News Articles

ETCH conference invites Next Gen ministry leaders to prepare for what’s next

Melissa Whitworth, preteen ministry director at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, leads a breakout session on "Developing Leadership in Preteens" at Lifeway's ETCH Conference, held October 9-11 at Brentwood Baptist in Brentwood, Tennessee. Photo by Stephanie Salvatore

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Kids, students, Next Gen and family ministry leaders gathered at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, on Oct. 9-11 for Lifeway Christian Resource’s annual Next Gen Ministry Conference—ETCH.

The ETCH (Equipping the Church and Home) Conference focuses on pouring into and investing in ministry leaders, according to organizers. This year’s theme, “Next,” was based on Psalm 145:4, “One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts” (CSB).

As 800 ministry leaders spent three days remembering and reflecting on their calling to pass along the faith to the next generations, they also explored methods and ideas for ministry in the next season. In main sessions and breakouts, ministry leaders unpacked research and discovered strategies, resources and tools for reaching and discipling the next generation.

Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, described the conference as a family reunion. Ministry teams, individuals, families and couples in ministry connected, challenging and encouraging one another in their ministries. As ministry leaders gathered from throughout the country, some were attending ETCH for the first time while others have been attending for years because this community equips them for ever-changing ministry.

Charting what’s next

Peters unpacked data from Lifeway Research’s latest Next Gen ministry research released in the book, “Flip the Script.” This data is critical for knowing the next generation and being able to minister to them, Peters said. Based on this research, Peters identified two big cultural markers of kids and students today: They are longing for belonging and searching for identity. So, Peters said, the next generation needs leaders who are connected, consistent, committed and who care about them.

Pointing leaders to Luke 15 and the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Peters challenged them to be willing to go find the lost kid or student. “Every child in your church needs a champion in your church,” Peters said. “My prayer is we would be the ones who see the ‘ones.’”

Also looking to the future and planning how to serve the next generation, Ben Trueblood, director of Lifeway Students, pointed to the prevalence of influencers. Referencing Matthew 5, Trueblood said every follower of Jesus is meant to be an influence. So, leaders must develop kids and students to engage the culture.

Trueblood helped ministry leaders consider how they can lead kids and students to not conform to the world but to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

Using Daniel and his friends as an Old Testament example, Trueblood emphasized the necessity of teaching Scripture to the next generation so they can spot where the culture is going against God’s Word and know when to take a stand.

Being a disciple who makes disciples

Author and speaker Alexandra Hoover emphasized the necessity of first being a disciple of Jesus who remembers His love and sacrifice for our sins.

Recognizing many of the ministry leaders at ETCH don’t have the opportunity to participate in Sunday services at their churches because of their ministry responsibilities, Hoover set aside teaching and instead worked to encourage the leaders.

“In order to fan the flame in others, we have to let God tend ours,” Hoover said. “Settle yourself in the reality that you are loved by God no matter what you do for Him.”

Jay Hardwick, pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, challenged attendees by asking, “How many people are walking with Jesus and leading others to do the same because of the investment you made in their lives?”

Teaching from 2 Timothy 2:1-2, Hardwick gave leaders three essentials for building their disciple-making tree: being a disciple, making a disciple and multiplying disciple-makers. He reminded ministry leaders that their relationship with Jesus is essential to their ministry.

“We teach what we know, but we ultimately reproduce who we are,” Hardwick said. “Keep pouring into the next generation what has been poured into you.”

Throughout the conference, songwriter and worship pastor Travis Cottrell led attendees in worship. He invited ministry leaders to be present in that time of worship, away from the typical interruptions that might distract them from worshiping with their own church families on a Sunday morning.

Evaluating personal health

Pastor and author Steve Cuss addressed the topic of anxiety among ministry leaders and what it looks like to relax into the presence of God. “We have the freedom and peace of Christ,” Cuss said. “But if we are not enjoying it ourselves, how can we possibly offer it to someone else?”

But chronic anxiety—which presents itself as a false need that feels real in the moment—tries to rob us of that freedom, offering a false gospel that leads to burnout, Cuss said. He explained this anxiety is generated by false assumptions, expectations, beliefs or needs but there are tools to manage such anxiety. “The goal is to go from being managed by anxiety to being connected, aware and present,” Cuss said.

And he explained every anxiety management journey involves noticing, naming and diffusing the anxiety. Cuss said managing anxiety increases a ministry leader’s ability to notice other people’s pain and notice God’s presence. Conversely, he said leaders wrapped up in themselves and their own anxiety have difficulty seeing the Lord with them. “One of the ways you can notice anxiety is when you’ve stopped noticing the Lord,” Cuss said.

Learning together

At ETCH, Next Gen ministry leaders learn from leaders serving with them. This learning happened both in main sessions and in breakouts as well as in more organic settings.

As ministry leaders explored Lifeway’s “Solution Zone,” they were able to interact with ministry leaders at Lifeway and explore resources available to them. Others engaged with breakout speakers outside of their sessions or connected with attendees in the halls, creating opportunities to encourage one another, discuss ministry challenges, dream about the future and share stories of God’s faithfulness.

In one main session, breakout leaders Kate Downing, Crystal Mazzuca, Mark Jones, Tega Faafa, Anthony Vargas and Danielle Bell shared “popcorn testimonials” of how God is working, encouraging and inspiring weary ministry leaders in the room.

“It’s time for us to give God glory for what He is doing,” said Melita Thomas, kids training and events lead at Lifeway.

This year’s ETCH Conference provided several pre-conference events. New2Ministry was a one-day intensive for new preschool, kids and student minsters. Other pre-conference sessions included “Flip the Script: Disrupting Tradition for the Sake of the Next Generation” and “Discipleship Pathway for Preschool, Kids and Student Ministry.”

Breakout sessions during the main conference included:

  • Strategies for Intentional Outreach to Families
  • Developing Leadership in Preteens
  • Leading Kids and Parents Through Salvation Conversations
  • Faith Filled Futures: The Importance of Planting Theological Truths in Kids Ministry
  • Cultivating a Vibrant Preschool Ministry
  • Must-Dos in Special Needs Ministry

The ETCH 2023 digital pass, with access to watch main sessions and listen to audio recordings of more than 60 breakouts, will be available for purchase at Lifeway.com. Details about ETCH 2024, to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2024, will be available at etchconference.com with early bird pricing available for a limited time.