Harnessing Events for Lasting Impact
For whatever reason, it seems that this time of year has become synonymous with a few things: winter weather, broken resolutions, and major youth events. I don’t know much about meteorology and I certainly don’t have any pointers to help you keep resolutions, as mine were broken by January 5th. However, as one who has been involved in youth events for 25 years, both as a youth worker and now as a planner of such events, I have discovered a few pointers to think about that might make the impact of a quality youth event last longer than your new year’s resolution.
Before diving in, I want to be clear about a couple of things. First of all, I love youth events. Whether it is a youth event in a concert-type venue with a few thousand people or a more intimate setting with a couple hundred, the opportunity to pull young people out of their everyday routine and offer them space to focus more intently on their relationship with Christ can be a landmark experience in their faith development.
Secondly, I also believe wholeheartedly that real, lasting ministry with youth is more likely to happen away from the actual “event” as youth have a chance to process or talk through what was experienced at the event with a caring adult. Because of these two factors, I am convinced and have witnessed firsthand that what happens after the event is critically important to lasting impact occurring rather than just having another mountain top experience that stays on top of the mountain. So here are a few ways you help the impact last after your next youth event.
1. Debrief it
Arriving home is not easy. If you are like most youth workers, when you arrive home after an event there is not enough caffeine in the world that can keep you awake. You have invested countless hours preparing last minute details before the event and then keeping crazy night owl hours to insure the Jr. High boys don’t break out of their room to blare an air horn at 3 am. So the last thing on your mind when you arrive is talking about the impact of the event with your teens.
I would never suggest you have that conversation at that point.Rather, before you leave for the event, consider scheduling a follow-up meeting with the group of attendees sometime during the week after the event to offer a chance for them to share the impact the event had on their spiritual journey. It doesn’t need to be a long, formal gathering, just a chance for them to process together how God impacted their lives through the event. Here are a couple of good follow up questions that you might ask:
- What id one truth that you realized from this event that had an impact on your walk with Christ?
- How will your day to day routine change because of that truth? Or, has it already changed?
- What can we do as youth leaders and peers to encourage you to grow in that truth in the coming weeks?
2. Share It
Another way to help the impact of a youth event stick is to create opportunities for youth to share the impact of the event with others. Again, if nothing else, sharing the impact of the event requires that the young person not only process how God impacted their life through the event, but also think through how to articulate that to others. Simply being able to put it into words, makes it more likely that the life change lasts beyond the end of the trip.
Sharing the trip can be done in several ways, each with more or less courage required. You might try:
- At the next gathering of youth you ask each person that went to share with a small group of peers the impact that the event had on their spiritual walk. That offers a low risk opportunity to share about the trip.
- Ask the youth to share with the entire youth group about the experience. That increases the risk a bit but spreads the all the stories further.
- Sharing the experience with the entire congregation is an option as well, but might take even more courage from the students.
Regardless of how or where sharing the impact of a youth event takes place, creating opportunities for youth to share the impact with others is another effective means of insuring that the impact sticks. Plus, it becomes a great way of recruiting youth to be a part of the next event or (if shared with the congregation) connecting with adults who might be intrigued to serve a volunteers in the future. When shared the impact has the potential to spread to others and not just kept to those who experienced the event itself.
If you have just come off a weekend event or retreat (or can see one on the horizon), I encourage you to try to extend the impact of the group through these two avenues. You might be surprised at how far the impact reaches. It could lead to God doing great new things within your youth ministry. Regardless, I pray that God does amazing things as you impact the lives of your young people through events.