UM Men seek ways to share Rock Eagle tradition with a new generation


    They have heard numerous emotional testimonies about the power of the weekend. They have witnessed life-changing transformation. They have experienced the blessings themselves.
      So, it is little wonder why leaders among the United Methodist Men have been so confounded by waning attendance at the annual fall retreat at Rock Eagle.
     “This has been puzzling to all of us,” said Walt Boyd, who has served in various leadership roles with United Methodist Men over the years. “We make a great effort to gather evaluations after the weekend is over to find out what we can do better. But the responses are overwhelmingly positive. Men will often tell us they loved the weekend and are planning on coming back, but then they don’t.”
      Last year Rock Eagle celebrated its 50th anniversary of drawing men together for worship, fellowship, educational workshops, and recreational activities.
       Prior to 2000, it was not unusual for the three-day event to draw 1,000 men from across north Georgia. Last year, approximately 480 men attended.
       Recently, Bud Sears, newly installed chairman of the men’s retreats committee, surveyed leaders among the men to seek a reason for the drop off. There were numerous theories but little consensus.
     “It is likely a combination of things,” said Cary Loesing, who has been attending Rock Eagle for 20 years. “Many churches have developed strong men’s programs that prefer to do things independently. Also, many school districts in the state have begun scheduling fall breaks, which might interfere with the retreat.”
         Loesing also believes that in 2005, when the retreat was cancelled so the facility could be used for victims of Hurricane Katrina, some men might have gotten out of the habit of attending each year.
         “You could see there was a steady drop off in attendance after 2005,” Loesing said.
     In response to dwindling attendance, UM Men have been making various modifications to Rock Eagle, focusing workshops and activities toward a younger set. A climbing wall and zip line are among the new additions.
      There is also increased emphasis on hands-on projects, such as a Stop Hunger Now food-packaging event, which is planned for this fall.
         “We want to share ideas that men can bring back to their local churches,” said Boyd.
        United Methodist Men believe they have good reason for optimism about the 2012 retreat, Sept. 28-30. The keynote speaker will be Bishop Mike Watson, who will follow the theme, “We Are Called To Be Courageous.”
      “The bishop is an excellent speaker and he has a heart for men’s ministry,” Boyd said. “I believe his presence will attract some pastors who have not attended Rock Eagle before. We have a chance to reach a new group of people in the conference.”
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