How do you help students learn to trust each other and build friendships with people they often don’t know outside of church? One church, Grace Church Seattle, brought students on a retreat for this very purpose, with the help of the Champion Grant. Throughout the weekend, students learned about and practiced belonging.

In group teaching sessions, students first explored the modern, Western idea that you belong to yourself and to belong to anyone else is too restrictive. Through personal testimony, Nelson Hall, the assistant pastor of youth and young adults, shared that trying to belong only to yourself is isolating and can increase anxiety. Instead, we can belong to Jesus and to each other. Spending time reading Matthew, students considered the character of Jesus and how trustworthy he is. Students fully engaged in this topic and were honest about what it means to belong to Jesus and each other.

Teens hang out in the living room of a cabin during a youth retreat

This is what Nelson told our team: “Our last evening (Saturday night) was the richest discussion I’ve seen our group (not only during the retreat but period) have together. Often, small group discussion can be the leader asking a question, it’s quiet, then the small group leader asks another question, and then it’s quiet.

“But what happened Saturday was so beautiful. I gave them prompts before quiet time and journaling about the weekend. During the discussion, I faded into the background. Kids started talking to each other, riffing off of ideas, and pulling in threads from what we learned during the weekend. It was like a discussion we were creating together, like a beautiful melody we were making together. It went on for quite a while and was a beautiful way to wrap up our last evening together.”

Youth leader and teens hike in a Washington forestBeyond their time in group sessions, students went on a hike together, relaxed in the cabin the church rented out, and even had a just-for-fun talent show on Saturday night. They let their guard down in a way that allowed them to relax and build greater connections as a group. Beyond having space for connection, some students also stepped into new leadership roles.

Two students led in worship through music at the start of every group session. Before the retreat, they chose the songs themselves and helped coordinate their practices. It was an exciting new step for them to lead the rest of the group in worship and use their God-given gifts.

“The weekend didn’t feel like it needed to be the leader show, of us imparting wisdom,” Nelson said. “We led and facilitated, but we also gave students the opportunity to lead. We got to see them flourish, and the Lord was kind in that.”

Teens gather around a cabin fire to sing praise and discuss the Heidelberg CatechismWe know that Grace is not the only church inviting young people to belong to Jesus and the church. As the Student Leadership Network, we value purposefulness and creating spaces, resources, and events that effectively foster life together in Christ and his Kingdom. As you think about the invitation your ministry is offering students to join in the fullness of life in the Kingdom, what new things come to mind? How can we come alongside you as you try a new ministry idea?

As you think about raising the next generation of leaders, consider applying for a Champion Grant. The grant exists to come alongside student ministry champions with financial support for their new ministry ideas.

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