Labs at YouthCon 2019 were intended to be interactive workshops on a variety of topics that gave students practical action steps for living out their faith. Most of the more than two dozen labs were offered twice Friday morning in place of the general session.
The labs were well received by students and many said they had a difficult time choosing only two.
“The labs were amazing,” said one student. “I loved getting to hear from really powerful people.”
“I learned a lot,” said another.
“I wish there had been more labs,” said a third.
Labs were included in the YouthCon schedule to provide a learning opportunity in a more interactive setting than a large session, says Rhonda Dueck, who worked with her husband, Kevin, to coordinate the labs.
Presenters found inventive ways to involve students. Students prayed and worshipped in creative ways, read Scripture, watched movie clips, talked in large and small groups, ate fair trade chocolate, brainstormed, completed personal inventories and surveys on paper and by registering their answers by standing on one side of the room or the other. Several presenters used object lessons and take-away items to help students think in new ways about the topic.
The Duecks contacted youth workers for ideas for lab topics that “connected with our Anabaptist values, were relevant current topics and topics they thought youth would want to process,” says Rhonda. “There was quite a variety of ideas generated, which reflects the wide variety of topics that our high school youth are interested in processing.”
Popular lab topics based on attendance included youth mental health issues, trauma, human trafficking and slavery, social media, prayer, athletics and a panel discussing love, sex and dating. Other lab topics were immigration, artificial intelligence, pornography, Bible basics, sharing your faith, preparing for college, Bible study, worship and songs in the church, personal stories from Multiply workers, drama and storytelling, peace and conflict, finances and Christians and politics.
Presenters included missionaries and staff with Multiply, formerly MB Mission; Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University and seminary faculty and staff; Mennonite Central Committee staff, MB Foundation staff and members of One Time Blind and Presence Worship. While many lab leaders also represented an agency or ministry or were part of USMB Youth, the Duecks recruited several individuals with expertise in a specific area to come speak to the students.
“We are incredibly grateful for the willingness of so many to facilitate a lab and to share about topics that they are passionate about,” says Dueck in an email interview following YouthCon. “We were able to offer 28 different lab topics for students to choose from, which is pretty amazing.”
High school students are eager to talk about issues that matter to them, says Dueck, and wants the church to address these topics.
“Our youth have serious concerns and questions about faith, politics, culture, prayer, justice, money, mental health and so much more. If we are going to be relevant to the next generation, we must listen to our youth and join them in wresting through the many topics that are important to them,” Dueck says. “We must be willing to have conversations, regardless of how challenging, and walk together to study, process and discern who Jesus calls us to be in the midst of the world we live.”
The Duecks worked with presenters to facilitate continued discussion during the Friday afternoon free time about topics covered in the labs as well as issues students would have liked to talk about but weren’t included in the morning workshops. “No topic is off limits,” Dueck told the students when she announced the additional lab time.
About two dozen students took Dueck up on the opportunity for continued conversation. “I enjoyed a conversation with some from a church that would like to start a conversation about fair trade and other justice issues with their church,” says Dueck.