The very first thing I have to say is that the thing I loved most about The Revolve Tour Dream On 2011 was the time spent with the youth from my church and the connections made with the other chaperones. This year, the same holds true. I loved having time with the 3 senior high girls who also attended last year's event. I enjoyed getting to know some of our junior high girls a little better. And I loved connecting to our youth leader and some of my mom friends in a fresh, new way.
That's a big positive to come out of this event. But it isn't something that would be unique to this event. Plans can be made to create an environment where shared experiences bring us closer together.
The girls who attended this year for their first time really enjoyed it and were excited about the message they got- especially from Chad. Chad talks about relationships between girls and boys and answers a lot of those looming and confusing questions. Last year, the words were fresh to me and to the older girls. This year, the exact same words came from his mouth. Fresh for the newbies, old news for those who were seeking new inspiration.
I was aware that the tour had the same name, same theme. I assumed that the abbreviated format (going from a Friday evening and all day Saturday to just 7 hours on Saturday) meant new content. The only new content was from illusionist Harris III and I felt like he didn't get enough stage time and that he probably has a deeper message. He was a highlight for me this year. He escaped from a straight jacket- which was very impressive and also made me squirm quite a bit. But he spoke about the straight jacket being like the problems we face in life and once he went through the very difficult maneuvering and work to free himself- it was pretty powerful. But it was short and didn't get as much time as it deserved.
We heard from Jamie Grace (love love love her), Jenna Lucado Bishop, and Chad Eastham. And they shared, word for word, the same messages as they did 1 year ago. We heard the same quotes and they had less meaning because they'd felt so special the first time around. "Don't be Jello, eat Jello- it's delicious."
Let's chat about the schedule change for just a moment. Last year, the event started on Friday evening. Revolve says they got feedback that with school and community commitments, that was a challenge. So they went to 1 day. But it's just a 7 hour event. And then there were 3 40-50 minute breaks. So about 3 hours of the 7 hour day were spent sitting around, standing in line for the bathroom, being encouraged to buy books, CD's, t-shirts and stuff, or to adopt a child through an organization that shouldn't be allowing minors to make financial commitments, or waiting in a never ending line for incredibly over priced food. Not a good use of your 7 hours where you are supposed to be feeling uplifted, recharged, finding new insights, and connecting to God in a personal way.
And let's chat about the venue. I have been to the Old National Center for events before. Well, for concerts. It's a theatre venue- not a stadium. Last year, Revolve was filled with high tech and flashy and social media. This year, it was a stage, lights, and one screen that was partially blocked for anyone sitting on far edge seats. The worship leader and performers kept encouraging the audience to get up and dance or jump up and down but you can't do that in old theatre seating.
The biggest issue was the food situation. Revolve encourages attendees to bring a picnic lunch so they can head out to their cars on breaks to eat. They apparently didn't fully cover that with the venue first because as we approached the doors to see if we could go hit the Subway next door, we were told that if you go out, you can't come back in. So we staked out the concession stand lines. In this venue, there is 1 main lobby. There is 1 concession stand- like a large bar. They had about 10 lines open but hadn't somehow anticipated that the thousands of girls and moms would be swarming the place at that first 1:30 break after waiting in line since pre-11:00 to get in and get good general admission seating. So they first break- right at that prime lunchtime eating time- the concession stand was mobbed. They actually ran out of some food. And because they weren't allowing people to leave and come back, this was the only food option.
Don't even get me started on the prices. $4 for a bottle of water or open cup of soda. $4 for a pretzel, $5 for a hot dog, $10 for a grilled cheese panini. I bought 5 drinks and 4 pretzels for $36. Ridiculous!
