Augsburg Fortress
One Mission Blog - reflections on the ministry of publishing

If only….

October 22nd, 2014 by Beth A. Lewis

If only members of my church understood the Biblical narrative….

If only the youth in my church engaged deeply in Bible study….

If only…

It is so frustrating for those of us who love and follow Jesus and want our young friends and relatives to love and follow Jesus, too.  We read the dismal statistics regarding the number of youth and young adults (not to mention other age groups) who have no interest in the Church.  We see these statistics played out in many of our own congregations, too. But, we’ve tried so many initiatives and programs to change these patterns of disengagement and almost nothing makes a lasting change, it seems.

So, when I get a report like the one I received a few days ago from my sparkhouse colleagues about the enthusiasm for Echo the Story 36, it thrills me!

Echo the Story 36 helps youth discover meaning and identity in the biblical narrative using videos and a participant Sketch Journal.  A detailed Leader Guide helps pastors or youth group leaders facilitate a dynamic and engaging learning experience.

Michael Novelli, the lead creator for both Echo the Story 12 and Echo the Story 36 leads webinars and workshops around the country, assisting leaders with learning effective techniques for biblical story-telling.  Last week, he led a webinar for sparkhouse and the feedback was a delight to read!


From Kary Wingo of St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, TX:  “Our high schoolers are really enjoying this approach, tell me they want to read more on their own, and always stay after class for questions.  Thank you for such thoughtful, engaging material.  I am also enjoying “Shaped by the Story“.  It is very helpful and thought-provoking!!”

Carolyn Drinnon of St. Elmo United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, TN:  “Our “Abilities” class is made up of mostly Autistic youth, & they can’t wait to come to sunday School-almost perfect attendance. They are really engaged in each leasson! The Remix,  we think, is why they love this method of study – together with the opportunity to  keep their own Journals.”

Brenton Yadon at Journey Church in Roanoke, VA:  “I just started as a full-time youth pastor out of seminary and finding your stuff was awesome.”

Hearing comments like this about this unique youth ministry resource brings such joy to me!

If you would like to find out more about these resources and even try them out with the youth in your congregation, there are several opportunities for doing so.

  1. You may download free samples from our website to try out in your context.
  2. You may sign up for one of our free webinars re: Echo the Story.
  3. You may want to consider attending one of the upcoming in-person training events led by Echo lead creator Michael Novelli.  Two of them are being hosted for members of congregations located in Indiana only by the Center for Congregations, one on October 29 & one on October 30. If you live in Indiana, registration is still open for a few more days!


If you have some of those “if only…” thoughts about the youth in your congregation, I hope you’ll give Echo the Story a try!





Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress

Resources for small churches

October 15th, 2014 by Beth A. Lewis

If you are in church work, you’ve probably seen enough depressing trend charts to last a lifetime!  I know I have.  Here is a chart from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research that shows that close to 60% of congregations have fewer than 100 members.


But, I know from personal experience that just because a congregation is small doesn’t mean there aren’t families wanting a rich faith formation experience for their children!  In fact, often they are drawn to a small congregation because they really want their children to grow up in a warm, welcoming place where they will be known and nurtured by an intergenerational community.  One of the reasons I fell in love with and joined Calvary Lutheran Church, a small urban congregation in south Minneapolis, about ten years ago was because I couldn’t figure out which children belonged to which adults; they were the congregation’s children!

Because in my professional role I am out and about talking with and listening to leaders all across the Church, I often hear concerns about how congregations can provide an engaging and theologically sound faith formation experience when there are only a few children of varying ages and stages of development.

