Some of the most exciting and innovative work in the church is happening among the youth and family ministers in the ELCA.

This is what I came away with at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, a four-day gathering of adults from around the country who work with youth in the ELCA.

As they put it on their website, “It is for all who share in the adventure we call youth and family ministry.”

According to its mission statement:

“The ELCA Youth Ministry Network seeks to provide opportunities for spiritual renewal, continuing education and networking for adults who work with children, youth and families in our congregations.”

Although it partners with the ELCA, the network is actually an independent organization.  This provides a lot of freedom and flexibility which is a good thing in today’s fluid world. It is run totally by volunteers which keeps costs down for all the resources and events they offer.

Executive Director Pastor Todd Buegler

Everyone who is involved in faith formation should be a part of the Network,” notes Pastor Todd Buegler, Executive Director.

“Our focus is on the spiritual growth, the education and training and the networking of those who do this important work.  We create, or point people towards resources that will strengthen their ministry, and the Network sits at the center of a movement that is nudging the church forward in its understanding of faith formation.”

As board chair Erik Ullestad said in his address on the State of The Network presentation at the Extravaganza:

“I think that this network…the Network of children, youth, and family ministry is leading this church forward.  We’re doing it as individuals, as small groups, and as a network of nearly 1,000 members.  We’re not just a small gathering of punk youth workers on the margins.  We are a force to be reckoned with.  We are lay people…pastors…synod staff…churchwide staff, including our presiding bishop…we are camp directors, campus ministers, college and seminary students and professors…youth ministers, children’s ministers, young adult ministers, and on and on.  We come from every part of the church’s eco-system.”

(Read Erik’s entire presentation here)

Gathering praying for youth ministers in their first year

I feel good about the future of the church when I see in whose hands it is—the folks who were at this gathering.

Northeastern Iowa Synod Pastors, Youth Ministers and spouses
There are all kinds of openness, innovation, concern about justice, willingness to address hard issues like racism and a deep love for the church and most importantly–the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these folk’s hearts.

Besides great presentations by the likes of Rozella White, ELCA Program Director for Young Adult Ministry, Magician Zach Walman, Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Director of Mission and Reconciliation at General Theological Seminary in New York, there were intensive courses on confirmation, digital tools and one on creativity by McNair Wilson, former Disney Imagineer.

Rozelle White

There were more workshops offered than you can count, on spirituality, diversity, Sunday school, games, performance arts, storytelling, fundraising and more.

In the next few weeks, I’ll write about my own workshop on “Training Youth to be Digital Missioners”, as well as the one on “When Youth Wonder, They Go to Google.”

For what you get for the price, this event is probably the best bargain available when it comes to quality continuing education for anyone who works with youth in the church.

The Extravaganza is open to anyone, but members of the network get a substantial discount, along with many other benefits.

Another benefit is their newly vamped social resource sharing site, Martin’s List, which I will write about more extensively in a future post.

Everyone who is involved in faith formation should be a part of the Network.

In the words of Todd Buegler, “I look at the work the Network is doing and it strengthens my hope in the future of the church.”

I agree 100%!

For more info on the ELCA Youth Network

Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.




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