I know people like to emphasize often that its “not about events and programs.” I get it. We want it to be about people, and relationship, and the Spirit. Plus, events cost money, they are hard to organize (have you ever tried to get teens to commit to something?), and they are EXHAUSTING! But sometimes, an event is exactly what your group needs.
In fact, over the last two decades of youth ministry, I have come to believe that big events are a necessary ingredient to building a healthy group. I just recently went with my youth group to our annual Winter Retreat. And it was amazing. Seriously. Now, I don’t relish being freezing cold, or watching kids drink blended Happy Meals, or sleeping in an extremely uncomfortable bunk bed. But I do it all, because it is WORTH IT. Here are some benefits, from my experience, of big events:
When David would get really down in the Psalms, you know what he would often say? He would call to his people to “remember the wonders he has done, his miracles” (Psalm 105:5). They had shared experiences of God’s power and deliverance together, and in times of trouble, calling these to memory was a great tool for inspiration and encouragement. I think it is key job of a youth worker to intentionally build/create opportunities for shared experiences in your group. These shared experiences build a great foundation for your teens, and help create a sense of community and accountability for what God has done.
This is one of my favorite by-products of big events. Your group will gel. At big events MEMORABLE THINGS always happen. Things will break, food will be bad, people will be mean, other dodgeball teams will cheat….or more seriously….a girl in your group will open up about her troubled life, a guy will be honest for the first time, a friend will get miraculously healed as the group prays, or someone gets saved! All of the sudden you start to get this “us against the world” mentality, and it is a good thing! I go even further with my group. We have a pep talk before most events, and I tell them, “When we go places, we set an example in worship and service. I’ve been telling this to our groups for years, and we take pride in it. What will you do this year?”
When you think back on your life, what do you remember about your faith journey? Often those “big moments” with God happen at events, don’t they? Don’t you think Peter would often think back on the Transfiguration? Or the feeding of the 5000? Big events often serve as maturity markers, stakes in the ground of our lives, that declare “I will follow God.” They determine a path forward, and often remind us of our true destiny when we stray. My job as a youth worker is to create opportunities for these markers, so my teens have as many as possible in their arsenal!
I know this is obvious, but great friendship is grown out of doing big events together. Five hour van rides, late night talks in cabins, experiencing the break through of God together—all of these serve to cement friendships. Often I encourage newbies to youth group or the church to come on big events, because your friendships can grow exponentially in just 3 days, as opposed to slowly one youth group per week.
Opportunity for God
Lastly, God (I believe) honors the gatherings of Christians in his name (For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20). When we take our groups to these events we are giving God the opportunity to break through in their lives. Often because of the singularity of focus, the prayer that goes into an event, the sacrifice that is made to get there, and many other factors—teens have profound God Experiences at these events. Experiences that they will remember forever. We are giving God the chance with a captive audience to work his wonders and miracles, as David said.
So if you are worn out, or beat up, and don’t want to go to an event. Reconsider! There are many benefits for the long-term health of your group, and the individuals in your group. Events, after all, are all about people! (And as a side note, you too will be touched by God, changed, encouraged, and refreshed. In fact, I often walk away from these exhausting events, remembering again why it is I love to minister to youth in the first place!)
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I agree!!! WooHoo!
Some people think that I am crazy for taking teens to PA, Winter Retreat, because of the 10+ hour drive, the financial cost, the reality of being away from my wife and son (and one on the way), spending that amount of time with teenagers, etc. As the list piles up on the front end of these events one thing remains in my spirit, soul and mind. My best encounters and memories of God moving in my life and witnessing the power of God now in the lives of teens at events makes every other reason seem insignificant.
I have also experienced the lack of growth in my teen years from disengaging from such events. Weekly youth group activities became familiar and expectancy escaped me. Now this was certainly my issue, but those events had a way of renewing my faith, showing me I was part of a greater community of faith, inspired me to become unfamilar and give my youth leader and their voice a chance to speak the truths of God into my spirit again. (You know the waht waht waht ‘charlie-brown-teacher-voice’ that our teens hear because they’ve heard us teach over and over and over again) I heard others share the same truths I had been hearing but ignoring.
Anyway, great article. And praise God… we have seen and are witnesses to the great and continued works of God that were birthed or reignited from Winter Retreat experiences.
Right on!! I have young adults that still talk about ways they were shaped by God at winter retreat 🙂
Well said Christian.