Imagine you’re sitting for the final exam in your seminary class on evangelism. One of the questions for the essay portion of the test is the following: Develop a plan for a year-round retreat center, and formulate a general outline for weekly ministry programs that target unchurched and spiritually disenfranchised young adults in the 18-29 age range. Describe the overall vision, physical facilities, location, worship format, administration, funding, teaching materials and marketing plan.
Essay from an American student: Millennials are generally suspicious of the church and organized religion, and will be turned off by programs and centers similar to the church they grew up in. Unchurched millennials will be attracted by programs and teaching styles most similar to the surrounding culture. A state-of-the-art worship center with stadium seating, large plasma screens, a powerful sound system, video cameras (one on a boom) for live feeds and online streaming are essential. Worship bands and popular recording artists can be brought in on a weekly or weekend-only basis, and as the program develops an in-house worship team can be developed. Video screens will project lyrics and songs will change to follow current styles and trends. Center will be located near a major metropolitan center with a strong transportation hub. Ideally the retreat center will be situated on a large tract of land in a scenic location away from stores and restaurants, but not in an out-of-the-way place.
Various speakers will headline during the summer and break weeks when attendance will be highest. Center staff will teach in the low season. Each week’s theme will vary based on the speakers and their expertise. Workshops offered will fit the theme with some handled by staff and some by headliners. Saturday will culminate with a strong and explicit gospel message and altar call with an emphasis on the sinners need for redemption and salvation.
Attendees will be housed in dorm-like rooms with WiFi and multiple electrical outlets for charging phones, cameras and laptops. Rooms will be well-lit, comfortable, and as much like home as possible. Rooms will accommodate no more than four sleepers who share a common bathroom. Meals will be hearty with popular selections such as pizza, nachos, hamburgers and burritos.
Initial funding will be supplied by a few heavy-hitters with a passion for reaching youth with the gospel. A development specialist with strong marketing skills will utilize social media, YouTube, the internet, etc. to get the word out to various evangelical denominational leaders and organizations. Maintenance people, office personnel, kitchen staff and a general administrator will be needed from the start.
The overall vibe will be hip, relevant, cutting-edge and make Millennials feel at home and comfortable.
Essay from a European student building on the Taize model: Before taking any steps, the planning team will spend as many years as necessary in prayer to seek discernment and the Lord’s guidance. In the Taize community, one of the main foci is reconciliation between denominational branches of the Christian tree, countries, and ethnic affiliations within those countries. Planners will await God’s still small voice before finalizing the vision for this center, though it is expected to follow the same general format.
Several people will commit to living in community–most for the rest of their lives– and bear responsibility for the retreat center in all areas of management and teaching. They will live a simple, communal, monastic-style life and take a vow of celibacy. They will work in money-generating ventures such as pottery and publishing to provide funds for the center; no outside donations will be accepted or necessary. Marketing will be done through the center’s website and by word of mouth.
The center will be situated wherever God desires. Taize is in an out-of-the-spot in the Burgundy region of France served by a bus line which connects to the bullet train station. Convenience of transportation is not of great importance; though distance from cultural distractions is a must.
Conference attendees will be housed in spartan, simplistic accommodations akin to church camp cabins with communal bathrooms. Meals will be spare and simple, heavy on carbs and provide adequate nutrition. Attendees will be assigned to work crews and bear responsibility for serving the food, cleaning the grounds, bathrooms, dorm rooms and kitchen, washing dishes (only silverware will be a spoon) and doing whatever else is necessary. Some attendees will remain for a few weeks, even a year, with little remuneration and serve in a leadership capacity with administrative responsibilities.
Bells will ring for morning wake-up and chime each hour; they will ring for ten minutes before the daily worship services. Each day will begin with an hour of communal prayer, singing, Scripture reading and the Eucharist before breakfast. After eating, one of the community residents will teach a general message about Jesus and his teachings. Attendees will break into small groups they will be part of for the week and answer questions provided during the morning Bible study time. They will lead their own discussions and continue for as long or short a time as they wish. Another hour of worship will take place before lunch.
Prayers will be sung in chant style accompanied by a pipe organ or simple keyboard. For each service, song books, the text for the chanted Psalm and the scriptural passage will be available in print format upon entering the church. Songs will be sung in Latin, German, Spanish, French, and English to accommodate the guests for the week. Silence will be maintained except for singing while in the church. Worshipers will sit on the floor or the concrete steps running alongside the main floor. Prayer stools will be available for the nimble and flexible.
Afternoons will be filled with workshops, lessons in singing, and work crew assignments. Dinner and then another hour-long worship service will follow. Most of the day will be spent in worship, prayer and discussion. Community dwellers will lead the worship services which are ecumenical in nature. Eucharist will be available for Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant participants. Teaching times will focus on Jesus and the gospel message will be implicit. No altar calls or emotional pleas for conversion will be part of the program. During all the teaching and worship times, the focus will be on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Questions and doubts will be welcomed and encouraged.
Before I spent a week there in March 2014, I was surprised to learn that more than 100,000 youth find their way to Taize each year. Most spend a week which enables them to enter into the community’s rhythm and become familiar with the songs and worship practices. During summer and Holy Weeks, more than 6,000 youth will live in the spartan rooms, pitch tents in the fields, park their campers and take part in the community and worship services.
Now that I’ve been there, I understand why.
Which model would attract you? Taize started in the 1940’s and has morphed many times since; what do you think makes it appealing to so many? Other ideas for approaches?