Two weeks ago, we hosted our annual confirmation weekend retreat, which we called this year the “Encounter Camp”—a focus on spiritual warfare. We took 120 people on this camp and spent the weekend talking about encountering ourselves and our identity, encountering our journey, encountering strongholds in our lives, encountering the battle going on in our lives, and encountering the enemy.
We chose the theme based on some serious research into spiritual warfare (I found one statistic that said only 20% of all Christians ever study anything about spiritual warfare at any point in their lives) and the observations I’ve noted over the last few years about this generation of middle schoolers—they’re keenly interested in the supernatural and all things mysterious. This is the generation that’s growing up on “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” and it shows.
We had incredibly powerful Bible studies—at one point, we had a session that went for two hours and the kids were literally on the edge of their seats, Bibles open and brains fully engaged the whole time. We also had an optional night Bible study—sort of a “question and answer” format–that 35 youth came to and participated in for over three hours.
Yes, three hours—of their own, highly coveted free time. A third of the kids at this camp chose to spend their free time in Bible study.
Whoever says that kids aren’t interested in the Bible is wrong—these kids were hanging on every word we said, flipping open their Bibles and devouring the Word.
I also had a “Parent Recap” meeting after we got back from the camp. As soon as we got back, all the kids brought their lunches in to our youth building, and the parents joined their kids and listened as Pastor Jon and I talked about what we had talked about this weekend, gave them some questions to start dialogues with their kids, gave them some resource lists for further study, and encouraged the parents. It was a big risk—our church has never done anything like this. But, the room was full, and I had parents coming up with tears in their eyes, hugging me and saying they were so glad we did something like this.
While spending an entire weekend with these middle school kids with my scrutinizing mind on full alert, I observed a few things:
- This generation of students seems to crave adult interaction. I used to think that teenagers wanted nothing to do with adults—of course, I’m dealing with middle schoolers, so they’re not yet fully displaying the “typical” attitude of high schoolers. However, even in my high school students that I connect with around church, I’m seeing the same thing. I think these kids are almost “wise beyond their years” and do better than even my generation did in interacting with adults at this age.
- These middle schoolers are dealing with things I didn’t even think about until I was in the upper grades of high school. Most of the kids I talk to tell me that they have friends who are having sex and are worried about getting pregnant, know kids who are doing drugs, know kids who are drinking—and nearly every single youth I talk to knows someone who is cutting.
These kids seem to know they’ve been missed up by their parents’ divorces, and are very serious—even now—about not ever getting divorced. The girls in my small group are so adamant about not screwing up their future marriages that they’re thinking through their decisions even now and thinking about the type of person they want to marry—as 13 and 14 year olds.
- This generation is the technology generation–I’m astounded at how this generation only 10 years under me is even more immersed in technology than I am. But, I have a hunch that because this generation is so into technology, they’re also craving face-to-face human interaction and touch more than any other generation. They go home to their Facebook accounts and iPhones and chat with friends all night—but when they see their friends, they’re really into touching each other—not in a weird way, but in a way that seems to say to me that they want to know that there’s more to life than computer screens and cell phones. For instance, every time my small group prays, the girls insist on holding hands—and I saw that in several other groups this weekend.
- They don’t know what to do with free time. I know most of them rarely have it at home, with their insanely busy schedules. They’re so used to having every moment of their day mapped out that we have to coach them to think of creative things to do when they do have free time. On top of that, a lot of them were very anxious about knowing exactly what the schedule of the weekend was—I think this is probably a byproduct of how we’ve over programmed these kids.