Ready or not, summer is upon us.
It is finally hot enough to complain about how hot it is.
And nothing says summer more than when the plastic chair you’re sitting in outside gets up when you do.
Simply stated, summer happens.
Which means all of us in the wide, wide world of youth ministry should probably consider what teenagers with more free time — and adult leaders who want and need more free time — means for our summer programming rhythms.
How do we build the shifts that summer brings into our youth ministry strategy?
Hopefully you’ve given our Rethinking Youth Ministry podcast Episode 106 Rethinking What Summer Looks Like in Youth Ministry a listen. If you haven’t, stop reading and go check it out now.
In the episode, we talked about ten questions to ask as it relates to rethinking your youth ministry summer programming. Adam Grant recently said, “Data is not truth. Data simply helps us ask better questions.” Asking better questions helps us arrive at better solutions. Better questions help us determine better course corrections, and better questions help inform innovation that may seem scary at the time but more necessary than we care to admit.
Ten Questions to Rethink Youth Ministry Summer Programming
Here are the ten questions we posed to help rethink youth ministry summer programming.
Can we . . .
- Shift to master teacher to round table discussions versus small groups?
- Move our programming to homes in different areas of our community?
- Enable small group leaders to do something fun with their small group?
- Use a summer blockbuster movie as a fun experience (with a point)?
- Team up with other faith communities’ youth ministries in our area to provide an inspirational and fun back to school experience for unity and momentum?
- Champion teenagers who are playing in tournaments and games in town?
- Relieve pressure for parents as it relates to work and students being home?
- Partner with community and schools to provide help during summer camps?
- Make a summer camp experience more affordable and accessible to all teenagers during the summer?
- Serve others in our community?
These are great questions to help you start thinking through what innovation looks like for your ministry this summer.
One of these questions has piqued interest already from youth leaders:
Can we use a summer blockbuster movie as a fun experience (with a point)?
We all know that the film industry uses children and teenagers’ free time during the summer as a prime time to release movies that they believe will draw incredible box office momentum. This coming summer is no different, with movies like The Little Mermaid, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman, Transformers, The Flash, The Blackening, Elemental, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Mission Impossible, Barbie and Oppenheimer scheduled for summer releases with promises to be highly entertaining.
But why should we leverage movies for summer programming?
Because movies are empathy machines.
The late, great film critic Roger Egbert once said,
“If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class, a different nationality, a different profession, different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that, to me, is the most noble thing that good movies can do and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.”
As a youth ministry professional, what if we started seeing movies as a multi-million dollar industry not just focused on destroying the next generation, but rather expertly curating content to help teenagers and adults understand how to navigate a world of difference–where race, sexuality, equality, financial integrity, politics, education, technology, business, entertainment, and religion seem to always be flux? You may be surprised by the wisdom that can be gained, but even if you don’t agree with every lesson, a conversation about that can be a lesson too.
Questions to Ask Middle and High School Students After Movies
There are no-brainer questions about a particular movie that will always come up.
Questions like . . .
- What part made you laugh the hardest?
- Which part scared you the most?
- What part moved you to tears?
Those are softball questions that we almost always ask after a great movie experience.
For middle school students, what if we learned to ask questions to help a middle schooler start connecting the dots to larger themes that connect to their everyday life?
- How did this story make you feel?
- Where did you see an example of selflessness in this story? What about selfishness?
- How did you see selflessness pay off? Were you able to see a consequence of selfishness?
- What surprised you about the story?
- Is there anything in this story that you can relate to personally?
- What about this story made you angry or frustrated? Why?
- How do you see hope in this story?
- What about this story helps you consider another person who may be different than you?
For high school students, we can take it a few steps further. What if we learned to ask piercing and thought-provoking questions to help teenagers interpret a particular film in a way that is redeemable?
- What do you think is the peaceful narrative of this story in the beginning?
- What was the triggering experience(s) that caused dissonance for what character in the story?
- What crisis did this experience create?
- How do you interpret this story through your understanding of the person, example and teachings of Jesus?
- How does the supreme, universal ethic of love run through this story?
- How do you see the fruit of the Spirit—or the lack thereof—exhibited in this character or plot line?
- How do you think a different reaction or character trait would have changed the story’s trajectory?
- What personal lesson or message do you walk away with from this movie?
Why are these types of questions important?
Because what we are doing is helping our teenagers translate a work of art into their own frame of reference, in their real world, in real time.
We are helping them learn to think critically.
We are allowing them to see that everything is spiritual. Family. Home. School. Teams. Work. Play. Music. Movies. All with the thread of the love of a Creator who is absolutely in love with them just as they are.
We are using entertainment to teach deeply spiritual truths that help a teenager understand and follow Jesus more.
So this summer, whether it’s the make-believe pink world of Barbie and Ken, the dramatic never-before-told story of the making of the atomic bomb, a remake of a Disney classic with a new culture-shifting lead character, an aging hero returning with his trademark hat and whip, or a talking raccoon and a tree in space… maybe a few hours at your local theater can be worth so much more than a box of popcorn and a large soda?
Maybe there is a noble story and an empathy machine waiting to be experienced.