Church Experiments: The Awakening Part 2

alarm clock…this is part two in a series.  Click here for part 1.

Staff Awakening

December, 2008. There were seven adults and six children involved.  All seven committed to the practices in Part 1 and the kids participated in limited ways.  Each person also gave up something they enjoy for the entire 29 days.

During this time we became like a family. Particularly important were the daily phone calls and the shared meals. Conflicts arose after a couple of weeks between people who had never been in conflict before. This was good. In every case it led to deeper relationship. Almost every member of the group commented on personal problems they usually had that were not present during the Awakening. The experience was a mountaintop and spiritual high point.

At the end most of the group was excited to continue in some way. We decided to have meals together once a month and to call each other occasionally. We all agreed to this, but it never happened. Our relationships went back from being like family to friends and co-workers. Once the required discipline and commitment was taken away, all the shared practices and the community that was formed by them evaporated.

Youth Awakening

February, 2009. Seven youth and five leaders committed to do the awakening.

As with the staff the experience created a sense of unity, purpose and seeking after God together. It took longer for this to happen, but by the third week and especially after the retreat everyone in the group felt a real sense of belonging.

This Awakening was much more work for the leaders than the first had been. By the end almost everyone was excited and positive about the experience, including parents. However, before it began there was resistance both from parents and youth over the idea. This was overcome through prayer, listening and explanation.

During the awakening there were amazing changes in many of the youth. Some who had discipline problems and trouble paying attention became helpful and engaged. Some who were shy became excited and involved. Some who prayed only when I made them began to pray on their own. Some read more Bible than required. The three who were baptized were very excited.

Overall, it was a difficult but hugely rewarding experience. I felt as if I had entered the battle instead of sitting on the sidelines. The fight was hard, but things happened. The changes that occurred in this one month were greater than the changes I had seen in three years prior.

Final Thoughts

Our hope was that the Awakening would create a core membership of the youth group that would be united, seek God together and that this core would then draw in others. Over time it succeeded. This group became the core around which a whole new youth group was formed. The new group is larger and much more focused on Christ. Amazingly, Jesus’ strategy of starting with a deep, committed core of people actually works.

However, the Awakening did not work for everyone. Some people who were very committed during the experience could not maintain their commitment to Christ without that community and slowly drifted away.

Devices Might Help Your Youth Retreat?

Every November (or sometimes early December) we take our youth group on a Fall Retreat.  There is a family connected to our church that loans us their house about two hours out of town.  It is a great change from the city, super cheap and perfect for the youth.  There are about 20 who go.  We go on the same hike each year and have teaching, worship and lots of free time.  Part of the idea is to just let them be together and see what happens.  Whatever ideas they come up with I try to say yes if possible.

In the past I have always banned devices.  I thought it would take away from these guys interacting with each other.  I was wrong.

This year I allowed devices, mostly because I finally bought a smart phone and didn’t want to be hassled every time I pulled it out.  I thought I would have to keep the youth from playing games by themselves.  I was completely wrong.  I had underestimated their ability to interact with each other around their devices.  They played games together.  They played all their favorite music and didn’t once try an inappropriate song.  They read their bibles on devices and were more excited about it.  They came up with themes for the weekend.  They made videos and came up with video based activities.

In addition to all this they interacted with youth who weren’t even there almost as if they were.  At one point a txt conversation started with one of the youth who wasn’t there.  They passed around the phone and let everyone in the house ‘talk’ for a few minutes.

The end result of this was the most energy we have ever had on this retreat.  The energy also lasted longer afterward because of the social media afterglow.

I still think that there need to be times when youth take an intentional break from media and all devices, but I was wrong to think God can’t do his work through them.