Want to give your youth group a night they’ll remember for the rest of their lives? Consider making a theme park your group’s next destination.
While you may believe an amusement park isn’t the best place for learning and worship, many parks host celebrations specifically for Christian groups, where popular Christian rock bands such as Skillet, Switchfoot and Newsboys perform. Best of all, most of these events include entry to the parks themselves in the ticket price and offer group discounts to boot. If you’re looking to create an unforgettable experience that will mix fun and spiritual growth for your group, check out these seven events held annually at U.S. theme parks beloved by millions.
Night of Joy
As one of the top theme parks in the country, Walt Disney World Resort has held one of the best Christian events since 1983. Night of Joy is a must for youth groups, with major bands traveling to central Florida to perform for two nights in September. Performances previously took place in the Magic Kingdom, with iconic rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain staying open through the night for guests, but Disney has recently announced expansion plans for the event. As of 2016, performances instead will take place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which allow for more space – a necessity given that 2015’s event was sold out.
The move also will ensure that bad weather will no longer pose a risk to the celebration. While some dislike the relocation, Walt Disney World will continue to offer both entrance to the Magic Kingdom for participants as well as complimentary transportation from the complex to the park, making sure that this year’s Night of Joy will be just as joyful as it was last year.
Rock the Universe
Held in September as an alternative to Night of Joy, this spectacular two-night event at Florida’s Universal Orlando Resort features big-name Christian rock and hip-hop groups performing at the Music Plaza. Attendees can listen to international guest speakers and the winners of Waves of Glory, the Christian rock battle of the bands competition, as well as take part in a special Candlelighting Ceremony. Over the weekend, participants may attend autograph sessions and karaoke competitions at FanZone, and come together to worship at a Sunday morning service. Of course, participants can also enjoy the theme park itself – tickets for Rock the Universe come with admission to three full days of single-park admission to either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, or upgrade to park-to-park admission. Either way, your group would be guaranteed to enjoy Universal’s “weekend of faith and fun.”
Young Christians Weekend
Silver Dollar City, one of Branson, Missouri’s most popular attractions, holds an event that is perfect for youth groups. Young Christians Weekend goes into full swing from April 1-3 in 2016. Participants can enjoy the theme park’s many rides and roller coasters during the day, and head to the Echo Hollow Amphitheater every night to hear from popular bands and exciting guest speakers. Your group can also take part in one of the event’s workshops, designed for different genders and age groups; these sessions help your group question and learn from the world around them. After two days of fun and music, everyone can join in on one of the Sunday morning worship services. It’s important to note that tickets for YCW must be reserved in advance, with tickets already on sale as of December 2015.
National Southern Gospel and Harvest Celebration
This event, held at the world-famous Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is a celebration unlike any other. Held throughout the entire month of October, the National Southern Gospel and Harvest Celebration includes over 300 free gospel concerts held around the park, so visitors can enjoy the experience no matter what day they visit. The gospel event, which last year included artists such as Chronicle and the Griffith Family, takes place alongside the harvest celebration where craftsmen give demonstrations and make beautiful creations such as art, jewelry and stained glass.
Kingdom Bound takes place every year at Darien Lake Theme Park in New York, roughly 30 miles from Buffalo. Kingdom Bound Ministries, the group that sponsors Kingdom Bound as well as other religious festivals and concerts, is already hosting a countdown to the event at kingdombound.org, where interested parties can learn more about the celebration to be held in July of 2016. This year’s performers have already been announced – bands will include RED and The City Harmonic as well as guest speaker Reggie Dabbs, a public school favorite who recently co-authored the book Just Keep Breathing with John Driver that features a collection of narratives detailing the struggles of the Millennial generation. In addition to these performers, Kingdom Bound will also include latenight activities such as campfire parties, lip-sync battles and movie nights allowing the spiritual party to continue well into the night.
Rock the World
Located in the appropriately named town of Santa Claus, Indiana, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari is an award-winning value park that is the home of Rock the World, a celebration that is attended by thousands around the Midwest every year. Though the event is held primarily in a nearby field at night, those who wish for an earlier start to their day can most likely find performers at the Hoosier Celebration Theater before seeking out the main event in the evening. Participants of the 2016 event on August 20 do need to buy their event ticket in addition to their park entry ticket, and must provide their own seating – bug spray is recommended too.
SeaWorld Orlando holds its own fun event ever year with Praise Wave, a youth group favorite. During three Saturdays in March, Christian rock bands and performers flock to SeaWorld to perform at the Bayside Pathway throughout the day for park attendees. 2015’s lineup included performers such as Fred Hammond and Colton Dixon, a former American Idol contestant. This event, which like SeaWorld’s Disney and Universal counterparts is held only at its Orlando location, is complete with cookout-style food and favorite SeaWorld characters that are sure to be a blast.