For four evenings this past week, July 24 through 27, Christian youth groups joined together at The Merge, hosted by The River Christian Community Church.
The main youth pastors who came together to plan the event were from five different churches – Family Church of the Nazarene, LifePoint, Living Hope, Mountain View, and The River. Leaders were Kara and Tanner Triboulet, Jeff Sibley, Josh Benziger, Clifton Curry, and Ryan Poling, respectively.
“For whatever reason, this group of youth pastors just seemed to connect,” Poling said, “and we could do an event like this way better together than we could do it alone.”
For this reason, youth leaders across Oakdale came together to create an event for the sake of the community rather than just their sole church, and it proved entirely successful.
Each night was full of activity: icebreaker games, recreation activities, worship, a speaker, and an auction. The auction operated off of “Merge Bucks,” which students could earn by coming to the nightly events, bringing friends, winning games, random acts of kindness, and more. Prizes started out with $5 gift cards to fast food places, and finished off with items like a GoPro camera (selling for around 9,000 Merge Bucks) and a 50” flat screen TV.
Games consisted of tube sock freeze tag, sumo ball, dodgeball, and kajabe. The last game is one of the more renowned among youth groups across California, most notably played at Hume Lake. The game consists of students each holding one end of a short rope in each hand and running around trash cans in a circle. Students can be eliminated by letting go of the rope or touching any of the cans. Despite this “every man for himself” facade, students worked together to try to keep members of their team from getting out.
Many games tried to stress a “team feel,” where students would try to work together in their groups (red versus blue) and bonded despite what church they may attend. Triboulet noted that this was one of his favorite aspects of The Merge, that is, the “unity.”
While each Christian youth group was invited to attend, the turnout per group varied among the churches.
“There’s a representation of most churches here, whether it’s one or two students. But we make sure when we talk that we get in touch with every youth leader or church pastor,” Curry commented.
Even students who didn’t normally attend a youth group came to participate with their friends. Kara Triboulet said this was actually one the best parts of the event.
“I think that’s what’s exciting – the outreach portion ...You’re making those connections and you’re seeing who goes to church. We just pray that that is used for them to come together on campus.”
The bands from each church also merged together, with high school to college students performing.
A different speaker was showcased every night. Youth leaders like Benziger, Kara Triboulet, and Curry gave their messages on “Chasing” idols, belonging, and satisfaction, but there was also a famous guest speaker on the July 26 – Michael McDonald. The MMA fighter came on his own time to speak to The Merge about chasing happiness, and how he could only truly find it with God, despite his famous status.
That Wednesday night, there were about 100 students present at the event. Benziger reported about 130 students registered over the course of the four-day gathering.
This is not the only event tailored to merging youth groups together. The pastors have an event similar to The Merge going on next January at Jenness Park. It is a retreat, meaning students will have to pay to attend, but will be staying at the camp together for the whole four days.
Altogether, said organizers, the second year of The Merge proved to be a successful one with great attendance, fellowship, and teamwork.