SMS: Connecting Nationally

I believe it was my 7th or 8th grade year the three-point shot was added to the basketball courts for middle-school basketball! I loved shooting downtown and now the shot from 20 feet was worth an extra point. In an attempt to avoid the bunch-ball bombing that our coaches feared, our coach issued a challenge; unless you were able to hit 5 out of 10 at practice, you wouldn’t get to shoot them in a game. On top of this challenge, he gave an added bonus. Whomever made the most during this 10 shot challenge was going to have a set play run for them during the next game, freeing that person up for a three point shot!  Connecting from long-distance became my ambition!  I won the contest (7 of 10) and nailed my long-distance beauty on an out-of-bounds play the next game!

This last weekend I got to connect from long-distance once again.  I traveled to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference (SYMC) in Chicago. Because I value these long-distance learning and networking experiences so much, I offered this or one other national conference as an incentive to our “early bird” registrants for a Youthmark Mission Venture. Most of the early-birds are heading to San Diego in the fall to the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC put on by Youth Specialties) but one Youth Pastor (Nathan) decided that the SYMC and Chicago was for him.

I’ve posted in the past about networking and the value I sense in connecting on the local level through city, regional and area networks. But from time to time I think there are some major benefits to connection nationally. I decided to make this the subject of todays Student Ministry Stuff (SMS) post.

Connecting Nationally Provides a Refuge. Though the refuge of “being known” in your local network is huge, the respite of not being known has advantages as well. I had the opportunity to work with The Shelter at the SYMC. Three different times I met with Youth Leaders who just wanted to talk and be coached through specific issues by someone they didn’t know. Sometimes an outside source, completely separated from your context can provide such a valued view. In addition to providing this refuge, I had conversations with others who provided that sort of view for me. Guys like Doug Franklin (LeaderTreks) and Brian Cress (International Justice Mission) were a couple of the valued conversations that stood out to me (veteran guys who have forged the way). In addition I was able to connect with folk that I’ve known better on line than I had in person, taking friendships to a new level (guys like Brian Ford).

Connecting Nationally Gives Broader Training: The SYMC in particular gave me opportunity to learn at a greater depth from ministry leaders in the context of Forums and Workshops. I really like the NYWC and SYMC (and I’m sure others) because you can get some real broad-stroke training from people you wouldn’t normally hear from.  For instance, those who are not in a city where Dare-2-Share comes for their tour would benefit greatly from their training.  My first exposure to Doug Fields and Purspose Driven stuff came at a conference like this. At the NYWC in particular I have sat in on seminars that I specifically known that I would disagree with the presenter, it’s very helpful to know a different point of view rather than just be inundated with views from people who you always hear from.

Connecting Nationally Gives Great Exposure: The SYMC is pretty particular about their “vendors,” “speakers” and “talent;” choosing to only partner with those with whom they have relationship. Youth Specialties on the other hand has a literally hundreds of vendors and many more speakers and a broader stroke of artists/talent. I love the different approach that these conferences take. At YS I am exposed to other ministries in both the exhibit hall and the teaching times. Whereas at SYMC I got to know more about the practicing partners of Group Publishing (parent company of Simply). Orgs like Youthminstry360 and the already mentioned, LeaderTreks are a couple that I’m really impressed with.  One nice thing for me, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people upon meeting me said, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of Youthmark, you guys are the ‘Mission51‘ people, right?”  How cool.  I guess we even have some exposure!

Connecting Nationally Allowed Me To Connect Nationally. Along the lines of the last point, I was able to greater network Youthmark. Besides the existing friendship I already had with many national folks at some of the previously mentioned organizations, I was able to meet leaders from many other organizations. Though some would see them as “competitors” I really feel that through the relationships built we are all on the same team. I genuinely like just about every person I meet at these conferences. One “competitor” that stood out is the parent organization of Youth Specialties (YouthWorks), I say competition in jest, YW has probably 20,000 students out on trips each summer (Youthmark is hoping for 1000); but Eric (a “high up” with YW) and I hit it off at SYMC, we spoke a number of times. As my iPhone powered up after my flight home I read on my Facebook Wall something that blessed my soul!

“Youthmark is gonna really push the youth ministry world to invest in prep and especially follow through on student short term mission experiences. Hoping they change will not suffice.”

Thanks Eric! I am praying that this is true and that Mission51 becomes a theme for all ministries, because then, the KINGDOM wins!

If you are in youth work and have not done one of these national conferences, I would suggest you try to get to one every year or two. It’s one part refuge, one part teaching, one part exposure and whole lot of connecting! I return feeling like I just hit a fadeaway three pointer at the buzzer; ready to take on the world!  Let’s do so, together!



One thought on “SMS: Connecting Nationally

  1. Brian,
    Thanks for investing in me and my team at SYMC. Your coaching was right on the mark, and I look forward to implementing most of the ideas you hit me with. Most. Don’t get big-headed or anything.
    You rock.

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