Oh Youth Worker Convention, How I Need You!

My husband (who is my favorite youth volunteer) and I have been blessed to attend the National Youth Worker Convention together for years. Like 9 years straight (minus the one we were having a baby during).  I worked in a smaller church than I do now in a denomination that faithfully supports continuing ed and study leave. I could always count on a once a year get-away where I could enjoy my marriage away from kids (ours), away from youth group, a Sunday off, and a time to dream about youth ministry together.  We would catch up with youth worker friends each year and feel recharged and encouraged in our ministries. It was better than a Hawaiian Vacation and a vital ingredient to my own longevity in youth ministry. Well I've never actually been on a Hawaiian Vacation.

When I took a new youth ministry job at a large church, the National Youth Workers Convention was one thing I had to give up. My church does value time away, vacation days and continuing ed, but due to a budget freeze, conferences have been a no-go. I am on my third year of missing out on the National Youth Workers convention and I am starting to feel it. I am contemplating paying for it myself...hotel and all! If you get to attend the National Youth Workers Convention, I highly recommend three things:

1) Stay in a Hotel! Like I said before, it's a must. My first year of paid full time ministry the Sr. Pastor wanted us to commute from home to the convention and still be at church on Sunday to run things. That wasn't very relaxing. Let's just say the church I worked at who was encouraging towards an annual "study LEAVE" knew what was up. Our marriage, our friendships with other youth worker friends and our personal time of connecting and getting re-charged with God was on a whole new level when we could actually get away to the convention and not simply attend a few sessions.   A nice hotel...a must!!! Never ever commute from home to a youth worker convention. It defeats the whole purpose. Staying at a hotel allowed us to actually catch up with youth worker friends each year and feel recharged and encouraged in our ministries. We played cards late into the night, laughed, ate horribly and really enjoyed the conference a whole lot more.
I laugh in the face (maybe not in their face, but I want too!) of people who stay local and sleep at home during a conference...what's the point?

2) Miss a SUNDAY! You work almost 52 Sundays a year. You must miss a few to have a REAL study LEAVE. Nothing is sweeter than having a delicious breakfast with your spouse or youth worker pals on a Sunday morning when you are NOT at church. God can really speak to you and recharge your youth ministry battery when you are not on duty that weekend. The Sunday after we get back from youth worker conventions where always better. We had fresh game ideas, a few fun new youth ministry gadgets (giant rubber chicken game anyone?), and a better lesson taught that morning because we were recharged and back in love with youth ministry.

3) If possible leave town. We opted out of the close to home youth worker convention and instead headed to the Nashville one a few years ago.  It was an amazing time. Our good friends who are also in youth ministry met us there and it was an unforgettable time without kids among friends. We loved talking about youth ministry and enjoying a new city with our youth worker pals. A complete change of scenery is a good way to really let God speak to you as you leave everything familiar behind.

If you are fortunate enough to have a conference budget and a church that can let you have some time off for study leave, I can't tell you enough how awesome these conferences are! I will have to figure out how to get added to a speaker list for one. Maybe that will be a way  I can get myself back to a  #NYWC.  Last night I was dreaming about the National Youth Worker Convention as I slept. The conference invaded my sleep time.

#NYWC Veteran Tips: 
-Bring pre-printed sticky labels with you. Have all your contact info printed on it for the exhibitor hall. You will be tempted to enter countless drawings for convention swag...save yourself from writing your name, address and phone number a 1000 times. Just pop on a label to the entry form.

-Have a workshop you want to attend, but there is another one at the same time (or wanna nap)? Sneak in and grab the notes, then head to the other one you want to attend. You can order the recording of the seminar later, and have the notes already in hand.

- Sit where you can see the timer countdown. The red timer countdown tells the person on stage how much time they have left. You can usually see it if you sit by the sound booth. If something is going on that is a little not your style...like the David Crowder Band minus David Crowder )-;  you know how much time you have to sneak out and grab a latte before the next segment begins. But I love the former DCB members by the way and would rather skip out on the Compassion International commercials because one can adopt only so many kiddos after over 9 NYWC's.
- Bring an empty bag for all the freebies and endless flyers, brochures, and music you will be bringing home.


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