“I heard there were games, fun stuff and learning about God,” says Jake Blevins, a rising eighth grader from Pleasant Grove UMC in Hatton. “I heard that church camp often changes people, so I wanted to see about that.”
Students and leaders gathered in anticipation of how God would move and work among them at CIY MOVE, a camp-meets-conference event for seventh through 12th graders. After five full days of worship, learning, recreation and friendship, the United Methodists in attendance returned home with a refreshed sense of calling and excitement for the ways God moved in their lives.
Based in Joplin, CIY – Christ In Youth – aims to partner with the local church to create moments and conversations that call young people to follow Jesus. This looks like a series of large-group events for preteens, middle and high schoolers. This summer, the Missouri Conference partnered for the first time with CIY to host a MOVE event on the University of Central Missouri campus.
“The Conference was looking to find ways to connect with churches again after the pandemic,” Missouri Conference Youth Specialist Rev. Angel Garcia says. “We wanted to create a spark within NextGen Ministries, especially for high school ministries, since we don’t currently offer an event at this level or scale.”
For many of the small-town UMCs in attendance, CIY MOVE was the largest event their students had ever attended. Students were both surprised and impressed by the crowd at CIY and described it as a benefit, especially during worship sessions.
For the students from Hood UMC near Republic, as soon as the opening chords of worship began, they joined hands and sprinted from their assigned seating section in the back of the gymnasium to the stage’s front edge. There they met other students from around Missouri and the U.S. who were excited and ready to engage wholly in an immersive worship experience.
Hope Schatz, a rising senior attending CIY with the Hood UMC group, says she loves the overwhelming feeling of being together with the large group and getting to worship God.
“I like the loud music and feeling the drums in your heart,” says Lexi Mitchell, a rising junior attending CIY with the Hood UMC group. “You can
raise your hands and let everything go.”
Exposure to different types of worship was one of the key reasons Rev. Colette Patton, associate pastor at Hood UMC, chose to bring a group of students to CIY.
“We all kind of get stuck in our ruts, style and type, and it’s important for our students, as they mature and grow, to learn that there are different avenues to worship,” Patton says.
One unique aspect of worship at CIY is connecting the message and theme to a tangible activity. On Tuesday night, the message centered on building a firm foundation with a relationship with Christ.
After praying, the teacher invited students to visit one of many stations around the room where buckets of sand contained magnets. Students were invited to prayerfully consider how building their foundation on sand might cause them to sink. Instead, they could grow deep in God’s word by setting themselves (represented by the magnet) on a firm foundation (the metal boards set alongside the stations).
“They’ve created a worship space to help kids learn and grow however suits their needs at that time,” Patton says. “You can see the Holy Spirit at play in many different ways. Kids and adults need to realize that God works through all the elements.”
This broader sense of what worship can be and what the wider church looks like resonated with Patton’s students.
“It’s a great experience to see how different churches learn and grow together,” Mitchell says.
Of the more than 800 students and leaders in attendance at the event, only around 200 came from Missouri United Methodist Churches. Some groups had traveled to Missouri from Florida and Illinois. The interdenominational event allowed students to experience peers from other ministry and denominational contexts and for leaders to discuss the differences in styles and theology that students will encounter in the real world outside their United Methodist youth group bubble.
“There’s fruit from going to these camps while we’re here, and when they come home, they’re changed people,” says Janessa Aston, student ministry director at Platte Woods UMC, located in the Kansas City area.
At CIY, three Missouri UMCs banded together to combine their students during small group time. As a result, the students and leaders from these churches formed relationships that cross church lines and will continue past the week on campus.
“Something I’ve always tried to tell my youth group is that while we get together and have fun, it’s also about learning and growing closer to God,” says Kris O’Neal, youth pastor at Pleasant Grove UMC in Hatton. “I’ve got kids on both ends of the spectrum: Some are only focused on the fun, and some are only focused on the learning and stay out of the fun. And this week, they’ve come together, had fun, got focused, and learned something.”
CIY offered activities, such as basketball and soccer tournaments, as well as the goofy, off-the-walls fun youth groups, are known for. One weekday afternoon, a Christmas-themed talent show invited students to share their best or worst talents. Unicycle riders, solo singers, magicians and Christian comedians graced the stage to wild applause from their peers.
“Fun breaks down walls,” Aston says. “If we can have fun together, we can go deep together. If you go deep here, you can take that home with you and continue those conversations.”
Whether it’s the newfound excitement about worship, the deepened relationships or Bible lessons learned, each student and leader went home with momentum to build upon and carry into the school year.
“The vision is that CIY MOVE becomes a mountaintop experience that allows for other things,” Garcia says.
“Connection is naturally cultivated by coming together and having this experience, which expands into the rest of the year.”
NextGen Ministries is making plans for CIY MOVE 2023. If you’d like to learn more about the event or connect with NextGen Ministries, reach out to Rev. Angel Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.