Friday, April 25, 2008

Our Children's Ministry

My intention was to ask some questions, but instead I just picked up the April 1 Council Meeting Minutes and found that the Children's Ministry had been the subject of a report, so I'll just mention here what was reported.

Russ Nagy* directs the Discipleship Ministries of UALC, and the Children and Student Ministries are under him. Russ is a layman, not a pastor, but is paid staff. He has been teaching youth and adult Bible studies for as long as I've been attending the church. He says the vision for these ministries is "Grow up strong in God's Word and Truth." UALC's Children's Ministry involves 6 paid staff, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of kids, according to Russ. It has the traditional things like Confirmation classes, VBS, Sunday School and Youth groups--but today's kids are much more interested in experience than knowledge. Regular attendance isn't particularly valued by children or parents, and they might float between different churches with only nominal influence from UALC (I'm paraphrasing.) Numbers are down in the traditional offerings, but up in over all contacts (called "touches"). Some kids the staff see only once; others, hundreds of times. The staff believes "'touches' educate, comfort, inspire, encourage, and proclaim Christ's forgiveness."

The 1970s were the "glory years" of UALC's Luther League, according to Russ (we began attending in 1975 when our children were little, but I had my eye on that youth program which was really terrific). The current program, Genesis, is well attended but not like it was 35 years ago--but he thinks the newer programs to involve more parents are a positive change. He is always looking for more "touches" and more volunteers.

Other members of the staff reported that there are home groups, luncheon meetings with high school kids, and small groups for girls. Joy Peterson is in charge of the below middle-school children, and she noted that the programming differs between Lytham Road Campus (original location of UALC) and Mill Run (opened in 2000), but doesn't give specifics. I attend Lytham which has two traditional services (also one contemporary and one high-energy called x-alt), so perhaps the Lytham Sunday School reflects the families who attend there. 4th and 5th graders have "Funky Fridays." 6th graders have their own small groups. The two locations have separate children's choirs. A layman, Mike Mills (don't know if he is staff or volunteer), is in charge of pre-confirmation classes, for 7th graders. Some of the notes in the minutes were so cryptic, I'm not sure what they mean, but it looks like there is an after school Bible club at Windermere Elementary School, and if it's in this report, I'm assuming it is sponsored by UALC. The VBS theme this year (which draws between 2500-3000) is "Hope--Above and Beyond." It is a Narnia type theme and is being written by Tony Auseon.

I don't think I'm reading between the lines if I see some hint that the staff--paid and volunteer--are swamped with casual, not particularly deep contacts, with kids who don't return or only come around occasionally. Could it be the "business model" they use from Purpose Driven Church doesn't meet our needs at UALC? Perhaps that's not be best model for equipping young people to meet today's challenges.

*Russ is also a well-known musician. His band played for our daughter's wedding, and my husband hired him to come to the house on my 50th birthday to serenade me with his trombone (my instrument). He and his brother Joel composed and published Christian music. My son-in-law's mother was his choir director when he was a little boy!

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