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The Zone: fun & straight talk for teens at LifeWay conferences

GREEN LAKE, Wis. (BP)–Under the afternoon sun, a teenage girl blushed slightly as a teammate tossed the Frisbee her way.

“I can’t,” she said, looking across the green grass to the opposing team.

“Sure, you can,” her teenage teammates responded as the Frisbee flew across the field and the game began again, teens in hot pursuit of a Frisbee and a good time.

It wasn’t simply an impromptu Frisbee contest or even summer camp recreation. This was different. These teenagers hadn’t known each other when they arrived at Green Lake (Wis.) Conference Center with their families for the Kingdom@Work Church Leadership Development event, July 1-5. The sons and daughters of church leaders, they had come to the conference center without their hometown friends and faced a week without television, e-mail or the Internet.

But oddly enough, those inconveniences didn’t seen to matter. That’s because these teens had become part of “The Zone,” an interactive experience designed for teens whose parents are attending or taking part in conferences at Southern Baptists’ LifeWay Christian Resources conference centers throughout the summer. With its planned recreation and game times, The Zone may resemble babysitting, but it’s not.

“The goal is that these guys would be changed,” said John Garner, LifeWay’s director of ministry teams. “We want these young men and women to walk away from here different.”

Kena Freeman, an Oklahoma Baptist University student helping facilitate the event, agreed. “The reward is far greater than we can put into words,” she said. “We’ll all go home changed people.”

That goal is the central idea behind The Zone program and activities. While their parents attend conferences, teens take part in morning devotions, small groups and daily worship sessions. College students trained to work with youth organize The Zone activities and interact with the teens, using a curriculum developed specifically for that purpose. Recreation activities also are planned but are designed to foster team-building instead of competitive attitudes.

“The Zone is an interactive teen experience that moves them out of their comfort zones,” Garner said. “They don’t just sit…. They interact with the leaders. It’s designed for individuals, not groups. We create the group feeling from day one so that when they leave here, they’ve got some great friends.”

Students entering the seventh grade and up are eligible to participate in the program, which is offered during various conferences at LifeWay conference centers in Ridgecrest, N.C., and Glorieta, N.M., in addition to the session at Kingdom@Work. Two teams of college students coordinate and facilitate the sessions, which deal with contemporary issues such as sin, divorce, pain and revenge. More often than not, the straight talk presented in the worship sessions resembles a conversation more than a sermon.

According to the college students who facilitate the event, that approach may be especially useful for teens whose parents serve as pastors or in various other church leadership positions.

“As Zone staffers, we have an opportunity to minister directly to ministers’ students,” said David Gentiles, a junior at Dallas Baptist University, who is spending his summer leading worship at The Zone. “Sometimes, you get a chance to love on their kids and because of that, they can gain a new perspective on ministry.”

For Launa Sparling, a 13-year-old from Romeoville, Ill., The Zone was a combination of fun and learning.

“It’s fun, it’s entertaining,” she said. “I like the morning with the songs, the games we play. You really learn about your walk with God. They help you with that.”

After all, that’s what The Zone is designed to do — teach teens that a relationship with God can turn those can’ts into possibilities.

Approximately 300 people attended the Kingdom@Work conference, a leadership development event sponsored by LifeWay’s church resources division.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: IN ‘THE ZONE.’

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  • Mandy Crow