Renee Reimer is the director of Youth and Outreach Ministries at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas and a connect student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She loves the mountains, creating music, cooking delicious food, and intergenerational communities (and loves it even more when they all are happening at the same time).
1. Know where the nearest coffee shop is
I slept an average of four hours a night at convention in Kansas City. I do not recommend it. I survived it by drinking coffee, lots and lots of coffee. Know where you can get your caffeine at all times. Also sleep more, but convention is full of so much information, networking and fun, you might be like me and only get four hours a night and then promptly go to bed at 7:30 p.m. when you finally get home from convention.
2. Digitalize medical forms
This one is where you plan for the worst hoping that is doesn’t happen, but if it does you are prepared. At the start of each school year I have youth and parents fill out medical release forms. Each trip we take I bring multiple paper copies (one each for the van, hotel room and my backpack). I also scan the copies so I can access them on my phone if need be. From personal experience I can attest that there will be that one time when you will not have the paper copy on you, and someone will get hurt by falling down the stairs. Like I did. In Europe. And the leader of our group (and myself) did not have my medical or insurance information, and it became really difficult to treat or pay the doctors. We all carry cellphones, and smart phones are becoming more and more common, giving you access to google drive. Scan the forms, save them to a private google drive form, and in case of an emergency (that will not happen!) you will have quick access to the emergency information that you will need.
Delegate responsibilities among the other adults with you (and the other adults at convention). Share midnight room checks with the other sponsors so you are not always the one staying up until 1:00 a.m. Schedule a wake-up call with the front desk if you have youth who have trouble waking up in the morning. Keep an eye on things, but as the youth (pastor, director or leader) you do not have to be in charge of everything. Let me say that again. You do not have to be in charge of everything. The convention staff has people walking around late at night making sure youth are not running around throwing things off of balconies or riding the elevators up and down all night long. Share the responsibility. You do not have to be in charge of everything (that last one was for me to remember)!
4. Exchange cell phone numbers
Start a group text with the sponsors and youth at convention so that you can check in with everyone and they can check in with you. It is also a great way to share favorite quotes from the day with everyone! I am not sure how this will work with youth groups of 30 or more but it worked great for our group of 15. But do have everyone’s cell phone number in your phone, even if you are a larger youth group. This includes parents that are at home so you can easily get a hold of them if need be. You will not want to be trying to access the church website looking for the church directory and forgetting if the password is 118 or 606 in the event of an emergency. Have youth, sponsors’ and parents’ phone numbers already programed into your phone before you leave for convention.
5. Find a designated meeting space on day one
This is something that our group struggled with last year. Our meeting spot kept changing and we never knew where to meet each other for worship or meal times. Find a spot together as a group on day one and stick with it. I also found that it was best to have that spot away from the worship entrance because there is tons of traffic before and after worship. Technically there is traffic everywhere at convention, but this is one spot in particular that I do not recommend as a regular meeting place.
6. Use the small group time
Again, this is something that I felt always fell through the cracks for our group at convention in Kansas City. Everyone in our group was always anxious to get onto the next activity whether that be lunch, finding their Hesston College scripture mate, playing volleyball or taking a much needed nap. This time is designed for groups to talk about what they just heard in worship or what they are hearing/feeling throughout the week. I highly recommend using it, even if it means moving it to a different time during the day and getting creative at when that small group time will be. Maybe you all have breakfast together or maybe this time happens before evening worship. Find a time that works best for your group and then stick with it the entire week. When we did actually sit down and talk about our experiences, the youth from our group shared some very personal faith stories with each other. This is so important.
7. Have youth sign a contract
At the last convention 18 youth from our congregation went to convention and all 18 of these youth had to sign a contract (with their parents) about expectations while at convention. This was a way to provide the best experience to all attending conventions (youth and sponsors). The group will be living together in community for a week, and life will be different than it may be in each individual home. At the final convention meeting have youth and parents sign a contract that discusses (cell phone use, curfew, responsibilities, use of illegal substances, etc.). This contract puts everything on the table so youth, parents, and sponsors leave for the trip on the same page. I also highly recommend involving youth when writing the contract because they will be more invested in the whole week if they feel like their opinions are regarded with respect.
8. Connect with each youth
Weekend and weeklong trips are the times that I have found to be the biggest relationship builder among the youth and myself. Everyone is together all the time and we are going through these new and thought-provoking experiences together. Use this designated time to connect with each other on a deeper level, get to know each other outside of the church building and enjoy these new experiences together.
Trust your instincts, trust your sponsors and trust your youth. Everyone is at convention for a reason and everyone is capable of good things. At this point (being at convention) you have done all the planning, organizing and preparing, and now is the time to just be. Trust that the youth will show up at your meeting place. Trust that your fellow sponsors will check up on youth. And trust yourself that you have all the information you need to make this a successful trip for all. By extending trust to others you will feel more relaxed and your group will feel like they have more respect from you, their leader, therefore extending you more respect.
Calm down and relax! Everything will be okay even if it doesn’t all go according to plan. I think this one goes with all of the above. Trust those in your group, delegate your responsibilities, relax so you can sleep at night (or at least drink plenty of coffee), and focus on building relationships with those around you. Chillax because you are allowed to have a good time too. The Oxford dictionary provides an example that one can “dance to your favorite tune” as a way to chillax, so if you need to dance around during worship at convention, then so be it!