Recently, this query came in the form of an email query from a mom who helps lead Sunday School in the congregation to which they belong in metro New York; a big city, but a small Sunday School.  I forwarded the query to my colleague Dr. Dawn Rundman, who leads our children’s faith formation resource development team at sparkhouse.  Dawn provided a helpful answer and I thought more pastors, CE leaders, and moms might find it useful, too.  Here is Dawn’s counsel:

“Assuming there are fewer than 25 kids in your program, for $150 a year, you could subscribe to Spark Rotation online and access the All-Kids content for 48 Bible stories. In Rotation, you can spend 2-4 weeks on a Bible story as kids explore it through Art, Music, Games, and more. The subscription price also includes Lesson Prep Videos for your teachers, additional activity ideas, Coloring Pages, and take-home Family Pages.

Holy Moly may be a great solution if you want to use a video-based approach to storytelling. Kids of all ages can watch the video. Then you could use refer to the two available leader guides to select additional activities that would be a great fit for your kids. We sell these resources in print and DVD form, or you could pay the annual subscription amount ($150 if you have 25 kids or fewer) and access content throughout the year. An online subscription would give you access to extras like Film Festivals and preteen retreats, as well as take-home Family Pages.”

The online subscriptions to which Dawn refers for this content are available through our innovative, new and easy to use sparkhouse online web subscription resource.  You may subscribe to one or more curricula using this tool.  If you’d like more information about sparkhouse online, check out our free trial offer and our free webinars that will walk you through the features of this new faith formation resource.   In fact, there is one scheduled for Tuesday, October 29 2-3 p.m. CDT.  Or, you can go to to find other dates and times. 

In addition to Dawn’s suggestions above, we also receive similar queries about resources for congregations that only have a few youth in their church family.  Another of my colleagues, Elissa Zoerb, Customer Education Support Specialist, has a passion for this, so she leads a free webinar on this topic for us.  Here is Elissa’s description of the webinar:

re:form for Small Congregations:  Using the perspective of small congregations, this 45-minute webinar will explore re:form, a new approach to youth ministry. Participants will learn how re:form can empower youth to explore their faith and ask the questions they actually wonder about the Bible, creed, disciples, Jesus, other beliefs, and hot topics.”

The next time this webinar will be offered is November 12 at 10 a.m. CST.  It isn’t yet on our posted webinar schedule, but watch for it at  You’ll find this and many other helpful free webinars to assist you with topics related to faith formation, worship, music, stewardship and more!

Of course, you need to be creative with finding ways to engage children and youth, where there are many of them or when there are only a few of them and often they are of varying ages.  But, these outstanding sparkhouse resources and the advice of my smart and dedicated ministry of publishing colleagues can help!




Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress

Global Partners for Theological Education

October 14th, 2014 by Beth A. Lewis

If you read this blog, you know how proud I am of my colleagues across Augsburg Fortress.  Earlier this year, I wrote about my Fortress Press colleagues cleaning out decades worth of books that we no longer needed and donating them, in preparation to our move to our new office.  They partnered with the Theological Book Network so that these books would have new life in seminaries in majority world countries around the world; seminaries that don’t have access to or can’t afford to purchase high quality theological resources.

As Bishop Bill Gafkjen who leads the ELCA’s Indiana Kentucky Synod and serves as the ELCA Conference of Bishops representative to our Augsburg Fortress Board of Trustees heard about this outreach program, he wondered if there would be a way to connect the HKBP Seminary in Indonesia with this opportunity.  It was!

Bishop Bill has just posted two brief videos on YouTube, one describing the need and the other describing the partnership between Fortress Press, Luther Seminary and the Theological Book Network to provide books for these seminarians of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church on the island of Sumatra.


Shipping these books overseas is very expensive.    The Theological Book Network knows how to navigate the complicated pathways of shipping, licensing, import taxes and accurate delivery.  They have estimated that the cost to ship these donated books to the HKBP Seminary will be $7000.  Here is a sample of the cost: 2 books – $50; 10 books (one small box)- $80; 50 books (one large box) – $162   The Indiana Kentucky Synod would be grateful for your donation, either personally or from your congregation, to help defray these costs.   You may make your gift online or send a check.  Thank you for prayerfully considering this request!




Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO Augsburg Fortress

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