huge heart for loving and caring about and for others.
- She is the queen of doing youth ministry on a shoestring budget.
- She has a deep commitment to social justice issues.
She embodies so many of the components of the visions and dreams of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network:
- She is and has been a respected mentor to many lay leaders in youth ministry.
- She has organized weekly gatherings of youth leaders in her areas.
- In these meetings she writes down prayer requests and concerns in her personal prayer journal. One of her proteges commented that “you just know that she’s on her knees praying for you.”
- She has started a number of grassroots networks.
- She understands the Networks goal of creating Networks of Networks.
She currently serves as a Practice Discipleship Coach in her synod. She is the Director of Youth Ministry on her synod staff. She is the Road Trip Coordinator for Living Waters, the outdoor ministry of her synod and two other synods. She recently completed 10 years of service to her church as the youth and family director. She coordinates Bridges, not Walls, Youth Mission, creating partnerships between ELCA youth in the USA with youth in Palestine.
A very personal story about her and her husband Joe, that is publicly known in her region of the country shares important aspects of her character and her faith:
She and her husband’s son died in a fatal car accident in 2006. At a service of celebration of their son’s life, attended by huge numbers of young friends, families and neighbors, this couple “witnessed to the healing presence of Christ in the midst of their personal sorrow.” Lives were touched and changed because of their faith, so powerfully lived out.
She helped to keep her synod solidly anchored through difficult leadership transitions. As she accompanies youth directors and other church professionals during awful times of transition, she is known to say: “It will get better.”
She told me, that as we go home to the realities of our parishes, after this Super Bowl of youth ministry, that it is so important to have this network of people around us.
This Network is important to her, and to us when we are in the dark times of our life, and as we celebrate the joys of this ministry. She shared that the Network “Literally lifted me up.” And she concluded “I am so blessed to be a part of this Network.”
It is our privilege to present the recipient of the 2013 Tom Hunstad Award for Excellence in Youth and Family Ministry, to Lisa Jeffreys, from Chelsey, Michigan.
Thanks be to God!
And today they come. Yesterday, about half of the Extravaganza planning team came in to the Hyatt in Anaheim, along with those leading the Practice Discipleship Initiative, to start the preparation. There were also a few random folks who came in early just to enjoy California. (And in the mid 70’s a beautiful, what’s not to enjoy?) Today the rest of the E-Team, and all of the Practice Discipleship Coaches, numbering 56, will be rolling in. And some more random folks will start checking in.
We’re pretty much ready, and all of the big pieces are in place. That leaves only some random details.
So today I’m going to ask all of you, whether you’re coming to the E or not, to please take a little time to pray for those who are traveling. Please pray for good weather. Please pray for safety. Please pray for spiritual renewal, for learning and for good connections.
The Extravaganza is more than an event. It is a community, an learning, worship and an accountability to each other. God is not dependent on our prayers. The Holy Spirit shows up because God promises it.
But we still pray, because that’s what God’s people, those who experience the relationship that makes all relationships possible, do.
So please join me in prayer today.
Networked in Christ,
The Network’s Board of Directors has spent the last 12 months working together on assembling a new Strategic Plan to guide the Network in its growth in the next 3-5 years. We’re excited about the future, and on where God is leading the Network. We are grateful to Rev. Mike Ward of Lutheridge+Lutherock Ministries for guiding the board through this process.
Below, please find a draft of the strategic plan. The board anticipates further discussion and an approval of the plan at our meeting in January in Anaheim.
We invite you to look over the plan, and in the comments section below, to give feedback to the board. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
ELCA Youth Ministry Network Strategic Plan
October 20, 2012
Big Hairy Audacious Goal:
By April 30, 2015 the ELCA Youth Ministry Network will have 1,000 or more members.
The Network Board of Directors has identified 7 areas of focus in achieving this goal:
- Financial Diversity
- The Practice Discipleship Initiative
Membership: In three years, the ELCA Youth Ministry Network will have 1,000 or more members, reflecting a diverse cross-section of professional and lay youth ministry leaders who also reflect the cultural and geographic diversity of the church. This increase in membership will provide more and better opportunities for youth ministry leaders to renew, learn, and connect.
Retention: Retention rate will significantly increase (a percentage increase will be identified here.
1. Streamline the electronic renewal process—Allocate $3,000 to do this by May, 2013
Board to determine discounts at Fall meeting
i. % discount if renewed by date
ii. Every 3rd consecutive year you are a member you get a __% discount
iii. Membership Team created that will conduct an annual membership phonathon
iv. Exit Survey to be conducted by Board members annually, or given to membership committee to conduct.
