Summit Emphsizes Community
By LORETTA FULTON
Jennifer Schroeder kept hearing people say they were longing for community, so she did something about it. And she went big.
Schroeder is the new director of Summit, which is celebrating its 116th year at Abilene Christian University. As director, Schroeder came up with an entirely new format with an emphasis on community since that what people wanted.
“The pandemic just really took that away,” she said.
The new format is two days in the fall and two days in the spring, coinciding with homecoming and Sing Song. The first session, Oct. 13-14, met everyone’s expectations, with about 175 people registered. In the past, Summit drew several thousand people to Abilene over four days, but the new format is designed to be more intimate, with its emphasis on community.
The last time Summit was held on campus was in the fall of 2019, about six months before COVID hit and altered everyone’s life. A virtual version was presented in the fall of 2020. Summit was canceled in fall 2021 due to lingering concerns over COVID. This past spring, the new format got a “soft launch” at University Church of Christ.
This fall’s Summit, with the theme, “Abide With Me,” opened Thursday, Oct. 13, with a brief worship session in ACU’s Chapel on the Hill before everyone headed out to various “communities,” including preaching, youth, children, Hispanic, recovery, small church, and a general interest group.
Left to right, Nic Dunbar leads singing in Summit’s opening worship session, one of the “communities” meest, and Lisa Alexander, left, and Laura Callarman hand out goodies at a booth. Photos by Loretta Fulton
The singing, a cappella style, set the tone for what was to come, with everyone joining with the leader, Nic Dunbar, worship minister at West Houston Church of Christ in Houston. Apparently, everyone felt the same spirit as Schroeder,
“It just was transformative,” she said. “It made my heart leap.”
In one of the sessions that followed, the focus was on a book by Andrew Root titled, “Churches and the Crisis of Decline.” Root was guest speaker for a dinner meeting Thursday night. Presenting the program Thursday afternoon were Todd Dildine, senior minister at University Parkway Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland, and Bradley Steele, senior minister at University Church of Christ in Abilene.
Nathan Burrow, senior minister at Hillcrest Church of Christ in Abilene, served as moderator.
“What does it look like to be serving faithfully?” he asked. “We’re going into the unknown.”
Conversations should be held regularly in churches, Burrow said, about how to serve in today’s climate of decline rather than waiting for things to go back to the way they were.
Dildine presented some bleak statistics:
- The Churches of Christ are losing 2,400 members and nine congregations a month
- The church as a whole has seen a 40 percent decrease in attendance from the 1960s
- 59 percent of millennials who grew up in the church have dropped out
The church isn’t alone in reporting a decline in participation. A segment of Dildine’s PowerPoint presentation was titled, “Every volunteer-based community is collapsing.” More grim statistics from the past 20 years show:
- Family dinners have declined by 33 percent
- Family vacations have dipped by 28 percent
This collapse of participation can be traced to three culprits, with the acronym CSI.
- C–Car and sprawl. When automobiles became prevalent, society began to change. “They deceived us that we could live far and be close.”
- S–Screens and technology. That one needs no explanation. Smartphone screens are constantly lit up, creating isolation.
- I–(hyper) Individualism
In today’s society, Dildine said, people tend to think of themselves at the expense of community.
In 1950, psychologists asked children if they considered themselves an important person, with 12 percent saying “yes.” In 1989, the same question got an 80 percent “yes” response.
Summit was scheduled to end Friday, Oct. 14, with ACU’s Praise Day Chapel at 11 a.m. in the newly remodeled Moody Coliseum. Guests were invited to stay on campus through the weekend for homecoming activities.
Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene