Youth ministry conventions are an incredible experience, as most people who have attended one will share with you. In some senses, they are like summer camp for youth workers – a place to get out of the normal routines of life and ministry, meet with God, be ministered to, be challenged a bit by voices we may not have heard before (or from whom think we can’t learn anything), and even have some fun as we gather with our peers.
A concern I’ve repeatedly heard from youth workers is “It’s expensive, and I need to convince my [SP/Elders/Leadership] that it’s worth the time and money.” Here are a few points to consider when compiling your case:
We need to know we’re not alone. Youth workers do a lot of what we do in small groups or on our own. There may or may not be many youth workers in our community. We may be the only youth worker on staff, or a volunteer giving sacrificially of our time beyond the work week. There are very few places for us to connect both vocationally and socially. Yes, there are local youth worker networks and, occasionally, local, regional or national denominational support networks; these are important, but they aren’t the same. When a youth worker, volunteer or paid, attends a national youth ministry convention he or she gets to see the vast number of dedicated folks keyed into the same goal. It’s a great energy and momentum boost.
There is no place else to get the same kind of customizable training designed specifically for youth workers. Nowhere else can you choose seminars that fit where your specific needs lie. Need a personal retreat? There’s space for that. Need help with methods and ideas for reaching this generation of young people? There are choices for that. Want to explore or wrestle through issues and topics? There are always opportunities for that. Need to connect with someone with whom you can confidentially talk through your own situation, get some coaching or spiritual direction? There are people dedicated to you. Need to just r-e-s-t? You can do that, too. A youth ministry convention is there for you to make it exactly what you need it to be – it’s up to you to choose what that need is for you and choose among the myriad offerings to make your perfect meal. Yes, you can overdo it. Choose not to exhaust yourself, major in the major need, grab notes or recordings for one or two others.
When a ministry makes space in a youth worker’s schedule for a youth ministry convention they are giving tangible, practical recognition of the value of ministry to students in their community. Yes, it is a financial investment and financial times at churches are often challenging. However, it is one way to give a youth worker some encouraging and equipping in an environment designed expressly for that purpose. While a youth ministry convention is absolutely entertaining and fun, it is also practical, challenging and encouraging.
Attending a youth ministry convention may actually increase your effectiveness and longevity in ministry. I sorely wish I had research to back up this assertion! In my vocational life, connecting with other youth workers at convention events has been a literal God-send. It’s given many youth workers I know a forum to speak their heart, their concerns, their questions about pressing on through the stuff that drains us with people who have been there, and get it in a way most other pastors don’t. I’ve seen it be a burn out preventer, a call clarifier, a ministry life saver. I do know that, in my own personal experience, I went to my first convention after a number of years as a volunteer youth worker because the church at which I served gave me the opportunity. Before that convention I felt isolated and discouraged; I came away from it energized, encouraged and feeling as though I could continue. That was more than 15 years ago.
I haven’t always attended a youth workers convention annually. There have been times where that decision was determined by reasons like finances, family needs, or ministry requirements. Realistically, you may not be able to go every year either, but planning one of these conventions into your budget, making the case to your leadership, and planning it into your ministry time (no it’s NOT a vacation), is an investment guaranteed to bring a positive return.
*disclosure: I have done contract and volunteer work for both companies that present major youth ministry conventions annually. Neither Youth Specialties nor Simply Youth Ministry/Group have contributed to, nor have they remunerated me for, this post.