3. New Members
a. Get a new member: You each receive 50% off your membership
b. Set annual new member goals to reach 1,000. (Need Todd to figure this based on current retention rate.)
a. Reward SYMBOL leader who recruits most new members (or percentage of new members based on their size.)
i. Determine reward by May, 2013
b. Silver/Gold Partners to pay $75 more annually. In return they get a free membership to give away. Initiative to start in 2013
c. Partnership with Companion Synods.
i. Incentive to SYMBOL leader that they can bring a companion synod representative to Extravaganza (w/ membership for half off E registration)
a. Grow to 9% by end of three years in membership and Extravaganza attendance
b. Recruit from MYLE and DAYLE–phonathon
c. 3 free crosscultural memberships in 2012/13 to cross-cultural members
d. Board to revisit annually in April/May
Extravaganza: In three years, the Extravaganza will continue as the central community gathering for youth ministry professionals and ministry resource providers. The event will lead to transformed congregations as youth ministry leaders are renewed, energized, and inspired for ministry.
Average attendance—at least 800 in three years
Increase retention rate
Net Promoter Score—set baseline and strive for growth.
In three years, the network will have established a collegial, working relationship with other organizations that share our mission, purpose, and core values. The YMNET will continue to be an autonomous entity with a strong sense of identity in the midst of these emerging partnerships. We will continue to welcome existing groups with shared values to find their home in the Network.
- Increase by 2 each per year the number of silver/gold partners
- Grow partner revenue to 10% of annual budget
$13,415 received in 2011/12—needs to be $26,000 to be 10% of budget
- Invite every other ELCA network with like values to host a conference within the E
- Invitation extended to Outdoor Ministry Network to attend E in 2013 and any year at member rate if member of LOM.
In three years, the Network budget will have less than 50% of income derived from Extravaganza (currently it is as much as 75%). This will mandate that growth will happen in the areas of Partnerships, gifts, and member dues in order to accommodate this growth. Scholarships will come from non-Extravaganza income.
- Membership at 1,000 could mean an additional $22,000 in dues revenue after three years
- By January, 2013 increase membership dues $10 for basic and $25 for supporting and sponsoring
- By March, 2013 complete a Thrivent Financial grant to fund a part-time development director that includes a job description and workplan to be approved by board prior to submission.
- May, 2013 set an endowment exploration team
- Fall, 2013 have each board member recruit one silver
- Upgrade half (4) silver partners to gold by January, 2014
- January, 2014 host 5 new retail partnerships (groups not necessarily ministry related—whitewater rafting companies, ski resorts)
- January, 2014 for YM Network to explore the development and sales of a youth ministry software management program. Include a web development component
- Three year membership rate to be set by Feb 1, 2013. Also include bundled memberships so congregations can include lay people.
- By October, 2013 provide a board training on soliciting board partnerships.
- Create a task group to explore other methods of developing alternative revenue streams by March, 2014.
The ELCA YM Network strives to be a culture of receptivity—a network culture that will receive, honor, and celebrate voices from every “nation, tribe, people, and language” (cf Revelation 7) in order to reflect God’s vision for the creation and the church. This diversity includes ethnic and geographic diversity of its members. In order to achieve this diversity, benchmarks will be established within the areas of Membership, Extravaganza, and Network Leadership.
- Extravaganza—By 2015 each synod will have at least one participant at every Extravaganza. RF’s identify potential members in synods with no participation.
- Membership—Annually review the three lowest participating Synod’s as relating to membership and grow each by two members every year.
- Network Leadership—Practice Discipleship Teams will be formed in every Synod
- Membership—Two complimentary one year, non-renewable memberships per synod for persons of color
- Extravaganza—Up to 8 persons serving in multicultural contexts and people of color receive complimentary registration to Extravaganza.
- Network Leadership—It is expected that Practice Discipleship teams will be reflective of ethnic diversity to include persons of color and/or people whose primary language is other than English
- In three years the board will accomplish the following:
- Establish goals for the Exec Director as articulated in the strategic plan at the Autumn Meeting beginning with the Autumn, 2013 meeting.
- Set an annual evaluation of the Executive Director at the autumn meeting to begin at the Autumn, 2013 meting.
- Self-evaluate at the Winter board meeting each year in order to direct the nominating committee of the skill-sets needed to fill vacant board positions. To begin Winter, 2013.
- At the conclusion of each board meeting spend 10-15 minutes to do a self-analysis of how the board meeting functioned and what needs to be fixed for the next meeting. Begin at the Spring, 2013 meeting.
- The board will participate in a half day anti-racism training once every six years and a diversity training every six years. (this to happen once in each term). First training to be in 2014.
