Bringing a youth group to convention– whether it’s a group of five or 25 youth – can sometimes feel like a daunting undertaking. Obviously we think it’s worth it. Convention is an Anabaptist faith formation experience like none other. But we also want youth leaders to feel prepared and equipped for the week.

Here are some tips from youth leaders who have been around the” convention block.” We asked them to give us one or two pieces of the best advice they could muster, and here’s what they sent:

CurtWeaverFrom Curt Weaver, Portland Mennonite Church:

One of the most daunting tasks for a youth leader is traveling with a huge group of kids and hoping everyone makes it through airports and gets safely to the hotel. Our group has started traveling in “travel teams”, where one adult travels with 3-5 kids (who they purchased tickets for) and is responsible for getting them from the starting point all the way to the hotel lobby. This makes getting taxis and moving through airports so much easier and removes the need to keep a large group together.

AsiaFryeFrom Asia Frye, First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro, Kan.:

Make sure everyone fills out the medical release and contact info form. Turn in one copy to Carol Epp, Convention Office Manager. But also keep a copy in your hotel room, file a copy with your church secretary AND take a picture of each one on your phone. If there’s an emergeny, no matter where you are you have the info at your fingertips.

Also, pick up a couple cheap headphone splitters. They’re great for flight delays so lots if people can watch a movie, or to let kids share music.

LoisMastFrom Lois Mast, Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship, Goshen, Ind.:

  1. Ear plugs are essential for us older folks. I tried this four years ago, and it made my front row seat musical experience so much more enjoyable!
  2. Talk positively about your youth group. At gatherings like this, it seems very tempting to talk with other sponsors about your youth, and this can often turn into “gripe sessions.” It is most helpful to remain positive and to name things about your group that are affirming.
  3. Make sure you have time for yourself. Build in some space for quiet and alone time. One year I remember taking advantage of the prayer room – which had a labyrinth – and it was awesome!
  4. Find some time to chat one-on-one with your youth throughout the week. This can be tough sometimes, but well worth the effort. This is one of the only ways to hear how everyone is really doing.
  5. Don’t skip small group time! Much of the process/small group time can be done as a whole youth group, but sometimes it can be difficult for youth to be honest and participate if the group is too big. It is much easier to be vulnerable in a small group. We kept our grops to 4-to-5 people each the last few years.
  6. Be vulnerable with your youth throughout the week, as much as you feel possible.
  7. Make some time to process each worship session. I often liked to affirm something that I learned or appreciated and also perhaps something that I struggled with or was challenged by.
  8. As much as possible, show your youth you trust them. If you are always setting up rules to stay ahead of all possible problems/infractions, you will be miserable and your kids might start to hate you! Instead show them your trust and they often respond well. Obviously, this is always the case and some things need to be dealt with firmly. But, in general, remember that love for your youth trumps all rules!

JonHeinlyFrom Jon Heinly, Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference Youth Minister:

Groups from the Lancaster, Pa., area may consider driving or flying. For those flying into the Kansas City airport, be aware that is a relatively small airport and is very easy to navigate. One downside is that there are very limited food options within the airport. I would not recommend planning on having a youth group eat a meal in the KC airport.

RebekkaStutzmanRebekka Stutzman, former youth pastor at Maranatha Christian Fellowship, Northridge, Calif.:

  • Plan for creative small group time, after worship sessions, etc. Don’t have it be an afterthought, but prepare for it. Small group time can be meaningful to pick up on some key things from the messages (be creative to get youth to share through games, etc.), but also bring in prayer and consider assigning prayer partners for the week.
  • Include group building exercises throughout the convention week. This is important for any group dynamics or conflict that might come up, but also just to build trust with each other and be able to share faith on a deeper level with each other.
  • Decide beforehand what to do as a group and what to do individually. It is fun to go to the recreation hall as a group, or decide to go to a workshop or two as a whole group, while also giving enough freedom to explore individual interests. Always be sure to give a chance to come back together afterwards so youth can share all together about their experiences.
  • Find another youth group beforehand and plan to get to know them at convention. This can build bridges across Mennonite Church USA, among urban and rural congregations, between people who grew up Mennonites and people who are newer to the church, etc.