Northwest Conference 2015 Annual Meeting focused on increasing congregational vitality
With a theme of “Strengthen Churches,” the 2015 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN, April 16-18. John Wenrich, Director of Congregational Vitality for the Evangelical Covenant Church and featured speaker for the meetings, challenged churches to consider their own vitality through the lens of the activity of the Holy Spirit and in light of internal and external challenges.
“If we are going to learn as Covenant Christians how to be more dependent on the Holy Spirit, we need more teaching,” Wenrich said. “Show me a church that’s strong in the Ten Healthy Missional Markers, and I’ll show you a church that’s relevantly connecting the Gospel to people.”
Friday Business Session
Steve Dawson, President of National Covenant Properties, brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings. David Kersten, Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, was also in attendance.
Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg, who was re-elected to serve another four-year term, shared about the many great things that churches can do when united together in service.
“Though it’s not easy, our work and service to the Lord has eternal importance; it is of infinite value,” Stromberg said. “We believe that we are being allowed to be part of the fruitfulness happening in many of our congregations and ministries.”
Stromberg highlighted many changes in the ministry of the NWC in recent years, including: the addition of staff to new roles, the expansion of the Adventures in Leadership program to other conferences, greater collaboration with Ministerial Association leaders, the Minnehaha Academy Centennial celebration (2013), the welcoming of new churches, the kick-off of the “50 by ’25” Church Planting initiative, the expansion of resources and support for children and families, and the growth of CHET Northwest Conference.
During his report, Stromberg also announced new resources the NWC will make available to pastors and lay leaders on the topic of human sexuality throughout 2015-16. The NWC will host a series of workshops and conversation groups designed to assist congregations in learning to minister well from within the position of the ECC.
He also highlighted his intention to spend more time resourcing and supporting NWC staff, fortifying CHET Northwest Conference, identifying, developing, resourcing and supporting young pastoral leaders, and helping to build capacity for “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant,” the Church Planting initiative whereby the NWC will seek to start 50 new churches in the next 10 years.
Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, emphasized the important role that sharing stories can play in building momentum in church health. He highlighted the story of Zion Covenant Church in Ellsworth, WI, and shared a video featuring Zion’s story.
“Zion represents one story of God’s gathered people, sent on mission, and making a difference in their world,” Kramka said. “We really are in this together, and you need to know that as your Conference staff, we fully understand that our success is really tied up in your success as we are a family of churches.”
In addition to providing updates on “50 by ’25,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared about new churches and the strong impact they are having in the region.
“The mission field demands that we go to people groups and neighborhoods and communities that we have not reached yet,” Brown said. “Since our last Annual Meeting, we’ve seen four new churches started as God has raised up planting pastors. It happened because our NWC churches partnered to make it happen.”
Brown introduced the four new church fellowship groups, which are Catalyst Covenant Church (St. Paul, MN), Genesis Covenant Church (St. Louis Park, MN), Nuevo Pacto Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN) and Renew Covenant Church (Eau Claire, WI).
“If your church has yet to say yes to becoming a Church Planting partner, please contact our office and find out how you can be part of seeing 50 new baby churches birthed in the next 10 years,” Brown said.
Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, referenced the NWC’s efforts to equip staff and volunteer leaders in Conference churches through ongoing initiatives like Imagine, Go:Serve, the CY&F Sabbath Retreat, and monthly Connection gatherings for leaders, among other programs. She also highlighted her office’s role in offering ministry support to volunteers and lay leaders, personal and professional development opportunities for pastors and staff, monthly communication to ministry leaders, and efforts to equip solo pastors, church planters and parents in NWC churches.
“It’s an honor to serve in this role. It’s challenging, it’s exciting, it’s encouraging,” she shared. “Together, I hope that we can work to ensure that this next generation has faith.”
Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, a ministry service event for high school students, which took place a week prior to the Annual Meeting. MOVE 2015 featured a “Shark Tank” experience where all 19 youth groups were challenged to develop new ministry ideas to reach their communities. Two churches went home with grants from the NWC to help “their kingdom dreams become reality.”
Olson challenged Annual Meeting attendees to ask middle and high school students, “What are your kingdom dreams? And how we can come alongside you in making those dreams a reality?”
She also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ.
“I absolutely love serving in this position, and if I can come and be of help to you and your team, please let me know,” Olson said. “We are truly better together.”
Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, and Judy Swanberg, Associate Director of Pastoral Care & Development, gave a joint report of their work to support the “personal and professional growth of our pastors and ministry staff.” The ministry area of Pastoral Care & Development in the NWC supports over 500 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.
“We know that being alone in ministry is very, very hazardous,” Burton said. “There’s a need to be in connection with people who understand your world and can walk alongside you.”
PC&D staff announced the creation of new “Mini-Retreats” for pastors, as well as newly developed resources to help churches reformat their Pastoral Relations or Mutual Ministry Committees.
“We are trying to help develop healthy leaders, because they are essential to healthy churches,” Burton said. “Thank you, on behalf of a lot of pastors we represent, for being so proactive in providing resources and support to your leaders.”
Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school, including the recent groundbreaking on a 3,000 sq. ft. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Lab at the Upper School, an increase in the school’s scholarship endowment fund, new language immersion courses at the Middle School, and a renovated science exploration lab and innovation center at the Lower School.
“Our prayer is that as students graduate, that they will leave well educated, profoundly loved and challenged to grow in their faith,” Harris said. “As a Christian school, we pray that our ministry strengthens churches,” she told delegates.
In addition to staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting participated in the “Celebration of Mission” Ministry Fair where they had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational ministries and organizations.
Friday Worship Service
Various choirs and musical ensembles from Salem Covenant Church led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. The 2015 Candidates for Ordination & Commissioning (10) were also recognized and prayed for during the service.
A special offering taken during the service raised an additional $1,925 to support CHIC 2015 scholarships for students in Northwest Conference churches.
Maplewood Covenant Church (Maplewood, MN) and Evangelical Covenant Church (Deerwood, MN) were honored with a special Living Legacy Litany and a video showing highlights from throughout the ministry life of Maplewood. Both churches held their final services earlier in 2015.
Worship service attendees also heard testimony from two students enrolled in the Solid Rock Discipleship Program at Lake Beauty Bible Camp, both of whom thanked supporters and relayed the impact the discipleship school has made in their lives.
John Wenrich shared a message titled, “The Holy Spirit and Congregational Vitality.”
“Congregational vitality begins with a person: the Holy Spirit,” Wenrich said. “I believe with all my heart that as you open up your ears to what the Holy Spirit has to say to your church, and have the courage to follow through, the best is yet to come.”
Saturday Business Session and Workshop
During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, electing Sheila Anonsen (Knollbrook Covenant Church, Fargo, ND) and Dennis Edwards (Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Chris Gehrz (Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton, MN), Greg Karpenko (Bethlehem Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN) and Jane Matheson (Linwood Covenant Church, Wyoming, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.
Delegates also approved the MA budget, and the full NWC budget of $1,497,013—which includes a designated Church Planting budget of $418,445—at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning.
Following the Business Session, Wenrich presented a workshop called “Current Challenges Facing Today’s Church.”
“Our job with the Gospel is not preservation. It’s multiplication,” Wenrich said. “Remember this theme when you think about external challenges our church might face.”