Focus on the Family announced that as part of a restructuring plan the ministry is letting go of Esther Fleece, who was a leader of the organization's millennial relations program and an assistant to the ministry's president, Jim Daly.
The announcement earlier this week came as the organization had been struggling for several years with finances during the country's downturned economy and since the departure of founder James Dobson in 2009.
"Focus on the Family has been working diligently over the last three years to reach out to millennials," said Daly in a statement regarding Fleece. "And while there is still much we want to do in this area, we have accomplished in the short run what we'd hoped to achieve. Therefore, at this point we are making a strategic turn of direction, and our approach will be of a different nature going forward."
Daly said the ministry will be drawing on Greg Smalley and other trusted colleagues and friends with expertise in the fields of family, marriage, and parenting. He added that it was after much prayer and discussion among the executive team that the decision was made to eliminate the position of assistant to the president for millennial relations at the end of the fiscal year for 2012.
"I am leaving on good terms, and am fully confident in the direction the ministry is heading," Fleece told The Christian Post in an email. "The only additional thing I would add is how strongly I respect Jim Daly and his leadership. He is a great leader in the organization, within the culture, and I feel privileged to call him a friend."
Despite a $35 million or nearly 27 percent drop in donations and income, according to tax records from 2008 to 2010, and projections by officials for a further drop in revenue, a spokesman for FotF said the move was not so much about finances.
"It is more a matter of resource allocation than anything else. We trimmed a few positions but have added a few, as well, to such efforts as our online 'listening post,' which will allow us to grow our ability to offer help to hurting families in real time through social media and Internet conversations that happen dozens of times every day," Gary Schneeberger, vice president of Communications, told CP.
Fleece began work in her position as millennial relations in 2009. Daly credited her for helping the ministry make great strides in reaching FotF's strategic goals under her leadership.
"She has helped us build solid relationships between Focus and a number of organizations that prioritize millennial outreach," Daly said. "We have had good success in connecting with this demographic and are far ahead of where we thought we'd be at this time. Esther's efforts have been key to encouraging younger Christians to take a second, comprehensive look at Focus on the Family."
He added, "Although we will no longer have a specific role designated for millennial relations, we remain committed to reaching out to this generation with information and resources to help them and their families thrive. Boundless, our ministry to those in their 20s, has been one of our fastest growing outreaches over the last few years. We reach more than 1 million people each month through this channel, which encourages young men and women to establish a strong walk with Christ that brings their faith to bear on their worldview and all their relationships from dating to marriage to the workplace."
FotF plans to continue to enhance its alliances with millennial groups and individuals that were fostered through Fleece's position, he said.
In an online letter from Fleece on her website, she wrote: "It is my desire to leave Focus on the Family well, and in good standing. Our generation has seen too much pain, too much loss, and too many scandals... I want you to know this is nothing of the sorts. Over the past three years we have remained close to the vine (Jesus) and He blessed our efforts, bearing much fruit. We have accomplished more than we could have ever dreamed of, and because of God's faithfulness, we can look towards a new season."
Clarification: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012:
The previous headline for this story on Focus on the Family stated that the ministry was curtailing its millennial outreach program. The Christian Post would like to clarify that Focus on the Family is not ending its outreach to millennials but it has eliminated the position of assistant to the president for millennial relations.