Planning for Transformative Events

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How does your ministry, youth group, or congregation as a whole measure the faith formative impact of the events you plan? How do you know when learning has taken root? And how do you ensure that retreats, service trips, and other events are transformative, rather than “one-offs” that participants engage in and then quickly move on from?

Since there are so many details to attend to when planning an event, thinking about the “learning arc” often falls through the cracks. The Faith Formation Ministries team is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the role of pre- and post-event preparations in boosting the transformative power of the event itself.

Here are a few tips to consider incorporating before, during, and after an event.

Before the event

One important way to help participants get the most out of an event is to lean into the discipline of reflection. Pre-event reflection includes space for participants to articulate what they hope to learn or where they hope to be stretched through the event. It is also a space where they can express concerns, curiosity, or aspirations for the event or trip. Articulating these things can help prepare learners for deeper engagement and can head off unrealistic expectations.

During the event

During the event, reflection often includes group debriefs of what was experienced throughout the event. It can also include opportunity for personal, introspective reflection with the help of prompts like these:

  • Describe where God surprised you today.
  • Where were you energized by our experience together. . . and where did you feel stretched?  
  • What learning do you want to remember far beyond this activity?  

Using prompts like these can help participants move beyond the play-by-play of activities into the impact of those activities. And it helps them develop powerful faith stories to tell when they return home.

After the event

Post-event reflection is important, especially after the participants have had time to process the event within their home context. Helping participants apply what they learned outside of their context to their current situation enables them to transfer what they learned to the reality of their everyday lives. It keeps them from being “experience junkies” moving from mountaintop to mountaintop, by encouraging them to connect their new experience with the rest of their life.

One youth director, Aviva Wielenga from Georgetown CRC outside of Toronto, used the Building Blocks of Faith as a lens to help her students reflect on their participation as worship leaders for a Youth Unlimited Spring Break SERVE experience. She helped students see beyond the tasks that they had participated in as worship leaders for that week by drilling down to how that week of tasks supported their overall growth as Christ followers in service together. Here is a link to the reflections. With these reflections, Aviva can now help students think about their ongoing ministry within the congregation.

What reflection tools or prompts do you regularly use as you plan events in your ministry?

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