Conference Crunch

My first year at Westminster I attended the Wee Kirk conference. My second year I attended that Festival of Homiletics. This year I have attended no conferences and I do not see anything on the horizon that I will be going to either.

Even with the Big Tent going on practically next door (Indianapolis, 4 hours away) I can’t see a good reason to get out there. The main problem is stewardship. I get a very small allowance for continuing ed and an even smaller one for books. Going to Cokesbury and getting three or four books wipes out my book allowance, going to one conference wipes out my continuing ed. Thinking about adding travel costs makes me curl into the fetal position.

So this year I made a decision, I put the continuing ed money into books and figured that conferences were not going to be a big part of my ministry here. I am pretty happy with the decision, after all most conferences I went to I enjoyed, but they did not change my life or faith. However, there is a part of me that feels like I am missing out. Things go on at those conferences behind the scenes. Conversations are had that help to shape the national discussion of what the church is. Stories are shared and friendships are made.

There are lots of great things out there that help small church pastors get to conferences, but it can still be prohibitively expensive, particularly if interstate travel is involved. Now though there are new ideas being spread around. Ideas like holding conferences on line. Webinars and twitter conversations. Blogs that are linked together with back and forth conversations.

Some of us who work within small churches feel the crunch when it comes to being involved on a national or even regional level. I hope that we will be able to keep looking for new ways to continue the discussion. One of those ways is going on right now with the We Are Presbyterian project. Check it out!


Let’s Talk About Choirs

Beautiful organ music, robed singers, harmonies. These are all things that come to my mind when I think about worship music. Anthems and arias sung by a choir while the congregation looks on, blissfully listening to the music being provided by these semi-professionals who practice weekly to provide something special for Sunday.

What happens then when your choir takes a nosedive?

That is the problem facing my church. We don’t have enough people to sing on Sunday. Those that have the talent don’t have the time and though I am trying hard to remind people that you don’t have to have perfect pitch to sing praise, it just isn’t working.

Thankfully though, this is one problem that we are working through with some success. Instead of twisting arms and threatening the end of days if no one sings, we let that time sit empty when we need to. Or, even better we have filled it with something different.

Our worship committee has invited people to share whatever they want as an offering to God on Sunday morning. We have had people come up and share stories or poem that they or someone else has written. We have people singing solos. Our music leader sometime fills in.

I think this has made our worship more authentic. We are letting those who would have nothing to do with music know that they still have something to give. Sure, on Sundays when the choir does sing we have people who sit and wistfully wish that they would come back next Sunday, but I am not sure I would want them too.

When did an anthem become the only acceptable way to give praise on Sunday? How do you deal with this in your church?

Let’s Talk About Youth

Well hello again everyone. I hope that you all had a great weekend. Today, I am thinking about Youth Groups and Sunday School in small congregations. The church I grew up in had three youth, my two bothers and I, so Sunday school and youth group looked quite similar to every day at the Adams house.

The church I am serving now has a decent sized group of kids. I would say somewhere right around ten. However, they are spread out in different grade levels and some brothers and sisters all have to be together. Some of our classes have only siblings in them, or they have a kindergartner and a fifth grader.

Members of the church come up to me and to our C.E. Chair all the time to discuss how they feel like we are letting the youth down. I try to tell them that the amount of youth we have in our congregation is a gift, after all something like 10% of our membership is under the age of 18. Now though I am beginning to see that our Sunday morning offerings are sort of dead in the water. We have more Sunday School teachers than kids on some mornings and the curriculum is not really working out.

Youth Group is a slightly easier fix. We have been able to get them involved in Presbytery retreats and things. Yet there is still a problem with trying to offer them something weekly or even monthly. We are slowly rebuilding the Middle School youth and doing a good job of it, but once again it feels like we can’t really get things to where the parents, kids and outside observers are excited about it.

So let’s talk. How do you do Youth Group or Sunday school in your churches? How do you deal with a small budget and high expectations? Should we just stop doing Sunday school for kids and find something else? In a world where we are competing with all sorts of other things how do we make this time something special and meaningful for our youth?