Last week I was given an invitation to volunteer at one of our local high schools. I went with 5 others from our church, not knowing what I was getting myself into really. I knew it was this thing called challenge day, the school needed adult help to pull it off, and I was supposed to be there from 6:45am to 2:30pm. Beyond that, I was clueless.
It turned out to be an organization called Challenge Day coordinating a highly interactive day of vulnerability and forgiveness so students could be honest with themselves and their peers about what really is going on in their life. Filled with fun, laughter, games, and raw vulnerability, this day was a crazy soup of emotions and a roller coaster ride for students and adults alike. The day begins with students running into a room filled with adult volunteers forming a cheering tunnel and from there it rolls through a series of activities; some 2 minutes long and some 30 minutes, but it's constantly changing. Some are meant to make you laugh. Some are meant to break down perceived and even real barriers. Some are meant to move your heart and mind to a new reality. The day ended with a collaborative opportunity for students to challenge one another to live different and to stick up for one another in their halls, classes, and sports.
If you work with teens and you get wind of a challenge day experience coming to your local high school, then find a way to serve at it for at least three reasons.
- It will be a great way for you to build a relationship with your local school.
- It will be a great way for you to be a resource to a student being real about life and it will remind you of what is really going on with students.
- It will teach you some things about youth ministry you might have forgotten.
MOVEMENT MATTERS: If you want people to connect with others then you have to have space for movement in your time. Turn and say high to your neighbor won't cut it. We need movement. Movement can be for fun or for commitment. It can be students writing down a prayer need and bringing it up. It can be a "station" where they do something across the room. But there's something necessary about movement for action. I was reminded that our weekly mingle needs to move people to talk, but it also needs to move people.
TOUCH MATTERS: They hugged, danced, high-fived, bumped into and physically touched one another way more than anyone does in a normal day. I always make it a habit to touch students on the shoulder, give high fives, and thank them for coming to Encounter. But the truth is I need to be way more intentional about this. At one point I heard Doug Fields tell his leaders that every student in the room needs 6 touches. They said every student needs 12 hugs. I need to do a waaay better job of this and teaching my leaders to do this.
CULTURE MATTERS: They worked hard to create an alternate culture in the room and it worked. Every youth group has a culture. Every church. Every class. Every family. Every School. Every place has a culture. It's also not accidental. We're creating it by what we do, say, and even imply. I was reminded that I need to be very intentional about the culture I'm creating in my youth ministry. It really matters.
MUSIC MATTERS: They constantly and continually changed the feel of the room with music. Sometimes it made you dance. Others created identity and shared bonding. It made you think, distracted you, moved you, or gave you safety. Pretty much anything they did and every transition they made referenced or moved along by music. I suck at picking music and I think we are not great at using it. I need to give this to a student who loves it... someone with DJ spirit in them and an understanding of mood. Seriously, I need this person bad.
ADULT INVOLVEMENT MATTERS: In the end, this day gave students a chance to lead, but it was not possible without safe and caring adults. This day was an amazing opportunity to connect with and encourage students who were being honest about their life. On Sunday I asked a student how he was doing and in 3 sentences he shared honestly what was going on. I pulled up a chair and sat down and we talked. I missed all of our normal stuff and everything we had planned because of it and it was totally worth it. He then connected for a time with another adult leader. I need 50 more adults investing into our students like this. Sadly, for almost all of these students that were there at challenge day, the relationships they began with adults in one day ended that same day. The church can and must do better than that.
HOPE IN JESUS MATTERS: Ultimately, the day left me wishing I could help students find real hope in a community of faith and connection with God in a way they all were craving. It was like seeing hundreds of students identify a need and me banned from helping them find it. It's a deeply spiritual day without Jesus' name being mentioned. I'm confident God was working. I'm also confident students were not given an answer to put two and two together.