I should say something about our synod youth event adventure. We ended up leaving on schedule, despite a couple junior high girls who seemed to try their best to prevent us from doing so. We waited as long as we could and just as I was getting ready to leave them behind, there they were on the bus.
We made it up to the city without hitting much traffic, and got to our parking spot at the convention center with no problems. We were one of the first groups there, and it was pretty easy to register and find our seats. Now, looking at the map of the facility, and seeing that our seats were in the bleachers, did not give me an accurate picture of how far away we'd actually be. Thankfully, we were much closer. The people on the stage were actually several inches tall rather than only one.
The speakers were good, of course I am biased, as one is a good friend. He did a good job preaching the Gospel, if I may say so. My kids wanted his autograph. The other speaker was from Malawi and is doing great work providing clean water for the people over there. However, with his accent it was a bit hard to understand what he was saying. They showed a video of him first, and it was with English subtitles and that was easy to follow along with. But then when he came on stage and began to talk, I found myself getting lost and not being able to understand everything he was saying. Then, at the end of his talk, he opened it up for questions. In an auditorium with 500 or so kids in it. Probably not the greatest idea, but I'm not sure if he was used to speaking to such a large group of people.
The musician was fairly good. I've heard good things about her, and so I wanted to like her more than I did. She seemed very folksy and artsy, and shared some of her own original music about water and the need for clean water. I like folk music, so I'm not saying this because I didn't like her style of music. I just think if you are with a large auditorium of junior high aged kids, the best way to keep them paying attention and engaged is to sing songs that they can sing along with, either songs they already know or songs that are easy to learn and catchy. Her songs were good, and they had a good message, but a few bars in and my kids were fidgeting and whispering.
They had a group of youth dancers that performed a couple of times, too. They did this last year and my kids loved it. They were instantly engaged. Last year the music was a little faster and heavier and the dance moves were more hip hop. This year, the music was slow and the dancing was slower and more interpretive. Once again, it was hard for my kids to stay engaged with what was happening.
In conversation with a friend, we agreed that we weren't very keen about the presentation of the theology of the event, either. The theme was about water, and right from the beginning they started listing statistics and facts about water and bottled water and how that affects our environment and wildlife. They also talked about providing clean water for people in other countries. It was water, water, water,Jesus. It should have been Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, water. We conserve our resources and we share out of our abundance and we help others receive the blessings of clean water because of Jesus and what he has done for us. We help quench others' physical thirst because Jesus has quenched our spiritual thirst. But it seemed like the event was more focused on recycling and using reusable bottles, which is important - don't get me wrong - but it should have just been secondary to the Gospel message, not primary.
Now, I don't like to be someone who just states the negatives about something and doesn't do anything to make the event better. In fact, a year or so ago, I was supposed to be a part of the team that helped plan this event because I had spoken up about my concerns. However, the group kept planning meetings for days and times that were not convenient for me, and they also planned them at places where it would take nearly two hours out of my day just for driving time. I don't say that as a strike against them, just as a reality of my current situation.
So, I was thinking of how I would do the event differently. I think I would keep the dancers, just speed up the tempo a bit. I'd have musicians, just switch up the music a tad. Make it a little quicker, a little more upbeat, a little more catchy and singable. I'd switch up the speakers, a bit. Instead of two blocks of two speakers, maybe have each speaker split their speech into two parts, interspersing a song or a video or something in between. And maybe hear from someone who is closer to the age of the youth. Don't get me wrong, adults are smart and important, and it's good for the kids to hear the Gospel message shared well from an adult (especially my friend), but I have noticed that if the person who is talking is younger and closer in age and experience to the kids, they tend to listen more.
One of the words in the title of the event is "celebration." I think, then, that I'd focus more on celebrating. Have a good time. Play some loud music. Get the kids dancing and singing. Have fun. Make them laugh. Share the Gospel in an engaging and age appropriate way. Make the Gospel message the focus. Build off of that.
That's what I'd do, anyway.