Afterglow or Transformation?

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January 2019 | Volume 14| Issue 1

Afterglow or Transformation?

Churches extend the impact of conferences like Urbana and Cross

Young adults from your church may have recently been involved in Urbana or the Cross Conference. How can your congregation improve the long-term results of their attendance? Here are two churches that implement very different strategies to expand the impact of such conferences.
Let us know if you have used other means to nurture transformation, not just an afterglow, following such events.

Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA Personalizes Follow Up.

Missions Pastor Scott White has a multi-step plan to deepen students’ Urbana response.

Prior to the conference, I join the group for their preparation session. We talk about how to maximize their experience. I offer some theological reflection on how to listen/wait on God, and tell a personal story from one of my Urbana experiences. I wrap up by asking them to consider the kind of “divine appointments” they personally sense they need to experience.

I ask the young people to consider the kind of divine appointments they personally sense they need to experience.

A month or so after the conference, our young-adult pastor and I hold a group debrief session using some questions we have sent ahead of time:

  • What is one thing that stands out to you, that you believe God showed you personally during your Urbana experience?
  • Were there “divine appointments” or connections with people that you believe were significant?
  • What are you sensing that God wants you to do in response to what He showed you?

The purpose of this time is to reinforce what they experienced, encourage them to reflect more deeply on what God wants to show them, and introduce them to pathways at our church for follow-up action steps. This may be involvement in some type of local ministry, further leadership development, short-term missions involvement, etc. As we listen, our young-adult pastor explains our ministry pathways, and I try to identify those who are wrestling with going cross-cultural, so I can debrief with these individuals one on one. Before I meet with them individually, I get input from our college or young adult pastor, so I can be as prepared as possible to listen well and interact wisely. Our individual appointment focuses on developing and discerning next steps around this new sense of calling using questions like:

  • Why did you go to this conference in the first place?
  • What has been your faith journey prior to going to this conference?
  • Tell me about your experience at the conference. What were your expectations going into it and how did they align with what happened there?
  • What do you think would help you continue to process what God wanted you to learn through your participation in this conference?

My ongoing involvement with these young adults depends on their willingness to take action and how close they are to beginning a serious pursuit of a missions role. We believe that the church can play a key part in moving Urbana participation from simply an emotional high to a life altering experience.

Trinity Church in Lansing, MI, Targets Global Impact

Missions Pastor Matthew Philip describes how three years ago Trinity flipped their Urbana goals and involvement on their head.

We decided to invite each of our global partner churches around the world to identify two or three key young adults they believed were ready for mission and would benefit from attending Urbana. Trinity offered to pay their registration cost, but the global partners were responsible for funding travel and procuring needed visas, etc. The majority of these partner churches are not large or wealthy—so sending young people was a significant financial commitment for them. Eventually 40 high-potential young adults came from places as far apart as China, Zimbabwe, Colombia, and Germany.

The strong bonds forged while together provided positive peer pressure to stay involved with the group and follow through on what they believe God said to them.

We required participants to fly in and out of Michigan in order to share the road trip to/from St. Louis with their peers from around the world and the small number of Trinity students who also attended. During the conference, they were interviewed individually on video. We asked each the same question: What has Urbana been like for you? We wanted them to focus on the event; we weren’t looking for their
response or commitments. Back at Trinity immediately following the conference, we carefully crafted two days to achieve multiple purposes:

Deconstruct the American cultural elements of the event. Beyond the exciting size and “noise” of Urbana, what was the core message and impact?

Solidify commitments made and assist participants to hear the voice of God. Trinity brought in an outside speaker to unpack how to discern the voice of God in their lives and how to practice spiritual disciplines that make a disciple sensitive to guidance and ready to obey. We believe this is significant in moving participation in such an event from just an emotional high to an experience with a long-term impact.

“Bake in” a sense of mutuality and relationship by sharing and having fun together. The young adults loved building a sense of community, but Trinity saw it as more than this—we were designing the experience to lay foundations of accountability.

Trinity created a WhatsApp group chat to grow community and continue relationships. A designated member of our leadership team agreed to coordinate the online group and occasionally seeded the interactions with carefully crafted questions. The strong bonds forged while together provided positive peer pressure to stay involved with the group and follow through on what they believe God said to them. Each month, we uploaded one of the participant’s Urbana interviews to remind them of each others’ experiences. Three years later, the WhatsApp community continues to be a vibrant connection between these millennials scattered around the world.

What was the ultimate result? Trinity carefully followed up with church leaders of each of the participants to see if they observed change. We were blown away when these pastors reported that 90% of the participants had returned to their church and engaged in their mission program at a higher level and with a deepened sense of spiritual focus and calling. This new passion didn’t flame out but was sustained over time.

We invited our global partner churches around the world to identify key young adults ready for mission who would benefit from attending Urbana.

Trinity also discovered to our delight that our relationship to our global partners was dramatically enriched by this effort. Global church leaders were deeply touched that Trinity wanted to invest in their children, and it is obvious that they now view us as much more valued partners. We have also come to realize that what we did invested in the next generation of leaders of these partnerships. This was a win all the way around!

This year, Trinity is excited to repeat the program with a few changes: We are integrating more of our own youth into the group. We are also taking eight Trinity leaders, each of whom will be responsible for building relationships with four or five participants, being available to minister pastorally and debrief with them during the week. Overall, we believe this commitment of both time and funds is one of our best missions investments in the future.

Most of the strategy we employed with these future global leaders could be applied with the young adults in your own church.

We've compiled lists of helpful questions to guide your leadership team's discussion as well as when talking to conference participants one on one.