WELS Technology Services hosted its first WELSTech Camp "unconference" on Sat., Sept. 15 at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.

One hundred and one WELS pastors, teachers, laypeople, and MLC students came to discuss technology in the ministry. "One hundred was kind of our 'out-there' goal," says Mrs. Sallie Draper, WELS technology trainer, "so we were pretty excited to break 100."

The "unconference" format forgoes the formality of presentations and schedules to let attendees drive the topics and discussions, creating an open forum to share questions and ideas. Mr. Aaron Spike, a member of St. Paul in New Ulm, attended the event and says he appreciates the "unconference" format. "Self-organizing conferences allow the participants to get what they want out of the conference. When participants pick the topic and lead the discussion it tends to be extremely applicable and relevant to their needs," he says.

Topics ranged from Google Apps and Chromebooks for the classroom to online Bible studies to social media to Web design and accessibility. As a growing number of WELS schools are making use of the Google tools for education, Draper says, “Anything Google was very popular. There was a session on Google Apps and another one on Google Chrome, and those were definitely well attended. The SMARTBoard session was well attended as well.”

Mrs. Mae Tacke, development assistant at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School, New Ulm, attended to learn more about how technology is being used in the classroom and how she, working in development, can share that with people in the pew.

She appreciated that the conference brought together people working with technology in ministry. “I think we can learn from each other. I don’t think any one of us should consider ourselves the expert. There are always good things to learn, even learning from each other’s mistakes. I think the face-to-face interaction with people doing similar things is very important for the sharing process,” says Tacke.

Spike also appreciated the collaboration. "Idea sharing helps us to be more efficient. Rather than inventing new techniques to deal with every new challenge in our ministries, we can learn from the experience of our peers and build on their successes. But these benefits aren't specific to technology or the WELSTech Camp. They are some of the same reasons that the WELS Connection video is such a great resource," he says.

"What I saw overall," says Spike, "is that we have a large community of talented people who earnestly desire to make the best use of technology in service to the gospel. What a great asset for our synod!"

Draper says, “Our synod is moving forward with technology. We’re excited about the opportunities that are available to us. There was enthusiasm and a spirit of sharing. People are willing to share their ideas and help others get started out so we can share the good news with the tools God has given us.”

Interested in learning more about using technology for ministry? Check out the weekly WELSTech podcast.