Friday, October 21, 2005

Emerging Generations: IV

Just a few thoughts on youth retreats, youth conferences, their differences and opportunities, and how to approach them.

In a perfect world, it would be great to have one retreat and one youth conference per school year. In this perfect world, the retreat would be in the early fall, just after that school year began, and the conference would be in the spring -- April or May, perhaps.

A youth retreat is (should) be a gathering for just your group. A retreat is a time away from the regular grind, to focus on God. As a youth group, this is the time of year you want to be focussing on building community. If your church follows a typical model, you'll have just inherited a new group of Grade Nine's who need to be integrated, and the new about-to-grad seniors will get an opportunity to die to last year's cliques and include the new students as well. A retreat is a great venue for community building, early in the new school year.

So, keep the retreat as "organic" as possible; don't bring in guest speakers. Make it an in-house time, of sharing together as a group. Focus everything you do on this retreat on building relationships and having a growing expectation of seeing what God will do in and through the group. Remind each other of God's previous workings with the group.

A youth conference, on the other hand, is made up of many churches, and of course will have guest speakers and worship leaders (bands). The setting is vibrant due to the sheer numbers of attenders. The conference, again due to the larger numbers, will be less personal and more programmed, but that's neither good nor bad. To quote Brother Maynard, "it is what it is".

This venue is an excellent opportunity for your now-in-community group to spend a weekend away where all the hard work is being done by other people, and all of you -- youth and leaders alike -- are in exactly the same place: receiving, interacting, and being touched by God. It's a great opportunity for the leaders to again model by their example of openness and responding, and to share in the new things that God is doing via the teaching and worship.

These conferences can act as "stones of remembrance", such as when the Israelites of old would build stone altars to remind themselves of "God did this". Youth conferences can be present-day stones of remembrance, times that the group can talk about (perhaps at the next fall retreat?) where they were significantly impacted or challenged.

And, as another community-building experience, there's nothing quite as good for building relationships as the time-honoured "ROAD TRIP". Discourage the use of iPods; play a rotating selections of CD's during the trip (or hook somebody's iPod into the vehicle's system), but keep interaction a priority. iPods are best reserved for the trip home, when everyone is tired and the driver just wants to concentrate on driving.

If we view retreats and conferences this way, I would submit that we'll be more proactively in tune with the opportunities provided by both venues to model and join in ministry to, with, and from youth.

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