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Inside Jokes

Inside Jokes

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to something boring? A meeting, a class, a Church event?

I can’t see you through the screen, but I’m going to guess your hand is up. It is, isn’t it? Mine is, too.

Many teens (and adults, for that matter) come to a retreat with a preconceived notion that retreats (and faith, Church, and even God) are boring. And we all know that boring retreats do exist. They’re out there. And we despise them. That’s why humor is one of the foundational values of the REAP Team.

There are a lot of good reasons we do our best to put on seriously fun Catholic retreats. And if you’re going to be putting on a ministry event, we recommend to you do your best to make it fun, too.

Keep It Fun

Laughter opens up people’s hearts. There have even been scientific studies that indicate that laughter is a healing force and can be therapeutic. By giving people space to laugh and have fun on a retreat, we’re opening their hearts to the more serious we’ve got planned, too. We use jokes, icebreaker games, and humor throughout our dramas and talks to help break down walls. After all, it’s nearly impossible to think of anything as boring or stupid if you are laughing and having fun.

We’re also trying to show that people who love God and are into their faith can also be normal – we can laugh and get you to laugh, too. Too many teens (and even some adults) believe that faith and fun are mutually exclusive.

When medical professionals are monitoring a heartbeat, a healthy EKG has a line that goes up and down. This is our ministry model – we try to mix it up between fun and serious throughout the day. It shouldn’t just be fun, of course. That would be a waste of everyone’s time. But it can’t be all serious, either, or you’ll fail to engage people. If you’ve got a flatline (whether that be all fun or all serious), you’ve got major problems. Moving back and forth between fun and serious means you’ve got life flowing through your event.

Keep It Positive

During REAP retreat intros, we make it clear that we are on a crusade against ‘negative humor’ – the stuff that’s funny when you’re making fun of someone else. It’s a super common way people communicate in our culture, both in media and in real life. We have met hundreds of teens and adults who have been deeply wounded by negative humor. Many of us carry deep scars from being laughed at. It is unacceptable on a REAP Team retreat – or anywhere in the Church.

Some adult leaders believe that our use of adolescent humor is in poor taste… and maybe sometimes it is, but it’s never vulgar or cruel. It’s adolescent, which sometimes means gross and sometimes means immature and sometimes means dumb. But most of the adults who think our humor is childish would agree that it is more important for us to reach teens on our retreats than it is to connect with the adults who brought them. We’re always striving to get them all, of course – but if the retreat is for teens, then they’re our top priority.

And humor helps us to catch them. In almost any crowd there are some “tough kids” who aren’t easily engaged by traditional means. After a few good jokes, even those with faces of stone can crack a smile and enter into the day.

We’re also very intentional about occasionally referring back to early jokes throughout the day – creating a culture of inside jokes with the students on the retreat. Not only does this keep the laughter flowing, it also makes everyone feel included and unifies the group. If there’s one thing we’re sure Jesus wants out of our retreats, it’s making each student feel seen, known, and loved. That’s pretty easily done when we’re all in on the same joke.

Keep It Intentional

This might sound crazy, but pray about some of the ways you might be able to use adolescent humor on retreats with your students in the future. We do… pray, that is. Before every retreat we beg God to reach even the most hardened of hearts with His love and joy. We pray that students will laugh and open up early, and that He will make us funny, not for our glory, but for His.

If we are to reach teens with the message of the Gospel, we need to have their attention first. Surprising them with (appropriate, hilarious, clean) humor early in the day is a great way to do just that. Adolescent humor is only one tool in our ministry toolbox, but it is an important one. Make sure you’ve got it in your toolbox, too. If you need help coming up with some good jokes, we can share.

Rachel Leininger is a full-time mom, author, and speaker with over 10 years of ministry experience. She's married to the excessively creative and unfairly gorgeous David. Her favorite things include decorating their home, everything Cardinals baseball, and coffee.

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