30 Hour Famine – Students’ reasons

My youth ministry has been planning for the 30 hour famine for a few months now. The Famine takes place on Feb. 22nd and 23rd. You can find out more about exactly what the 30 Hour Famine is by clicking here.

I’ve always liked the concept behind the 30 Hour Famine. Getting students to step outside of their own desires and go without food for 30 hours. I like the idea that students can put aside their normal consumeristic americanism and find a pitifully small, but still actually there, bit of solidarity with those who do not even have enough food to eat. I participated in the Famine as a student, had a great time with it, and learned a bit about various important issues each year (world hunger, poverty, spiritual disciplines like fasting, praying for others, and a few other things).

Last night I passed around a sign up so we could start to get an idea of how many students were actually going to show up. The first question that a student asked was, “What are we going to be doing?” I gave a brief outline of some of what we’d be doing. Before I could finish another student piped up, “I’m not coming. Last year I didn’t really enjoy myself.” I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, but I was honestly amazed. My little idealistic world, where there was actually something American Youth Ministry students could do that didn’t have to focus solely on them was shattered. Several other students spoke up at that point and said that they wanted to know what we’d be doing, because if they weren’t going to have fun, why go without food for 30 Hours? I explained to them that the Famine wasn’t really about having fun. I mentioned that the point was to experience a little of what other people go through. Yeah, we’d have some fun in the process, and hopefully learn about ourselves and one another, but that wasn’t the point.

To be fair, two or three of the students did acknowledge that as the point, and looked somewhat appalled at the idea that their peers were only in it for the games. So, I have a question for the readers of my blog: how do I respond to this? I’ve half a mind to just cancel the entire thing. I think that would adequately drive home the point that our youth ministry is not about having fun. It might be drastic enough to actually bore through the apathy and lethargy of some of the students and give them a bit of a wakeup call. But, it doesn’t accomplish anything remotely close to helping impoverished people. Given, it’s only a single year and in the long run it might help these students to help more people…but still. It also might be a bit too drastic. I don’t think simply teaching on loving others is going to be enough.

So what would you all do in a situation like this? Those of you who are parents, how would you like to see a youth pastor respond? Those of you who are youth pastors, what would you do? Those of you who are neither of those two, what are your thoughts?


13 thoughts on “30 Hour Famine – Students’ reasons

  1. I think canceling the whole thing would be a bad idea. Then you will communicate that you don’t care about the starving people in who-knows-where either. I am not a youth pastor, and therefore I am allowed to be idealistic- but why not participate with the 2-3 that actually want to do it?

    Cal, to cite something we both know all too well- If these parents have been unsuccessful in developing Christian character in these children over the past 12-17yrs, why is it right for anyone to expect you to do it in just a handful? I hate to be the guy who brings up the narrow gate story, but I think it applies here.

    If your students don’t want to give a damn, who are you to take that right away? All you can do it educate their minds, provide opportunities to change and mentor the ones that are willing, bud. Let God handle the rest.

    Like I said, I don’t’ have to answer to their parents so I can afford to be idealistic.

  2. Calvin- Ran across your blog and being a youth pastor and having done the famine before I know much of what you are facing. My advice is do not cancel it. You should never punish the students who have the right focus by cancelling an event to shame those who do not “get it”.

    I know that cancelling it is what your feel right now, that you are frustrated and feel defeated but as the guy above me said you can only be consistent to teach these students a biblical worldview and provide for them opportunities to live their faith out in community but you cannot force them to live it.

    Have those students who desire to do the event share testimonies to the other kids about why they have decided to participate. Hearing it from their peers tends to make more of an impact. Definitely have the students share after the event what God did in them as a result of the event but most of all have them share how lives were changed because of the step they took to look outside of themselves.

    It might sound dumb but I always want the students who decided to skip out on the more serious events to feel like they missed what God was doing, because in many cases they did.

  3. Darrell and Earl,

    I hear what you’re saying, and I think you’re probably correct. I don’t want to “punish” students who may actually want to participate for the right reasons. However, my concern isn’t really with low attendance at the event. The students who only want to come for a “fun event” will come anyway…and they will distract the students who are there for the right reasons. It will thereby turn into a wasted time for all involved. If I could cancel if for those who only are in it for themselves, and somehow still have it for the ones who aren’t that might work well, but I don’t know how to do that. Any ideas?

  4. Calvin,
    Good conversation on an important issue. I’ve had good luck with the 30 Hour Famine in the past but, as with your experience, there are always those youth who want/expect it to be just another lock-in. My two suggestions for what they are worth: 1) Take aside the few students who seem motivated to participate for the right reasons and put them in charge of the event, giving them responsiblity for promoting it to the other youth. There positive and mature attitude will be an example to others. 2) Publish a detailed timeline of the event for those thinking about coming that clearly shows what you’ll be doing so there are no groans later when they realize it won’t be all fun-and-games. Even for those who do come expecting to goof off, they will still likely be influenced positively by what you have planned.

  5. I think you show the invisible children video to visually illustrate the realities of these children in Africa. I know it is difficult to spark these kids interest. Think about it…..these kids do not know anything other than themselves.

    These kids need to know they are serving outside of themselves. In a way we are having to deconstruct ideas in their head this world is not about them.

  6. Hey man, found you through the Rethinking Youth Ministry blog.

    We’re doing a famine the same weekend – what age group are you doing it with?

    I’m not really having any of the same problems, but if I were you, I wouldn’t cancel the event… that’s just my gut instinct. I think making an itinerary would help out, and even sending a letter to parents detailing what and why you’re doing the famine and encouraging parents to talk to their kids about it could be helpful.

    I’m sorry for your frustration, man. Good luck.

  7. calvin,

    these are all some great ideas. one thing that we have done in the past was to really put weight on raising money for the cause before, making it a point to make sure students know that this is the real thrust of the event. We also did one or two “big fundraisers” leading up to the Famine which we required students to be involved in to be able to participate in the Lock-In portion.

    This allowed those who only wanted fun to be “weeded out” and gave us a core of students who had shown that they really wanted to raise money for the cause and experience it for themselves.

  8. Thanks very much for the responses everyone. I’m going to be taking a cross-section of them, with some of my own, and we’ll see how things go. Expect an update after the famine.

  9. Don’t cancel it.

    I’m a YP and we’re doing ours and it’s going to be 90% fun. Otherwise, many kids won’t come. So since it’s a fund raiser fro a good cause, do what you can to get kids to come. Of course regular youth meetings are different, you need to have fun, but fun isn’t the main point. But for this, go for fun…

  10. If the youth are there for the fun but get a taste of God’s word in your
    famine, how much better could it be? We’re doing are Famine in May
    I know it’s a bit late, but it is going to be a awsome oppertunity to raise awareness in some of the youth, keeping a group together,
    keeps your Youth Group.
    IF 2 or more gather in the name of the lord!

  11. I have done the famine for 2 years now and so far each time has been getting better and better, i have grown to love it. This year my paster put me in charge of ours, any ideas for things we could do?

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