The 350-some participants in the July 7-10 National Children’s Ministry Conference at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Orange, Calif., definitely took back home with them more than their shiny orange and lime-colored conference tote bags could hold.
“Sandals to Sneakers” was the conference theme — based on Luke 2:52, which reads, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” As a reminder of that theme, attendees also took home with them a keychain with a 3-inch “sneaker” looped to those conference tote bags.
Several conference participants told Reporter that among their most valuable takeaways were what they had witnessed throughout the conference — especially the many ways it involved children in activities that can be modeled by congregations.
The conference — with well more than half of its attendees from West Coast states — was hosted by the LCMS Pacific Southwest District. It was designed for church professionals and laypeople who work with children in churches and schools.
Rachel Klitzing, executive director of School Ministries for the Pacific Southwest District and chair of the conference planning team, said the conference was planned “to engage the imagination, refresh enthusiasm, give practical advice and sharpen ministry skills in various areas of children’s ministry.”
The program included pre-conference speakers, plenary “celebration” events, 44 workshops, worship, a gallery of artwork by children in Lutheran congregations and schools synodwide, a “Ministry Market Place” for information and resource sharing, and numerous fellowship opportunities including a “Beach Bash” picnic on the lawn at St. John’s.
In an email message to Reporter, Klitzing evaluated the 2011 conference as “extremely successful. I had a great team to work with; St. John’s, Orange, provided an excellent venue; the adult and child volunteer leaders were amazing; and conference participants said this was the best conference they had ever attended.”
She added that at least a dozen participants shared with her “that every single workshop was beneficial for them, and [that they would] take away many new ideas ready to implement at their home congregation.”
As to how many children were involved in the conference, Klitzing replied, “I would have to count them all, … [but] well over 100, including 45 in a children’s choir, plus five children who read Scripture in five different languages, 12 involved in closing worship, over 40 who introduced workshop presenters, many who participated in the Beach Bash, several who led the campus tours throughout the conference, and greeters at the hotel and at registration on-site.”
Klitzing also said that attendees — including many from the Pacific Southwest District — commented that they “benefitted in a myriad of ways. They learned, they grew both personally and professionally, they got to know others and share similar stories and situations, and they came away being inspired and motivated, knowing their roles in ministry with children and families are valued and respected as a calling from the Lord.”
“This was definitely the best Lutheran educators conference that I have been to,” Britt Anderson wrote, also via email. Anderson is preschool director for Christ Lutheran Church, a PSW congregation in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“I loved how children were involved in all aspects of the conference – singing in church, greeting guests and introducing workshop presenters. It was great,” she told Reporter.
“Anderson added that she also “appreciated the fact that there were a lot of workshops that pertained to teaching early childhood,” including several she attended on reaching out to families with young children.
“I also felt valued as an educator and strengthened,” she said. “It helped me re-evaluate my job and inspired me to do a few new things,” she said.
Among those new things for Anderson are the possibility of her congregation holding family worship nights a couple times a year and ideas for resources “to help support parents with teaching their children about God.”
“I thought this conference was just wonderful,” said Tina Kassebaum, who added that conference planners “did a fantastic job, especially in presenting many ways for incorporating children in ministry.”
A member of Salem Lutheran Church, Black Jack, in suburban St. Louis, Kassebaum said an “awesome” conference highlight for her was children reading the opening worship service’s Scripture lessons in five languages.
Kassebaum, who serves on the staff of “The 72″ with the LCMS Office of National Mission, added that “it refreshed my perspective on the capabilities of children to be involved with congregational ministry” to see them serve as guides for tours of St. John’s, introducing every one of the presenters for the conference’s workshops, and as greeters who thanked participants for coming to plenary “celebrations.”
“We sometimes think adults have to do everything and forget that kids are just as capable and willing,” she told Reporter.
Kassebaum indicated that she plans to incorporate ideas from the conference in updates of the children’s-ministry and family-ministry modules for “The 72″ materials that are used to equip LCMS congregations for outreach. Equipping congregations for outreach is the focus of “The 72.” To date, 221 congregations have hosted that ministry’s teams of trained equippers.
This was Kassebaum’s first National LCMS Children’s Ministry Conference.
Carol Mayerhoff, director of Children’s Ministry and a preschool teacher at Shepherd of Peace Lutheran Church, Maumelle, Ark., thanked “all involved” in the conference via her email message to Reporter.
Also a first-time attendee at a synodwide Children’s Ministry Conference, she said she picked up many useful tips to apply back home, from workshops, visiting with fellow participants and other aspects of this year’s conference. Those tips included how to start a children’s handbell choir (from one of the workshops) and “thank you” videos from congregations that “inspired me to make one for our rally day” (for which she plans to interview children about how Sunday school has “helped them grow in love for our Savior”). She also said she was impressed with involvement of children in the conference and expressed her appreciation for “Celebration” events.
“The time spent at the conference was a refreshing change from the way our world usually runs,” Mayerhoff told Reporter. “Thanks to all involved for all their hard work. With God’s blessings, there should be a fresh start and new ideas around the Synod as a result of their efforts.”
Rev. Brian King, children’s ministry pastor at the Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens in Webster Groves, Mo., presented two conference workshops. One was on mission trips for families and the other was titled “How to give a bad children’s message” — or, as he explained, “how to avoid common pitfalls of children’s sermons and effectively share Christ with kids.”
King wrote via email that he was moved by the opening worship service for this year’s conference.
“St. John’s and the planning team did a fantastic job setting the tone with the opening service in the sanctuary,” according to King. “The worship set the table for the conference to come, and I was very blessed and moved by it, especially the way they used children to lead the Scripture readings … in various languages …, in singing and in prayer. We often focus on modeling discipleship for kids; here they were modeling it for us.”
King indicated that he also attended “some excellent workshops, both on the relationship between church and family, and also the profound impact of the ‘digital revolution’ (video games, cellphones, texting, the Internet other digital media) on kids’ lives.”
“A lot of value in these conferences comes in the spaces in between the scheduled sessions,” he observed, “where you get to pick someone’s brain over lunch, compare notes on how other people are carrying out ministry in their contexts and deepen relationships.”
King also participated in the most recent previous national children’s ministry conference – in 2008 at Schaumburg, Ill.
William “Bill” Cochran, director of Schools for the LCMS Office of National Mission in St. Louis, also served as national-Synod liaison on the 2011 conference planning team.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Cochran said of the conference. “I heard participants say that they found many practical ideas to take back home and that it was one of the best conferences they had ever attended.”
Cochran said he was particularly impressed by the Friday night “Celebration of Praise and Prayer,” when Rev. Chris Singer, executive pastor at St. John’s, Orange, spoke of how his own children had witnessed to others in their neighborhood when he was reluctant to do that. Singer compared himself to Jonah, who initially felt the same way about the people of Nineveh.
Cochran also indicated that he was impressed by the Saturday morning “Celebration: COMMUNITY” session led by conference keynoters Rev. John and Monique Nunes. John is president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, and Monique is an administrator at Baltimore Lutheran School, Towson, Md., and an accomplished singer and church leader. Together, they co-authored Little Things Make a Big Difference: A Story about Malaria, a book for children that supports the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
According to Cochran, the LCMS Kansas District is tentatively planning to sponsor and host the next National LCMS Children’s Ministry Conference in July 2014.
Posted July 15, 2011/Updated July 27, 2011