It's official: Increased numbers of middle and high school students are choosing to experience personal and spiritual renewal at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center's Winter Youth Retreats.
According to program organizers, more than 1,750 participants took part in the five winter weekend retreats, an increase of 30 percent over last year, and the highest number since 2015, after which poor snow seasons and the necessity of canceling events started a lingering decline in attendance. Lake Junaluska has since introduced alternative recreation and service options that are less weather-dependent.
“This growth is an affirmation that what youth are experiencing here in worship, fellowship and mission is having an impact, that they deem it worthwhile,” said the Rev. Mitzi Johnson, Lake Junaluska director of programming. “Our goal is to offer youth groups high-quality programming and to take care of the details, so they can focus on building their relationships with each other and with God.”
Retreat participants choose activities such as skiing or snowtubing, or taking part in mission projects at food pantries, clothing closets, nursing homes and litter cleanup initiatives. They also play group games, see special entertainers such as illusionists, improvisation groups and comedians, and take part in worship services featuring high-energy bands and guest speakers. The theme for 2019, “Be fearless,” challenged participants to reflect on Psalms 118:6 and how to apply the message to their lives.
Recent youth ministry revitalization efforts have centered around the infrastructural and physical transformation of Shackford Hall, the home of youth events at Lake Junaluska. Upgrades to the historic building's auditorium include a custom-built stage set, programmable LED lighting and new audio equipment.
“The youth may not be able to put their finger on what’s changed, but we’re noticing they’re connecting more deeply with the music and messages,” Johnson said.
Lake Junaluska Programming has also improved on-screen visuals, including social media feeds, transitional videos, group games and media, to reinforce worship. The staff has worked with media personnel to produce a more seamless group experience for today's visually-aware youth. "We know they expect an environment that feels fresh and relevant, while also authentic and not overly-produced," said Johnson.
Physical updates to Shackford Hall included the reconstruction of its front and side porches. The building's exterior will receive a fresh coat of paint this spring.
Lake Junaluska Youth Ministry Specialist Wilson Booth has been sharing revitalization updates as he meets with churches and youth groups throughout the Southeast. Outreach road trips allow him to extend Lake Junaluska's invitation to young people to experience renewal in a beautiful mountain lake setting.
"The youth groups are excited about the positive changes," said Booth. "With the updates in Shackford, we're able to preserve tradition while upping our worship standard. We provide the experiences and energy level that youth expect and enjoy so they can go home renewed, with less weight on their shoulders than when they arrived."
With registration now open for summer youth events, the Lake Junaluska youth ministry team is looking forward to welcoming first-time and returning participants. Summer programs include small group Bible studies, spiritual formation workshops, staff-led evening prayer sessions, a volleyball tournament, a silent nighttime walk to the Lake Junaluska Cross with its majestic lake views, and enhanced recreation opportunities such as whitewater rafting or paddle boarding at Lake Junaluska.
In addition to the transformation of Shackford Hall, participants will enjoy the recently upgraded youth and young adult facilities. These improvements are the result of almost $500,000 in charitable donations invested since last year to revitalize youth ministries at Lake Junaluska.
To learn more about youth and young adult events at Lake Junaluska, visit lakejunaluska.com/youth.
Lake Junaluska is a conference and retreat center and residential community that surrounds a 200-acre mountain lake in Western North Carolina. Lake Junaluska’s mission is to serve as a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body. For more information, visit lakejunaluska.com.