- Will assign one member of the board as a “champion” to each section of the strategic plan. Board assignments can be re-negotiated annually based on gifts of board members. Assignments to be made initially Winter, 2013.
- By Spring 2014, a half day leadership training will take place for the board and will re-cur every three years.
- Board will monitor progress on each area of the strategic plan at each board meeting beginning at the Spring, 2013 meetings.
Practice Discipleship (The Practice Discipleship Initiative)
The Practice Discipleship Project is a partnership between the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, the Churchwide Organization, and other ministries within the church. The Initiative will extend through 2015, with the hope of continuing into the future. The Practice Discipleship Initiative is committed to bringing theological and practical training to congregations and to providing resources to groups who plan to attend the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering.
- Actively promote a cross-generational faith formation conversation, including an exploration of how children’s ministry relates.
- Establish a staff person to lead the Practice Discipleship Project by November 2012
- Identify a Practice Discipleship coach and team in each synod. It is our expectation that teams are inclusive of people of color and/or whose primary language is not English.
- Create a communication strategy to articulate the various aspects of the project
- Work with Youth Gathering staff to incorporate a Practice Discipleship day at the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering.
In the last couple of weeks of November, we did a demographic survey of our Network members. We e-mailed our members, inviting them to take the online survey sometime over a period of two weeks. We had a good response to the invitation. Our response rate was 52%.
There are two reasons we did the study:
- We are getting ready to launch a new Network strategic plan in the next couple of months (more on this later, I promise!) and the data from this survey will help us as we work on the plan.
- One of our hopes is to develop new organizational partnerships. This information will help us “tell the story” of the Network to these potential partners.
We learned quite a bit. Here’s a brief run-down.
We are a more mature organization than I expected. Our age breakdown is:
Interestingly, if you lump these age groups into three categories, 19-30 (26%), 31-50 (41%) and 51+ (33%) the age breakdowns are fairly even, if skewed slightly older. This tells me two things: 1) We are an older, and more experienced group than I expected, and 2) The smallest of these 3 categories is our youngest group. This is clearly a place then where we need to increase our outreach and communication efforts.
“I Serve As A:”
|Professional – Part Time||22%|
|Professional – Full Time||68%|
|High School Graduate||12%|
|Seminary – MA||11%|
|Seminary – Mdiv||10%|
|Master’s Degree (other than seminary)||22%|
ELCA Roster Status:
Ethnicity & Multi-Culturalism:
|Multi Ethnic/Multi Racial||1%|
|Arab and Middle Eastern||.5%|
|American Indian/Alaskan Native||0%|
|Non-Congregational Youth Min||3%|
Areas of Responsibility:
We asked the question “what are your areas of ministry responsibility?” and asked people to “check all that apply. The percentage listed is the percentage of the total respondents (321) that replied that this was one of their responsibilities. What we heard back was:
|Young Adult Ministry||45%|
Network Resources Used in the Last Three Years:
|Practice Discipleship Project||35%|
|Video Archive of Speakers||32%|
|List of Cong willing to host groups||12%|
There is a lot of information to process and analyze. What does it teach us? Well, we’re not sure yet. But we’re taking a look at it. Our sense of who we are will help to shape what we think God is calling the Network to be. The draft of our strategic plan will be released for public comment in the next week or two.
In the meantime, if you have comments or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Please comment here in this blog.
The second phase of the Practice Discipleship Initiative will launch in January of 2013. This project is the result of a dynamic partnership between the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, the ELCA and its Youth Gathering, ELCA Lutheran seminaries and colleges and their faculty who teach children, youth and family ministry, and resource providers of the church.
The Practice Discipleship Initiative fosters faithful, thoughtful and intentional leaders in congregations who follow Jesus in their daily lives.
The Practice Discipleship Initiative will:
Train leadership to accompany young people on their faith journey.
Develop partnerships to strengthen faith formation opportunities for and with young people.
Gather leaders for mutual support and encouragement in ministry.
The project is made possible by funding provided by the ELCA, the North Carolina Synod, Luther Seminary and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.
Training opportunities for adults who work with children and youth will take place in several different formats. Seven webinars are being developed to be presented every two weeks beginning in January. The team of educators developing these webinars is led by Dr. Jeremy Myers of Augsburg College.
These webinars will also be presented live as workshops at the 2013 ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, to be held January 25-28 in Anaheim, California.
One coach from each of the 65 ELCA synods will also receive specialized training at the Extravaganza, to return to their synods and present workshops to professionals and volunteers.
The Practice Discipleship Initiative will be directed by Catherine Anderson, the Coordinator of Youth Ministry for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. More information on the project, including all of the training resources from the first phase of the project, can be found at www.practicediscipleship.org.