By Kevin Alton
It’s possible to participate in a 30 Hour Famine without getting a group together, but the community aspect really helps make it meaningful. Most church groups I’ve encountered treat it a bit like a lock-in. The overnight model not only functions as accountability—you can’t cheat and eat if there are people in sleeping bags on either side of you—but it holds up the solidarity of the thing. We are doing this together.
But with that lock-in-ness comes a familiar tangle: the kids who want to stay up all night.
This, my friends, is no good. Shut that mess down. Here’s the thing: the only thing that matters about waking up at an overnight church event—whether a single night or a weeklong mission trip—is what time you went to bed. It’s fine to stay up all night for a regular lock-in. Adults and youth alike go home feeling gross and a little sick inside; they spend about 35 minutes thinking, “Maybe I’ll just stay up,” then pass out on the couch til 4pm. It’s like a circadian rhythm that only emerges semi-annually. That rhythm doesn’t work for a 30 Hour Famine.
There’s obviously more going on in your body at a 30 Hour Famine than the potential for lack of sleep. There’s the lack of food, but what the lack of food does to temperament is important to consider. Observe this formula:
Get-along Ability – Food = Less Get-along Ability
It’s pretty straightforward, but look what happens when you also take away sleep:
(Get-along Ability – Food) – Sleep = Even Less Get-along Ability
You can’t argue with that math. There’s a 3-dimensional model where I could show you what happens when you multiply that last result by 5 to 30 youth, but I think you get the picture. Rest is equally (if not more so) important for the adults! Sure, coffee is technically not cheating, but getting jacked up on caffeine because you didn’t sleep puts your general wellbeing and your group dynamic at risk.
So here are 3 quick things to help everybody get to hour 30 without losing friends:
1. Establish an actual bedtime. And honor it. A lot of events operate under a de facto (it sure would be nice if) Lights Out: 11pm. Know your group, and start them toward bed in time to get the lights off when you want them off.
2. Explain why rest is important. Youth are still missing brain parts, but if you tell them a thing that seems obvious to adults, they pick it up quicker. And if your older youth are modeling respect for rest, it’ll eventually click with the younger youth. Mostly.
3. Rest isn’t just for overnight. This gets overlooked sometimes in planning, but don’t set a schedule that wears your group out. Let them have an extra 30 minutes or an hour to sleep in the morning. It’s not like you’re having to deal with breakfast. Add a few breaks between activities to just chill. And don’t put them out the sun for 4 hours on a service project late in the afternoon of day 2. Service projects can be a fun addition to the 30 Hour Famine program, but consider your group’s diminishing civility when planning one.
Don’t forget that rest can be reflective, too, and that’s a big part of the awareness participating in a 30 Hour Famine can provide.