There is an event in our community that has become a staple for my family to attend. It’s called “Return to Bethlehem” and is put on by First Baptist Church Madisonville KY. This is the first year that I’ve been able to attend, usually due to my other job, and there were a few things that I noticed that were pretty neat and I thought warranted a blog post.
“Return to Bethlehem” is a “live action walk through” of what it might have been like on the night that our Lord and Savior was born. The church transforms its gym into a miniature version of an ancient town in Israel. It’s a huge production deal and surely not in the cards for most small rural churches to pull off, but there are some great principles that I noticed walking around that rural church youth ministries could apply.
Obviously they got the realism and feel down. There were a few things that I noticed that set it over the top.
1: The event catered to all ages.
The crowd of actors engaged the adult and teenage learner in educational conversation. The children were engaged not only by the sights and sounds, but also the smells and things they could feel. They let the kids feel the pottery, smell the fresh baked bread at the bakers, they let them pet the live animals they had, and they were able to taste grapes and dates.
For youth ministry this begs to question, how are we engaging our students’ senses? Does our lesson have a visual element to it? How does the smell affect the students’ engagement in the lesson? Are you doing a lesson on Jesus being the bread of life? How about having some fresh baked bread in the room to let the students taste and smell. We know students learn in different ways so are verbal, some tactile, how are your students senses engaged?
Funny admission here: When I was in youth group, we always had Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies, EVERY Wednesday. Even as an adult when I eat a Chewy Chips Ahoy I am instantly taken back to youth group.
2: The event did not drag on.
I’m sure they could have filled every room in the church with some sort of learning experience to engage the audience and the crowd would have been there for hours. The planners obviously knew what experiences they wanted the audience to have and planned accordingly. When you finish you go, was that it? I want more! Kurt Johnston has famously stated, “Always leave them wanting more.” Less is more sometimes. The audience did not need to learn what a Roman Legion consisted of or the exchange rate of a drachma to a shekel, and they did an excellent job of getting their point across.
How simple are your lessons? Do you get from point A to point B in a timely manner or do you drag on? I used to think that I had to fill EVERY minute of the hour I was given or I was not doing my job. Always leave them wanting more!
3: Tie it into a memory.
My daughter gets home, holds up this piece of cedar wood they gave her, smells it, and says “Ahh. It smells like Bethlehem.” I’m willing to bet that when she smells that piece of cedar from now on it will take her back to when her and Dad went through Bethlehem and learned about Jesus.
How do we make memories for our youth group? What sort of rites of passage does your youth ministry have? Ours? Fat Mo’s hamburgers. Fat Mo’s is a burger chain in Nashville that we always stop at and eat when we do our one-day and week-long mission trips to Nashville. My students think of it as a badge of honor to have eaten at Fat Mo’s, it means they’ve served.
This was an awesome event and well put on. Gave me a lot to think about as a writer and youth minister. Until next time!