Asia Frye is a Master of Divinity Connect student through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and the former youth pastor of First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro, Kansas, where she lives with her husband and daughters. She serves on the worship planning team for KC2015.
I have learned a few things from taking youth to the last three conventions. Inevitably, someone will get locked out of their hotel room. And eventually, bathroom habits will become common knowledge. These are some of my best tips and tricks for youth pastors or sponsors to help themselves and their youth get the most from the experience.
Get a Sister Group: One of the most rewarding things we have ever done was to get a sister youth group. (This is particularly good for small, rural or isolated groups.) We contacted another group before convention and scheduled a meal with them. From there, relationship growth was organic. We sat together at worship and joined up at the waterpark. Because our sister group was from a church about two hours away from home, some of our youth knew each other from camp, and we were able to continue our relationship after convention with other trips and service projects. However, it could also be rewarding to find a group from across the country with whom to connect.
Plug-in and Unplug. Convention offers so many cool things that are hard to get elsewhere. Plug-in and take advantage! The more you put in, the more you will get out. While my youth have kept their phones so I can keep track of them, we practiced that we need to be fully present with the people that we are with and the experiences that we are having. Train them by pouring yourself into convention activities, and they will come along. But also, unplug. Some of the best moments of convention are the unscripted times with your youth. One year, my youth were exhausted and wanted to skip the fireworks and parade, so we went back to the hotel early. The relationship connections we made that evening while decompressing were precious. In Columbus, we randomly took a Segway tour of downtown. In Pittsburg, my youth talked to a native and found out about a special spot on the Allegheny. We rented some kayaks and rowed off.
Plan one special activity outside convention just for them. Take an evening to explore Kansas City. Catch a museum. Once we had dinner on a river boat; once we took a Segway tour of the desert. How many chances do you have to do something they will never forget?
Reflect and Process: Because your youth will be learning and experiencing so many things at convention they will have a lot to think about. Set aside small group time during the day and evening to help them process. Connect the worship service themes with those from earlier in the week. Have them share what they learned in seminars. Explain anything they did not understand. Help them draw connections among everything that is happening at convention. Then draw connections that point back to their life at home.
Be a Servant: As adults, we get a lot out of convention, but we must remember why we are there. Love those youth as hard as you can. (But sleep a little if you get a chance.)