In the days of yore attending church conferences, one of the most curious handouts I received in a packet included a participant list.
The participant list provided copious amounts of contact information: name, home address, church address, home phone, work phone, cell phone, home email, work email, and website (whew!). I remember thinking the compilation of these lists represented good networking theory. I have a list of new colleagues, and possibly friends. If I had a question of praxis, boom! I could write, call, email and I had a colleague with a shared language. We drank deeply from the well of shared experience with hope of transformation, a quiver of learning arrows ready to target the ministry ogres that we had jousted before and lost.
Attending an average of 2-3 conferences a year for 12 years, I think I used all of those participant lists a mere handful of times. The well of shared experience ran dry and the arrows lost their sharpness. Ongoing opportunities for connection are easily parched and difficult to preserve. The conferences are still valuable. The content is usually good, and the people are bright, insightful and wise. The value of the material quickly diminishes without collegial connections. Ye Olde Participante Liste is no longer effective, and it may never have been effective in the first place.
For some people who work in ministry, newer means of connecting are not news. The innovators and early adapters have found new ways to connect, catapulting over Ye Olde Participante Liste and moving into Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other means of connecting and sharing valuable information. Since I've been on Twitter for about one year, I regularly find Evangelical and Presbyterian colleagues using Twitter to reinforce their learning at conferences through relationships and shared learning in the months and years ahead. These connections occur at far greater speed than a phone call, an email, or snail mail. The shift is not so much about speed/effieciency (yet still important), but something educators and learners have known for years: follow up and reinforcement is necessary in order for the content to have lasting effect. I see the ELCA is living in the land of Ye Olde Participante Liste. Every gathering I attended over the past year--the connections are taken for granted. If the connections are being made--I am missing them. I hope I'm missing something and my comment box will be flooded with ELCA colleagues who are connecting and provide the path where others are gathering.
Last month I attended a fabulous stewardship conference in Eden Prairie, MN, hosted by Luther Seminary and other sister organizations. I feverishly sought connection while there. The conversation at tables during the conference were lively and insightful. However, the opportunities to connect after the conference were non-existent. I posted about 25 tweets, fishing for a connection. The only connections I made (good ones) was with a few staff people at The Lutheran magazine, one who was covering the conference. That connection provided me the opportunity to debrief about the conference while attending and a week later with Lutheran magazine intern Erin Ash. I see possibilities. Far more in one conference than the 24-36 I attended in my first 12 years of ministry. I think the content is actually getting better in many ways, but that content is lost without follow up connections.
Some of God's people have taken the opportunity to gather at a new Rounde Table for God's mission in the world. I hope more of my colleagues in the ELCA can show me where that table is, or come join me at the tables where I gather.