Maximize Mickey: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Summer Trip to Your Local Theme Park
By: Walter Surdacki
How many smells can you identify in your church’s van or bus? Sniff around long enough and you’ll catch a whiff of sunscreen-covered popcorn—likely leftover from last year’s trip to a theme park. For three-quarters of all youth ministries, a trip to a local amusement park is a summer necessity. Often these excursions are just an excuse for summer fun. But I think we’re missing a great opportunity to transform the “quantity time” we get with our kids at a theme park into “quality time” for ministry. How do you squeeze the most out of your trip to the land of screams and dreams? Here’s what we do…
1. Plan free time and together time. Tell your teenagers that for the first part of your day they’ll be free to explore their favorite rides in groups of at least two or three. Let them know when and where you’ll meet as a group for an early lunch. After lunch tell kids that the first part of the afternoon will be “group time”—you’ll all go on certain rides together. This gives them time to ride their favorites or try new rides that won’t be on the afternoon schedule. Our afternoon “together” rides usually include the bumper cars, a favorite roller coaster, and a water ride.
Maximize the time you spend in line with students by building friendships and connecting them with one another. In the afternoon, kids who don’t want to ride a certain ride still must wait in line with your group. This keeps them from missing out on the relationship-building time. Tell your adult and student leaders to spread out through the line to connect with students they don’t know well and any guests who tagged along for the day.
After your together time, give kids another couple of hours to go wherever they want to go. I’ve found that my students will usually head off in larger, more diverse clumps rather than their morning pairs because of the group time they’ve spent together.
2. Communicate meeting points clearly. The hardest challenge I face on our theme-park trips is making sure the whole group re-collects at the right time and place. We pass out cards with our adult leaders’ cell-phone numbers on them just in case something happens to either a young person or an adult. Also, we let kids know that if they show up more than 30 minutes late to our designated meeting place, we may call their parents to pick them up. Obviously, that’s not an easy decision to make, but it does set a high-profile precedent. Once you’ve done it the first time, you won’t have to do it again.
3. Eat together. Ask everyone who signs up for the trip to pack a lunch to save money. Amusement park food can be pricey, and brown-bagging one meal can save your kids a lot. Sack lunches also save all the time your kids would be waiting in line to get food—instead, you can all sit down together and spend that time debriefing the morning’s adventures as a group. If you have a larger group, many amusement parks have picnic areas you can reserve ahead of time so you can keep your whole group together. Tell kids who forgot to pack a lunch to buy their food and bring it to your picnic area.
4. Spend the nighttime together. Amusement parks really get exciting after the sun goes down. There’s a certain magic in the air when the rides are lit up and flashing. This is a great time to bring your group together to finish out the day riding a few more rides together. You’ll have some kids complaining that they don’t like being all together since it’s less efficient and takes longer to
get from place to place. But reiterate to them what the trip is really all about- spending time together as a group.
Night is also a great time to ride the scariest roller coaster in the park-they just seem faster in the dark. When you end the day together, you also reduce your stress level when it’s time to go home since you won’t have to wait for kids to gather back together.
5. Treat middle schoolers and high schoolers differently. If your group is large, consider setting different goals and meet-up times for your middle schoolers and senior highers. Your younger kids will want to go earlier in the day, ride more rides, and go home earlier. The older teenagers may want to go later in the day, catch musical performances at the park, hang out together more, and go home at closing time.
After a few trips to the theme park, you’ll find that your youth group adjusts quickly to your expectations and goals for the day together. I’ve seen our amusement-park excursions lead to much deeper friendships because they serve as building-block memory-makers.
Let’s have the youth pastor for dinner…LITERALLY By: Dave Boyd
At first I thought the phone call was just another invitation to a summer barbeque. I later discovered that the people on the guest list had one thing in common—concerns with my youth ministry. I wondered whether the menu would include grilled chicken or grilled youth pastor.
What made everything worse is that the day before the big event my wife discovered she had a conflict and couldn’t protect…I mean, go with me. I didn’t know these families well, but I’d heard about their frustrations. So I prepared myself for the worst, expecting to defend myself against criticism from parents who just don’t understand youth ministry.
The evening came and we gathered outside, talking while the chicken on the grill finished cooking. I spent my time connecting with parents and their kids. The teenagers were told to eat downstairs. I chose a seat in the corner and sat down. The room filled with people, and although the veneer was friendly, the tension inside the room was palpable. Right about then 1 glanced up and saw an overhanging light positioned right above my head. That conjured in my mind a brutal police interrogation, but it was too late to move my seat at that point. And so the battle begins, I thought to myself.
For several hours, I responded to concerns about kids’ immodest dress, safety issues on mission trips, and everything in between. One issue led us right into another. I forced myself to answer each question just the way I believed, even though I knew what they wanted to hear. Some of my answers were obviously affirmed, others received polite head nods.
As I answered each question, I made sure to talk about my ministry philosophy and I tried to reveal my heart. I shared my story with them. When I was in junior high, I often found places to be alone, away from my peers, where I would burst into tears. I was never cool enough, smart enough, or rich enough to feel accepted. As I got older I was thrilled to leave those feelings in the past. And then God called me back into the junior high world: I told them there are only two things that keep me ministering to adolescents—my knowledge of their pain, and the clear call of God.
As the evening continued, I saw the faces in the room soften. I also noticed that my “adversaries” were morphing into real people-people who loved their children and loved their God. By the end of the evening, the tension had vanished.
One year later, our ministry is blessed by the support of several of those families. Do we see eye to eye on every issue? No. But they do know we love and serve the same God. We discussed many issue that night, but those parents really had just one question on their hearts and minds: Can we trust this person with our child? It takes a lot of trust to load your children into a van and send them on a retreat other adults are leading. We have to pass the trust test before they’ll let us be a significant influence in their kids’ life. That night I learned I needed to stop being defensive, open my heart, and be more vulnerable with parents. Here’s how that’s translated to practical steps in my ministry.
1. Love their kids. That begins by memorizing their names.
2. Communicate with them. Overemphasize your listening.
3. Keep your promises.
4. Build up parents when you speak.
5. Know which parent goes with which teenager.
6. Acknowledge your mistakes.
7. Encourage parents to serve with you.
8. Be real. People trust authenticity.
9. Be on time. Show parents you respect them.
10. Invite parents to drop in at your events.
11. Trust the decisions they make about their children.
12. Be there in times of need.
13. Be a safe driver.
14. Appear organized. Organization builds trust.
15. Pack your parents’ meetings with real content.
16. Don’t play favorites in the group.
These articles, “Maximize Mickey” and “Let’s have the Youth Pastor for Dinner.. Literally” written by Walter Surdacki and Dave Boyd are excerpted from Group Magazine a July/Aug 2005 edition.
These articles may not be written by Apostolic authors, but they contain many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This file may be copyrighted and me be used for study and research purposes only.