By Center for Youth Ministry Training 5/28/19
How do you prepare for your summer ministry trip? What will youth remember from summer experiences? Will they remember the messy games, staying up all night with friends, the closeness of a group of believers, an encounter with the living God? This summer youth ministries will set off on all kinds of pilgrimages from trips to Six Flags to building homes in Mexico. Youth ministers will work to create opportunities for their youth groups to grow in fellowship, to serve others, and to learn more about God. But what will they remember three months later, three years later, or when they are 30 about these experiences we work so hard to create?
What can we do to help their experiences stick with them? Eliminate the variables of what you do on each trip, where you go, etc. And eliminate the things you can’t control like what’s already going on in their lives and the Holy Spirit. Here are four things you can do:
1. Create Space to Stop and See
One of our jobs as youth ministers is to create intentional space for the Holy Spirit to work. Only the Holy Spirit can do the work, but the Spirit needs space to work. Our job is to make sure that we don’t over-program our trips, retreats, and projects so much that our students cannot see, feel, and hear the Spirit’s promoting. Our job is to help our students STOP and see what God is doing.
2. Create Connections to Others and God
There are two types of important connections that will make a lasting memory out of an experience. The first is connecting to others. Our shared journeys and experiences form us. This is true with the people we serve, the other people at the camp, and those with whom we came. Strong communities make for lasting impressions.
The second is connecting the experiences to God. Whether you use the roller coaster you ride as an metaphor for the twists and turns of life or point out the faith and hope of the homeless, pointing out God’s presence and work in your groups experiences will make them holy.
3. Create Opportunities for Reflection
Youth need time to process and digest what they are learning. Powerful experiences need debriefing and reflection for young people to allow those experiences to sink into their reality. Sometimes this reflection needs to happen immediately after the experience. Other times, you can build it into the end of your day routine and worship.
Journaling is a great way for youth to anchor their experiences. Providing opportunities and guiding questions for daily journaling and reflection will help these experiences and their learning stick.
4. Create Ebenezers to Remind Them of their Encounters with God
Folks built ebenezers to remind them of their encounters with God. I’m not suggesting that you pile up some rocks to remind your youth of an experience (although I do think it can be powerful); instead I’m talking about giving them something that reminds them of their encounter that they can take with them.
In my office I have:
-A light bulb given to me on a mission trip
-A bowling pin from a different mission project
-Three rocks, including one large one signed by all those who went on the trip where I heard my call to ministry
-A couple of crosses
All ebenezers from experiences of my life that remind me of an encounter with the living God or something significant!
On your trips take the time to make sure that they have the space to encounter God, process what it all means, and give them tools to remember it.