Near the end of the first break, the rules changed and folks were allowed to leave and come back. However, you can't bring any outside food into the venue. My youth leader friend and I were left trying to figure out how we could get food to these kids without requiring that they end up missing some of the event. That's when we went for the pretzels and drinks and figured we'd plan out the rest of it on the next break. We head back in and that was when I realized that the words were echoing last year's words... that the things being said were exactly the same as the year before. My heart sank. At the next break, we figured out a plan to get the older girls out to Subway- they didn't mind missing some of the event because, you know, they'd already heard it- while the younger girls stayed with the moms who had already bought the hot dogs and pretzels.
2 of my girls needed food- real food. Last year, box lunches were provided- turkey sandwich, fruit, chips, cookie. This year- nothing but junk at the concession stand. I've got a girl with a blood pressure issue and a girl with diabetes and I need real food, real protein for them. So my youth leader friend and I took a group out and headed to Subway and sat and enjoyed some fellowship time.
I really hate being this complain-y and whine-y.
One of the speakers is really out of touch with the mission. At least that is how it feels. I hope she connected with someone in that audience. But the feedback I got- which matched how I felt last year and this year- was a lack of authenticity and a lack of actual connection to the mission and to what girls are facing today. Too much focus on trying to be Bible based and not enough focus on the everyday issues these girls face. Chad Eastham gives a great talk on questions girls have about guys. What they needed from Jenna was to hear about managing relationships with parents, with friends, handling gossip and bullying and stuff. And when things did get touched on, it came from left field and didn't connect with what was being said. I really felt like it was a missed opportunity last year and this year.
The biggest missing piece was the lack of drama team. Last year, there was a drama team that presented skits at different points. Sometimes they were light hearted or funny. But one skit stayed with these girls- and with me. It was a very serious presentation on suicide- and specifically on what it does to the people left behind. The girls missed having a team of people on that stage who really understood the fears and pain and suffering and anxieties and insecurities that they face.
One other concern- there is a Q&A session held at the end. They are answering questions from the audience (even though the questions sounded staged). Too often, the message was "When you face something difficult, turn to the Bible." You know what? That isn't a good enough answer. It just isn't. When you are seeking real advice and guidance on how to deal with a friend gossiping about you or about your parents divorce, having someone tell you to read your Bible and then have them quote some Scripture at you does nothing to help. Should we encourage kids to read the Bible? Absolutely YES. But when they come to an adult and ask for help, reach out with a problem, please don't slam the Bible into their faces. Use it as a resource WITH them but connect in to their feelings, their questions, their situation. Give them what you would be seeking if you turned to a friend when you were facing a hard time. Would you want a friend to just hand you a book or tell you to Google it? Or would you want them to be straight with you and really help you through your problem?
There were a lot more issues and disconnects. I think the overall feel was that this condensed soup version of Revolve was really just a watered down version with a few lumps of chicken tossed in. For those who don't know how awesome it was last year, this was a very nice event. But for those who know what Revolve offered last year, this was a complete miss.
And I don't think you need a lot of bells and whistles to be successful in your mission. You need authenticity, you need connection, you need love. These girls were eager for new inspiration, new advice, new insight.
One of the best moments of the day was when the worship leader, Tiffany Thurston, was singing Hillsong's Forever Reign. She would stop singing and let the crowd sing and it was beautiful to hear all these voices lifted up together, all these girls connecting into one voice.
If you have to have a smaller Revolve, focus on simplicity and not on just cutting things out. If this is truly a ministry that the participants are passionate about bringing to teen girls, a team of people can easily occupy the stage for 7 hours with minimal breaks. A workable food plan makes everyone happy. But most of all, the message has to be fresh and relevant. An entire year has passed since we last attended Revolve. In that year, these girls have gone through friendships ending, boyfriends coming and going, parents divorcing, suicides happening, bullying on the rise, kids walking home getting shot, bus accidents, natural disasters, and so much more. They were eager to go to Revolve and hear about hope for getting through these chaotic times, to know they aren't facing these struggles alone, to know that they are special and loved no matter what.
Revolve lost its heart this year. I hope it finds it again.