Inviting Teenagers to Engage with the Gospel Outreach with Media Conference

Paul Grubbs (New Ulm, Minnesota, USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Paul Grubbs teaches English and Education courses at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota.

How could WELS high school teachers integrate this conference into their curriculum? My purpose with this presentation is to encourage instructors to consider that question. I'll also share some of the benefits I've seen during visits with my college students.

For Religion or English classes, the event is an ideal fit, but those are only the most obvious options. Young people studying desktop publishing or digital communication would discover thought-provoking models. For language learners, the sessions put abstract ideas about cross-cultural sensitivity into practice.

I've used the conference with two groups: Film and Mass Media and first-year composition. My follow-up discussions each had unique emphases, but the initial assignment was identical. First, we spent a class period visiting the conference. We did this near the conference opening to maximize the window for digital dialogue with the presenters. Students could focus on a few topics of personal interest or survey a broad range of sessions. Afterward, they participated in two of the asynchronous conversations that conclude each exhibit. Most on-line communication is quite informal, so I provided a structured response model. Despite the digital setting, students could practice critical soft skills. Curiosity, courtesy, and attentive and inquisitive listening remain essential in this conversation space. I gave them this template and completed example:

Here are examples that I prepared based on a previous conference.

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Please choose two of the presentations displayed on the 2017 GOWM conference.
Please follow this format. Post your finished responses on the website.

[Selected Presentation]

“The Lost Coins - A Proposal for Creating a Christian Podcast” by Ted Petersen (Palm Bay, Florida, USA)

Dr. Petersen,

[Offer specific praise or thanks for the aspect of the presentation you found most interesting or memorable.]

I appreciated your suggestions for a Christian podcast. I especially liked the proposed title. Your reminder “that every story about a Christian life is truly about a lost coin that has been found" was a beautiful way of stating that truth. For Christian artists, demonstrating God's grace on display in believers' lives would be an awesome pursuit. Crafting compelling stories from the daily reality of God's love to sinners sounds like a rewarding challenge.

[Ask a question that reflects the part of their work you’d like to know more about.]

After reading your article, I had one question. Have your experiences left you with any personal theories about why audio storytelling is thriving? You mention that the “medium… should have died once nearly every household had a television in the living room.” Why do you think this format is so attractive to contemporary ears? Your informed opinions could help others write in ways that "pressed those buttons" while communicating Gospel truth.

[Conclude with thanks.]

Thank you for your contribution to the conference.

[Selected Presentation]

“(Re)Creating Church History to Teach the Faith” by Jeff Hendrix (Oregon, Wisconsin, USA)

Rev. Hendrix,

[Offer specific praise or thanks for the aspect of the presentation you found most interesting or memorable.]

This backstage pass to your project with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod was great. I was not familiar with the Lime Creek episode. It seems like a fascinating focus for a film celebrating "the unchanging theological heritage of the Synod." The preliminary conversations you shared about finding the appropriate focus were revealing. Your description of the production also helped me consider what that undertaking involved. Your explanation is a valuable model for people considering a similar effort.

[Ask a question that reflects the part of their work you’d like to know more about.]

I had a few questions about items shared in your piece. You mentioned that Rev. Harstad's original vision for the piece was lengthy. Did early plans highlight several different historical episodes, or did they provide a more complete account of the Lime Creek events? If those drafts included juxtaposing this incident with others, what were some of the candidates under consideration?

You said that you were primarily involved during pre-production. I couldn't tell from your account whether you were present for the actual shooting at Lime Creek. If so, I was curious about what you learned from watching that process unfold. I imagine there are questions and concerns that a team only sees once they are translating plans into actual footage on-site.

[Conclude with thanks.]

Thank you for your contribution to the conference.

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I begin by briefly evaluating the resulting student postings. We wait for class debriefing until the conference closes so that we can also discuss the resulting dialogues. In my experience, presenters have been attentive and thorough in their responses. This investment of their time and energy validates students' participation in the project.

The advantages of this sacrifice of class time are too many to itemize. The blessings provided include the following:

  1. The conference offers the next generation of church leaders invaluable information. What fresh opportunities exist for sharing and hearing God's Word? Recently, my home pastor suggested that our congregation host an "Evangelism Shark Tank." Members would "pitch" the congregation's Evangelism Board their best outreach ideas. The top two proposals would earn funding from the board's budget to implement their plans. True, the conference lacks lavish cash prizes. It is, however, a similar chance to tap into an incredible collection of creative possibilities. The conversations fostered during these sessions would otherwise be impossible. Attendees dramatically enlarge their personal library of outreach options. An educator in Chile shares how YouTube integrated Christ into his digital persona. An evangelist from Germany suggests postcards to start faith-focused conversations. A pastor in Korea explains how his global devotion group transformed their morning commute into time for shared spiritual growth. Do some students come from a setting where evangelism doesn't play a prominent role? These models of enthusiastic outreach might otherwise be absent from their experience.

