On a youth mission trip several years ago, our group experienced the ultimate “fun” youth group. We visited a converted warehouse worship service complete with sports, video games, laser lights, bounce houses, rock climbing wall… you name it they had it. After a brief time with the activities it was time for the worship service complete with laser lights, loud guitars, jumbo trons and fog machines. Talk about fun! How could my youth not love this? I worried that they wouldn’t want to come home to our cozy, traditional church. At that evening’s debriefing my youth told me they disliked it. A lot. It was “too loud, too crowded, too chaotic.” And, one student said it seemed like a bribe.
This last summer we stayed home for mission week. An intergenerational group painted, cleaned, landscaped and worked. Hard. In the afternoon, we regrouped back at church for “popsicles and prayer.” Did we accomplish a lot? Yes. Did we build relationships? Yes. Did we laugh? Absolutely. But was it fun? Hmmm.
I’ve come up with a better word: Joyful. The week was joyful. Seeing people of all ages working together, building relationships and friendships. The feelings of accomplishment after a hard day’s work well done. Laughing over the corny jokes on the popsicle sticks. Getting notes of encouragement from teammates. A pickup game of hide and seek with other youth we met. The experiences were more than a brief bit of fun. More than preplanned entertainment. They were joyful moments. Lasting moments that positively impact the way we interact with each other each Sunday, even 6 months later.
I love this description of joy from the Spirituality and Practice website: “Joy is an essential spiritual practice growing out of faith, grace, gratitude, hope, and love. It is the pure and simple delight in being alive. Joy is our elated response to feelings of happiness, experiences of pleasure, and awareness of abundance. It is also the deep satisfaction we know when we are able to serve others and be glad for their good fortune.”
While I certainly am not against fun, our programs should be more. They should nurture joy. I am still pondering the ways in which we do this in both our children’s and youth programs, but here is a beginning list of qualities that seem to foster joy in our classes, prayer, fellowship and service together:
- Creativity – Most of us need more time to interactively respond to God’s word and presence through music, art, crafts, etc. In our faith formation programs we encourage open ended projects using different materials.
- Calm- while we certainly have our share of noisy activities, I also intentionally create times for peace and reflection – times for noticing the feelings of satisfaction and happiness that foster joy. In our classes, I point out that reading or visiting one of our prayer stations is always an option.
- Community- being known and cared for is a basic human desire which is why we include people of all ages in as many activities as we can.
This is just a start. What would you add?