In youth ministry, summer is the prime time for attending camps, conferences and mission trips. Regardless of what type of summertime activity you participate in with your youth, it's important to process your experience with your teens. Here's six reasons why:
1. Processing builds unity. Although your group is together throughout the day while at camp or during a mission trip, they'll experience the day's activities and events differently. Of course, this is more true if your group is divided among several different activities or work projects throughout the day. Processing gives your entire group the opportunity to come together. By sharing their unique experiences from the day, teens will learn from one another and form deeper relationships with each other, all of which fosters unity in and among your group.
2. Processing helps teens make sense of their experience. You can process anything: Strange moments at work sites, people who made you feel uncomfortable in some way, speakers with whom you disagreed, etc. Through processing, you can turn difficult and confusing situations into growth moments.
3. Processing engages different learning styles. At camps and conferences, there's a good chance that much of what teens will hear will come in the form of talks. When teens are talked at rather than with, they'll retain only a small fraction of what's said, including when your speaker is highly engaging and youth-friendly. Taking time to discuss what a speaker said will engage teens differently. By pulling out nuggets from the speaker's talk and further dissecting them, you'll help teens internalize what was said. That, in turn, will create a much more lasting impact on a teen's faith than simply listening to the speaker.
4. Processing allows teens to go deeper. Many speakers gear their talk toward the youngest person in the room. Even if they don't, because of time constraints, many speakers remain fairly superficial throughout their talks. To go deeper, teens need to be given the space to continue wrestling with what was said. They also need guidance from trusted mentors and adults who will help them connect what was said with Scripture and their own life experiences.
5. Processing allows teens to disagree. As youth workers, our goal is not to tell teens what to believe; It's to teach them how to think. An important part of processing then is encouraging teens to ask questions and giving them permission to disagree with what's been said from the front of the room. Doing so helps teens take ownership of their faith and decide for themselves what they believe and why.
6. Processing personalizes a speaker's words and examples. Regardless of how relatable a speaker is, they still don't know your specific kids or context. Processing with teens gives you the opportunity to help contextualize a speaker's message for your specific kids so they can then figure out what it means for their lives. Doing so gives teens concrete ways to apply a speaker's message.
For these reasons, regardless of whether you're at a camp, conference, or mission trip, processing is the most important thing you'll do. It is, without a doubt, what fosters spiritual formation and growth.
So regardless of how tempting it might be to skip processing because of fatigue or busyness, please don't.
Your teens need this time together. It's what will enable their experience to impact them long after they return home.