  2. The conference provides an authentic interdisciplinary learning opportunity. To engage with a presenter's ideas and advice in a public forum demands critical thinking. Participants in these discussions must weigh complex ideas about theology, culture, and evangelism. They also negotiate communication etiquette in the impersonal digital realm. In addition, their actual names appear beside their contributions, published in the forever of the internet. This inspires an attention to detail that my proofreading guides have, so far, failed to spark.

  3. The conference provokes students to broaden their view of evangelism. Their visits help them see that God-pleasing outreach begins with cultural sensitivity. For example, Truth in Love Ministry emphasizes empathy in their efforts to share Christ with Mormons. They show how an informed witness can honor a group's most immediate concerns. On a more technical topic, knowledge of internet tendencies in Latin America shapes the work of an Ecuadorian missionary. He uses that background to more effectively integrate digital tools. The resulting dialogue also offers students the opportunity to put such courtesy into personal practice. A nineteen-year-old from St. Charles, Michigan, sits in a Minnesota classroom. Suddenly, he's communicating with an Ethiopian professor of Film Directing and Cinematography. My student has a sharp and healthy sense of his own ignorance about this accomplished individual's culture and daily life. To share input about this man's ministry plans demands consideration and humility.

  4. The conference helps students appreciate the large-scale evangelism efforts that our God makes possible through a body of cooperating Christians. When the former Commission on Evangelism director provides the backstory on the most recent outreach film produced by the WELS, students are surprised to hear anecdotes from the set in Morocco that include unexpected snowstorms and unpredictable performer accents. This conversation helps them consider anew how far their mission offerings truly travel. When a community of artists shares ambitious plans to illuminate every single passage of the Bible, the sheer scope of the collaborative project is exhilarating to consider. Finally, students puzzle over the complex reports submitted by an executive from Time of Grace Ministry. The peek into his work and world demonstrate the demanding logistics of producing, presenting, and tracking engagement with the organization’s Gospel content.

  5. Finally, the experience provides a vivid reminder: Americans often take our religious freedoms for granted. Students consider church leaders in Pakistan who cannot safely receive Bible instruction. Instead, pastors in Wisconsin must deliver that training digitally. Frequent electricity blackouts compound the challenges of distance and language. This visit inspires appeals to God for the welfare of these dedicated Christians and thanks for the security we enjoy.

My students' efforts to communicate about these crucial topics are sometimes clumsy. Or ignorant. Or unclear. Just like mine. But as they compliment a Christian podcaster or learn more about a pilot’s mission work in Latin America, the benefits are clear. Their conception of evangelism and their potential role in that critical mission expands. Our class discussions about the process often foreground questions of supreme importance. Our focus is ministry, church leadership, and the most effective ways to communicate the timeless love of Jesus to our dying world.

Could one class at each of our Lutheran high schools visit the Gospel Outreach with Media conference next year? Hundreds of young Christians might receive a fresh invitation to engage with evangelism. They might take important next steps toward seeing themselves as essential participants in shaping our future church. I would welcome any opportunity to work with administrators or instructors to design projects in response to this appeal.

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Skylar Cotten (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-22 4:00:25pm
This was very interesting to read about. I think it is a great way to try and get more teens involved with religion and their community church. Class discussions would help get more people to open up about how they feel and get their opinions. Going to the conferences I feel like help teens understand more about nearby communities and communities around the world that are struggling right now. I feel that a lot of teens do not really get to learn to much about missions or how they work. I did not learn much about them, but I think I would be a great experience.
Jae Carlson (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-22 4:09:46pm
This sounds like a great idea. I too did not learn much about missions and what they were all about, less I did hear about them and had friends who went, but I myself never got to experience them for myself. Getting more teens involved would be a good idea and I think most people would agree.
Paul Grubbs (MLC) 2019-10-23 2:39:59pm

Thanks for looking over these materials and providing your comments. Your statements about class discussion got me thinking that conversations with students about their experience at the conference could also help generate lists of potential topics for organizers to consider in the future. Our youngest leaders are perhaps our most valuable source of information regarding what platforms and sharing strategies are most appropriate to thoughtfully reach out to a generation that is largely plugged in but also primarily unchurched. I will add that step to my process with students this year and appreciated the prompt provided by your observations.

