Last weekend, I designed a lock-in retreat for the 14 7th and 8th graders in my Confirmation group. They are a group of stupendously intelligent young people, each with amazing gifts for thinking, theologizing and creating things. Here are some ideas from that retreat that are worth sharing.
1. Place and Memory Scavenger Hunt: Use smartphones to your advantage.
Rather than being all adult-serious about taking the phones away from the kids, I decided to make them use their phones. I trust them to be good phone users, and they are.
Our great college intern made up a scavenger hunt for the kids where they had to photograph, video, and otherwise record ideas and actions all over the church and the nearby university campus.
To keep the scavenger hunt from being stupid and boring, we mixed in personal things with Methodist historical or biblical finds. The kids not only had to find the statue of the Methodist Bishop on the university campus, but they also had to record a video about a positive memory they had in the church growing up. (And they were all AWESOME.)
Things like this reinforce to young people that their church space is their own, not just for the adults. It reinforces that the memories they have of church as children are valuable and also religiously important. And, it lets them be creative in reporting how things matter to them. Adding in historical or biblical finds is also educational: they learn things by winning, an age old educational tool. Finally, having videos like this reminds adults that the kids’ experience of church is just as valuable as their own.
2. Create reverent conversations: let the sanctuary do the work for you.
Our church is blessed with a beautiful sanctuary space. It instills reverence all on its own. So, when we had our small group discussion meetings, we snuck up into the balcony and did our talking there.
Growing up, I would listen to my youth director go through elaborate wordy explanations about why our conversations were sacred and how we could respect each other. When I tried to do this with the kids at the beginning of confirmation, they did exactly what I did at that age: Blank. Stare. Bored. As. Crap.
So this time, I opted for another route: I let the space do that work for me. This makes two statements: a) that conversations are to be reverent, and b) that the kids belong in the sanctuary even when it’s not church time. Do not underestimate the amount of work that your sanctuary can do for you.
3. Ask them to plan their own worship.
For this retreat, I planned a couple bookends to our late-night worship service: an opening prayer, communion, and a closing prayer. During the day, I had given each small group a theme: concerns, thanksgiving, and awe. They had total freedom to plan a prayer, song, or some sort of action for that theme. They got really excited about it, and really invested in creating meaningful rituals for their peers and leaders to participate in.
For our class, each student was supposed to pick a Bible verse that would be their own for confirmation. During our service, each student recited that verse as the “reading.” It was great: dark and in a circle in an old gothic sanctuary, each student spoke part of the Bible that they held in their heart. It was simple and very powerful, and each one contributed to the moment.
4. Use this video about the Body of Christ to talk about reasons for Christian faith.
She invited a number of GLBTQ Christians in her church to explain why they were the Body of Christ, and why they were Christian. It’s a beautiful video for its purpose–ie, to remind people that homosexuality isn’t an “issue” but rather reflective of people within the Body of Christ. It is also a really powerful way to show young people why other people choose to be Christian, even though Christianity can be a struggle for them.
In the video, the speakers tell the audience why they go to church, what is valuable about Christian community to them, and the struggles they’ve been through to get there. It’s brilliantly informational for young people trying to figure out faith. Even better, the pastor is covered in tattoos, has a hippie Jesus statue in the background of the video, and is a powerful presence. The video concludes with a reading of a passage from Ephesians, so there’s even Bible Study opportunity in there. It’s a brilliant tool for any progressive church.
5. “Why do you do this?” Panel: Get input from other members of the congregation.
After this video, I invited three adults in the congregation to sit on a “panel” and discuss their own religious commitments. Each one told a little bit of their story, why they chose this particular church, and what being Christian meant to them. This was a great foil to a video from outside.
The kids got to contribute questions on note cards for the panelists. I really wanted them to hear from other people why they decide to do what they do, and what sorts of struggles they have with the church. I also like this idea because it is sneakily also teaching adults how to talk about their faith. It builds confidence with adults so that they can also start talking to other adults about faith, and then builds a stronger community of support.