If you were to ask a group of Christians in their twenties whether they had been on a youth residential as a teenager and if it had had an impact on their relationship with God, I’m pretty sure you’d be met with a resounding, ‘Yes!’
From my own experience of growing up going on trips with my youth group, the crazy games, community, times of challenge and moments of grappling with my own faith, it all had a huge impact. It’s for this reason I believe youth residential trips are, and will remain, crucial experiences for any young person in their walk with God.
So how can we as youth leaders make the most of them?
Leaving the comfort zone
One of the best things about taking young people away is that they’re taken out of their comfort zone. This is why it’s so important to get away from familiar territory. It immediately breaks down barriers and those difficult attitudes that can be rooted in familiarity and a sense of ownership. Something special happens with young people when they’re thrown into a fresh environment: their vulnerability leads to openness, providing great opportunities to share the gospel and have real, challenging conversations about faith.
Community of trust
Going away with your young people creates memories. You’ll have shared experiences with moments you’ll both remember forever. In Acts, the strength of the early church was in simply ‘doing life’ together – whenever I’m on a residential it always amazes me to see the young people bonding and getting to know each other better through simply living in proximity to one another. Shared experiences lead to stronger relationships – young people will build their trust in one another and also their trust in you. What a gift for relational youth work!
Don’t shy away from the gospel
When you’re away with young people, it’s the perfect place to share the gospel. In fact, my best advice would be to make everything you do centred around gospel truth – you’ll be surprised what happens when you create opportunities to respond to the gospel afresh. The best thing is that the gospel has power – it doesn’t depend on you. You just need the courage to make time and space for your young people to step into freedom. If you’re willing to trust God with it, I can guarantee you’ll see lives transformed by the power of the love of Jesus Christ. Be intentional.
Get the experts in
If the thought of sharing the gospel and asking for a response freaks you out and sits way outside your skill set, why not get an expert in? Organisations like The Message Trust offer experienced gospel communicators who would love nothing more than to come and speak at your residential. It’s not like the words they say will be magic or any different to what you might regularly share anyway, but often hearing a different voice can make all the difference!
Prayer is the key
As youth leaders, our ultimate desire is to see the young people we work with make a decision to follow Jesus with their whole lives, choosing to live out their faith passionately. It’s inexpressibly vital that our work starts and ends with prayer. We desperately need to be praying for our young people, so the backbone of any residential must be the word and prayer. Why not ask a bunch of people back at home to pray for you all while you’re away? We shouldn’t be surprised to meet with some opposition when we press into the gospel, but remember that through prayer, we’re covered. The battle is already won.
So, don’t be afraid. Trust that God will do incredible things as your young people step out of their comfort zone. Why don’t you do the same thing?
Sarah leads the Message Academy course for The Message Trust – a leading gap year and training programme that incorporates the creative arts with cutting-edge mission and evangelism. Find out more here.