I have always been a bit of a camp junkie. I think part of it was going back to my childhood years growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s when the camp backdrop was a popular go-to for movies. That along with growing up as a boy scout had me always thinking that leading at a camp with some sweet lake or rustic cabins would be awesome. Fast-forward to college when I began serving on summer camp staffs and my view of camp changed more from the amenities’ to the impact of the programming and small group studies.
This is why I am a firm believer that one week of camp can change the rest of the year for your students and your ministry. I continually see God move in camp in huge ways. Earlier this fall I received two notes from youth ministers who I was with at GENERATE this past summer, from two very different backgrounds. One works with a large Latino population outside of Miami, and the other with mostly Caucasian middle-class kids in Indiana. The consistency was the work of God in the lives of their students.
“I have gone to a few camps local, out of state, etc. And never, have I ever, had such a good response not only from my youth but from my leaders, their parents, and even the church as a whole…Truly (the) mission statement of equipping and serving churches was highlighted, italicized, bold, and underlined.” – Josue, Florida
“Inspired by the week, one of our high school students started a prayer/accountability group for girls that meets on Monday evenings. The group is student-led and they have been walking through the (follow-up) devotional together. Every week, the group grows as our students’ invite others from school to join them. The same student who started that group also expressed a desire at Generate to be mentored in sharing her faith with others. I've been meeting with her each week and praying for her and a non-Christian friend that came to her - the day after we started praying that God would open doors- and asked her what she believed about God. She is also working to start a club at her high school that will include Bible Study, but also be a mission-oriented club, planning and working community service projects in our city.” – John, Indiana
I always love hearing of the impact of what one week of camp can provider. Here are five reasons I believe you should have camp as a part of your ministry strategy.
JESUS WENT ON RETREAT. SO SHOULD WE.
Jesus is always a great example to follow. As you read the scriptures, you see Him often retreating from the crowds and the “normal” flow of life. He goes away and spends intimate time with His followers or with His Father. That model still has great value. When teenagers remove themselves from the distractions of their everyday lives, they tend to hear the Lord more clearly. Spending focused time in healthy Biblical community helps them understand the call to serve, and to make the truth of the Gospel known.
STUDENTS ARE CHANGED AT CAMP.
Some students come to Christ for the first time (seeing students going from death to life never gets old). And there are countless other decisions that come in these intimate times with God: just like the ones I shared from Florida and Indiana. Camp is about lifting up the name of Jesus, and letting the Spirit do what only He can do. Camp truly provides an opportunity for a catalytic experience with God. This is true for your group as well.
STUDENTS LEARN THE GOSPEL AND ARE CHALLENGED TO MAKE THE GOSPEL KNOWN.
These two simple truths should mark any camp you chose for your students. The Gospel should be clearly presented in a way that your students can understand. This only happens when the life and work of Jesus is lifted up as students study the Word and worship together. If the camp of your choice does not have speakers that are preaching Jesus and pointing students toward the Bible, then you need to consider other options. The Word should always be the foundation of our preaching, not an illustration. Camp allows for a high concentration of it. And secondly, camps should not simply be making consumers of the Gospel, but if we are disciple-makers, the camp experience should be creating conduits of the Gospel. It is about “getting” it and then “giving” it away. This at its core is what Christ called all of His followers to be about.
CAMP ALLOWS YOU DEDICATED TIME TO SPEND WITH STUDENTS.
Even if your church is highly supportive of you being out of the office and where students are, likely that time is still limited. A lunch here, a ball game there, or maybe a quick weekend event allows for some connection time with your students. But you likely often spend your days being administers of the Gospel rather than ministers. This is most true when we have a bunch of events on our calendar.
Camp allows for you to have a dedicated week to step away from all the distractions that you too have as a minister. It allows for you to take the time to sit with a student over a meal at a slower pace. It allows for time on a bench talking through spiritual disciplines with a young person after they have spent a few days of concentrated time in the Word. It gives opportunities to counsel and talk with students after they have responded publicly. It allows for your days to close each evening standing in front of your students reflecting and highlighting all that God has done in them and through them. Those times don’t just naturally come during the school year. They come with strategy and focus.
CAMP HAS A GREAT ROI (Return On Investment)
One of the big discussions that often comes up with camps is finances. This thought can come from multiple people, including your up-line at church that asks about the return on putting aside limited budget dollars for camp in the form of transportation needs, scholarships, covering adult chaperones’ cost, and so on. Maybe parents wonder, “why does a camp cost so much”? Maybe you even find yourself evaluating what it means to be away from home for one more week, or if camp is really worth the work. A great camp experience should not break the budget nor break you.
While you should respect the budget realities that most families, and likely your church faces, if you want to get growth you have to put out seed. No one will find success growing if they simply water the mud. You need to be wise in where you put out seed and how much, but the seed is essential for growth. Great camp experiences just allow for a lot of seed to be scattered in the life of your students in a highly concentrated period. Growth has to be the result of the time and resources spent to have any worthwhile return. If that is not happening, then something must change. But if camp is done well and used well, the return will be plentiful. You will see students come to know Christ, and transformed into new creations before you very eyes. Your church will feel it, your community will feel it and in time our world will feel it.
One of the great things about being a youth minister or youth worker right now, is there are countless great camps out there that will allow you to accomplish all five of these reasons to have camp as a strategic part of your annual ministry year. Of course, we pray that GENERATE will be the camp that meets your needs. But the important thing is to find one that best fits your needs and strategy.