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I f you ask Professor Jim De Boer what the secret is to keeping young people in the church, chances are that he’ll respond with one word: worship.

And he’ll likely follow that answer with some stories and statistics. For this isn’t just a guess, but something that he has witnessed in the lives of young people through Awakening, a worship arts camp that takes place during the second week of June at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

In a time when many youth are absent or disengaging from the church, Awakening seeks to raise up and equip the next generation of church leaders.

Related: Why is there a generation missing from the church?

“Only 21 percent of young people ages 18-29 are a part of the church,” says De Boer, who serves as the Director of Awakening. “Our work is to awaken high school students to a vision for a possible career in ministry, whether that’s as a pastor, youth leader, minister of music, or worship leader.”

For one week, students entering grades 9-12 gather to explore faith, worship, and their gifts in worship.

“Awakening welcomes every musician, actor, artist, dancer, sound technician, and deep thinker,” says De Boer. “Students who come to Awakening love being with other like-minded students from across the country as they develop their artistic gifts, go deeper in their understanding of God and of worship, and develop life-long friendships.”

Students come from all over the United States—from 15 states since 2016—and stay on Hope College’s campus. They spend the morning in worship, solitude, and groups for devotions and discipleship, then spend the afternoon in classes to learn and develop their gifts in preaching, visual arts, all things musical, tech, or dance. They learn about various genres of worship and hear from current worship leaders and pastors on how God called them into ministry. 

“It was the best week of my life,” says one participant. “I learned so much about myself and my faith in so little time. I also formed deep friendships that I will continue to nurture. I have never felt God’s presence so strongly or clearly before.”

In addition to offering the week-long camp at Hope College, Awakening has developed 20 training videos and gives students, churches, and youth leaders access to Awakening’s produced print resources, including the “Prayer Guide”, “40 Ways to Spend 5 Minutes with God”, “Songwriting for Worship,” and “The Six Pegs of a Worship Leader.” All resources are available on Awakening’s webpage.

The mission of Awakening is “Building Emerging Worship Leaders,” which emphasizes the goal to have more young people engaged and leading in churches. And that is truly what is happening.

“Our October 2023 survey shows that 24 percent of our former students are serving full-time in a church, 26 percent are serving part-time, and others are volunteering,” says De Boer. “This program has impacted students and has ultimately impacted the church today.”

One former student, Alex, attended Awakening for three years, then returned to serve as a mentor during his four years of college. Following graduation, he joined the worship staff at Christ Memorial Church as their head organist, orchestra director, and accompanist.

Hear more of Alex’s story in this podcast episode.

In addition to the many students who attest to the immediate and lasting difference this worship arts camp has had on their lives, parents, too, bear witness to the impact.

“My daughter was totally filled up with the Spirit,” says one parent. “She didn’t have a lot of words, but I could see God in her!”

“In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul speaks to Timothy, his younger disciple, and says, ‘Do not let anyone look down upon you because of your age, but be an example in speech, conduct, in love, and faith, and purity,’” says De Boer. “That’s what Awakening is about—to develop the leaders of the church now and into the future.”

Related: Yes, we actually trust our young people to lead

Becky Getz is a writer and editor for the Reformed Church in America's communication team. You can contact Becky at