How about for you? What specific topics or areas of ministry would you like to see next year's conference feature or address that hasn't been a focus of the presentations so far? I'd imagine that those contacting and arranging for speakers would be thrilled to hear what you haven't yet seen that you think could be beneficial.
Leah Sonnenburg (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-25 5:25:30pm
I agree with you, Skylar! Involving teens with their community church is extremely important because we are the future of the church!
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-26 12:43:34pm

I am glad to hear you encourage churches to integrate and involve teenagers and college students in their ministry efforts. Have there been any specific projects that your church has featured that you thought were especially effective in generating enthusiastic participation from your high school- and college-aged members? At my congregation, mission trips to help carry out week-long soccer or art camps are probably the most successful project in this regard, but I'm sure other congregations are carrying out their own efforts to target involvement from young adults. Does anything stand out in your own experiences?
Clara Avery (Bethany Lutheran College ) 2019-11-04 7:35:28pm
Hello Skylar! I agree that these conferences appear to be a great opportunity for teens to get involved in the church. I think there is a real need for churches to outreach more to teens and these conferences could be one of the ways churches do that. As our world becomes more and more secular, we need to strengthen both the faith of ourselves and of those around us, especially young people. Teens are the future of our churches, and in order for churches to continue to grow, we need teens onboard. What do you think?
Taryn Christensen (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-10-30 1:21:12am
A very interesting read. Involving teens with religion and in their community somehow will open up there knowledge to Christ more often. Attending the conferences makes the teens understand a lot more than they already did. In today's societies, not many teens go to church because they're too "cool" for it, which is false because it is a good thing to believe in Christ. I really didn't learn much about Christ as a child but I am willing to change that.
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-10-30 2:06:08pm
Thanks for your comments, Taryn. My son and daughters are midway through the teenage experience; helping to sustain their understanding of how and why weekly worship is relevant in their lives is an ongoing challenge. My hope is that the conference, and other similar opportunities, can widen perspectives beyond their customary pew, their church's sanctuary, the ministry in their towns, and help them recognize the hard work many people are doing to utilize contemporary tools in service of the timeless Gospel. I'd be interested in your opinion - do you think the common notion of teenagers considering themselves "too cool" for church is just a hiccup of growing up - an unavoidable, necessary step in maturing into an adult - or is it something our church should be actively pushing back against in an organized fashion?
Judith Kuster (conference moderator) 2019-11-01 11:32:40pm
Paul, Your paper provides an excellent model of ways educators can use the online conferences, and why. Thank you. I hope Tom will send a copy of your paper next year to all the Lutheran High Schools (he does contact them, but there has been little response). Maybe your template will encourage them how their students can participate - and why;-)

I know that you "maximize the window for digital dialogue with the presenters" and that you debrief with the students after the conference concludes which is an excellent idea. I wonder if an additional assignment could be made so that the students actually interact with one of the responses they received to assure the presenter that they have seen the response to their question? It doesn't have to be a long response or require a dialogue, but it could also be an additional opportunity for interaction with the presenters. I don't see much evidence that that is happening. Maybe I missed some.

Thank you for sharing what you do in a couple of classes. Lucky students;-)
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-03 10:29:02pm

Thank you for your note.

I agree that there would be value in an additional assignment that led students to revisit the presentations where they left posts and note the presenter's response(s). I will make an effort to add that to my process, hopefully even this year. Thanks for taking the time to make that suggestion.

Speaking of a similar area, I have wondered whether the convention process might be adjusted so that those posting could receive an automated email when the conversation initiated by their message is continued by another voice, be it the presentation author or another conference visitor. I correct most student work in Google Docs, and when I post feedback in a document the author is automatically emailed so he or she is aware of newly provided comments. Since the current posting process doesn't require an individual to input an email address, I recognize that there would be an extra step or two involved. But I'd suggest it as a possibility for those arranging the technical end of the conference to consider.

For now, I'll be certain that my students are led to revisit their postings prior to the November 11th conference conclusion to investigate what has been added since their initial visit.
Judith Kuster (conference moderator) 2019-11-04 12:32:45am
Thanks for the response, Paul. The students were very active and provided thoughtful questions. Thank you for your continuing support of the conference. I grateful they led the way and the other 2 colleges and one of the seminaries also actively participated. I'll have Tom read your message to see the possibility of an email response, but I wonder how that would work with the software used to make the posts and answers online since the questions aren't submitted in email, and they could be posting from their own computer or a library computer or any computer with internet access. Good idea to explore though!
Clara Avery (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-11-04 4:04:22pm
I really enjoyed reading this article. I love how people are always coming up with new ways to get young people involved with church and produce enthusiasm among them to serve Jesus. I feel that having students participate in this conference would have a positive effect on their spiritual life and help to get some of their questions answered about both the church and their faith. The discussion the students would engage in by going to the conferences would be very beneficial to them. By allowing discussion among the students will result in them having a better grasp of the topics and an improved overall understanding of the subjects at hand. It is one thing to learn about something, but it is another to put things learned into action and implement the concepts in your own life. I love this idea and I would love to participate in it.
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-04 7:59:14pm
Thanks for the kind words and positive feedback, Clara. The obvious downside of attending the conference as part of a class is that students' posts and dialogue too often reflect the "get it done" mindset that pollutes "assigned" work. Nonetheless, my strongest and most engaged students consistently find value in what they learn and push the digital conversation forward in useful ways. Very few high school or college students have participated in a public digital forum like this before; our first efforts at anything are bound to be a mix of success and stumble. But it's a great time to starting thinking about and experimenting with the blessings God provides through his church through contemporary technology and media. Thanks for making time to look over the materials and be part of the conversation.
Clara Avery (Bethany Lutheran College) 2019-11-05 4:22:34pm
Hi Paul. Thank you for your response. I can see how student's with a "get it done" mindset would be a downer to the discussion. There will always be students like that regardless of the activity. Although, even if only a couple of students actually engage in the forum and get something out of it, it'll be worth it! Do you have any ideas as to how you could engage those students who have the "get it done" mindset? My only idea would be to create some type of initiative that requires students to be engaged in order to attain whatever the reward is.
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-06 12:36:43am
Hello again Clara,

