The simple act of sharing stories with each other is undeniably powerful. Lee De Groot, youth coordinator for the Minn-I-Kota Youth Network, understands that power. She actively seeks ways for young people to both share their own stories and to hear the stories of others.
De Groot had been asked a few times to put together a panel of youth for Dordt College’s annual Day of Encouragement. She was so moved by students’ openness and willingness to answer questions from a variety of adults that she began to wonder what it would look like if the tables were turned and the youth were allowed to ask questions of adults.
After successfully pitching her idea to the youth leaders of her home church, Hope Christian Reformed Church in Hull, Iowa, she reached out to different types of adults—from widows to retirees to young married couples to young adults in their first few years of college or new to the workforce. She then had the young people submit questions they would like to ask the panel.
What resulted was an evening of conversation, with students getting to know a group of adults in their church in deeper way. The group covered a wide variety of topics including tithing, choosing a college, what panelists’ first car was, when they felt most distant from God and how they found their way back, whether they felt dating was important, and what devotional materials the panelists enjoyed.
“It was a really good evening of getting to know each other on a different level,” De Groot said. “I think it strengthens the church. At the end of the evening, a gentleman on our panel asked permission to ask the youth a question. He said, ‘If anything, what is the one thing that you’d like to change about your church or continue doing?’ Over and over, I heard them say, ‘We want more of this. We want more time to be with the different generations of our church in a different setting than in the pews.’”
Josie Stiensma, a fourth-year high-school student who attended the event agreed. “I really enjoyed the panel because it gave the youth group a chance to learn more about people we might not usually talk to or ask questions of. What I learned was that everybody struggles in their lives with at least something, and that is why a good church family is so important. It surprised me how insightful some of the members were . . . they gave some really good advice and you could tell that they really cared about us.”
Panelist Brandon Vander Stoep, a junior at Dordt College, expressed similar feelings about the youth themselves. “I discovered that the youth of our church are a lot more interested in the thoughts and ideas of the older generation than I thought. There were some really good questions and really good statements made by the panel—we covered a huge range of topics. It was encouraging to know that our church has such a curious youth that’s ready to learn from older generations.”