I would argue that the more time you devote to preparing students for the time at the conference and sharing the rationale for its importance, the more positive and rewarding students' experience will be. At the same time, realistically, teachers are always pulled in many different curricular directions at once - this applies everywhere from kindergarten to graduate school. So while I think time investment upfront improves student engagement and performance, I also recognize that even in my classes there has to be a limit to the time and energy devoted to any single project, regardless of the value.

In my situation, my students are all working toward full-time ministry. If I can help them view the conference as a beneficial opportunity for them to expand their horizons and background knowledge for that service, they'll invest more energy in the experience and cultivate more of the blessings the presentations are geared to provide. For high school teachers, there would be a parallel opportunity to help students understand that they will be the next generation's evangelists, regardless of their chosen professions. Our stewardship of resources certainly extends to our use of technology. Most often authority figures foreground the negative challenges that accompany that stewardship - limiting screen time, protecting young people from pornography or cyberbullying, etc. But the conference provides a welcome chance to celebrate the positive potential developing technology has for the spread of the Gospel.

Thanks again for your messages and thoughts!
Millicent Selenka (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-09 11:22:40pm
Thank you for this informative topic! As part of my senior year religion class in high school (Fox Valley Lutheran), we went door to door evangelizing in the community. While I enjoyed the opportunity, many students did not share my viewpoint. I believe if high schools shared these conferences with their students, it would increase their attentiveness/excitement! As you mentioned, any way to increase the level of technological connections will bridge many gaps! Very well written, thank you!
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-11 3:19:59pm


Thrilled to hear from a high school student and (I must admit) a Fox Valley student! I taught at FVL from 2003-2011 and was richly blessed by my cooperation with the exceptional faculty, administration, and students at that school.

Anyway - back to your comments :)

I am thankful to hear that your religion course at an area Lutheran high school has provided practical opportunities for Evangelism - going door to door speaking with strangers is an intimidating task at any age, and I would suggest that few people have an outstanding experience the first time they attempt that challenging task. Nonetheless, the only way to improve your comfort level and effectiveness as a speaker is through practice, so the fact that your teachers are engineering chances for you to do that already at FVL is outstanding. I would also encourage you not to let negative reactions from some peers lead you to interpret the activity as any sort of failure. God blesses everyone with unique gifts, and it's possible some students' skill-sets are honestly a poor match for that particular type of outreach. In addition, because our confidence regarding evangelism stands on our Savior's loving promises and the work of the Holy Spirit, we can trust in those perfect sources of power rather than our own imperfect witness. God's Word works, whether we're privileged to observe those results or not.

I particularly appreciated your positive feedback regarding getting high school students more involved in the conference in upcoming years. Thanks for taking the time to share those thoughts. God's blessings on your continuing studies in Appleton. Your curiosity regarding the potential of technology to assist in outreach is exactly the attitude that the conference is designed to foster and develop.
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-11 3:21:50pm
Sorry, Millicent - I misread your post the first time and did not recognize you'd moved on to WLC. God's blessings as you continue your Christian education at the collegiate level. :)
Morgan M. and Harold (Wisconsin Lutheran College) 2019-11-10 4:31:30pm
This was neat to read on! Getting teens involved is always such a great idea because "train up a child in the way he shall go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2019-11-11 3:25:53pm
Morgan and Harold,

Glad to hear from you and I'm happy that you found this to be a worthwhile way to engage teenagers with Christian ministry. Your quote from Proverbs is a concise summary of the "why" behind my suggestions - it would've saved everyone significant time if I'd just submitted that as my article :)

God's blessings for your ongoing studies at WLC. The faculties of Martin Luther College, Bethany Lutheran College, and Wisconsin Lutheran College will meet for a conference during the summer of 2020. I am looking forward to learning more about how the schools are working to engage their students with outreach efforts and help the next generation of Christian leaders make that all-important work a strong priority in their churches and lives.