3 Reasons Why Camps & Retreats Are Still Incredibly Significant To The Spiritual Lives Of Students
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No matter the length of time you have been a youth worker, you know that camps and retreats can be places of significant impact on the spiritual life of a student. This is because camps and retreats provide us with opportunities to be incredibly intentional in creating spaces that have the potential for God to move, students to respond, and lives to be impacted forever. I know this because I was one of those students who was forever changed!
I can think back to at least four or five different camps, conferences, and mission experiences during my time in student ministry (specifically during high school) that spurred me toward taking another step in my walk with Jesus. These significant events were catalyst moments on my faith journey that shaped my faith and who I am today. And when I listen to the stories of my students, I hear story after story of how God continues to use a camp or retreat to change young lives. My students might not be able to tell me what we discussed in Life Groups last Wednesday, but they can tell me, in great detail, what happened or what was said by a speaker on a particular Saturday night at a winter retreat two years ago.
Why is that? What is it about these trips that ironically results in a student growing closer to Jesus in two days than they did in two years of attending a weekly program?
1. A Disruption In Rhythm
“Getting students out of their comfort zone” has become a bit of a cliche saying in the student ministry world. However, just because something is a bit cliche doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth behind it. The reality is that camps and retreats can be incredibly impactful in students’ lives because their day-to-day
rhythm is disrupted. We tend to think of disruptions as purely negative, but there are positive disruptions too (surprise birthday parties, when someone does something kind for you, an unexpected blessing, etc.). When our life is disrupted, we tend to pay attention.
Now, think about your students. It only takes a few weeks in school before they are well into their rhythm for that given semester. They go to school, do their homework, participate in extracurriculars, attend your ministry, and rest or play sports on the weekend before repeating that process the following week. But when we throw a weekend retreat in there, there is a positive disruption in their weekly rhythm. Suddenly they’re hopping on a bus or a van with their friends and leaders and heading up to a camp they’ve never been to before, staying up way later than usual, drinking more soda than any doctor would recommend, and spending more time thinking about God’s love and their relationship with Him than they ever would during their regular weekly rhythm.
When we plan these intentional positive disruptions in our students’ weekly rhythm, it creates a unique experience that students are locked in for. Their senses are already on high alert because of the new environment, and it sets the stage for Jesus to come in and change their lives.
2. Sheer Quantity Of Spiritual Moments
If we’re honest with ourselves, a typical weekend for our students is probably not going to be packed with deep spiritual moments or conversations that invite them to pursue Jesus with their whole life. Instead, it’s probably going to include a lot of video games, travel sports, siblings’ soccer games, and the occasional sleepover.
A well-planned and thoughtfully programmed weekend retreat will include countless intentional opportunities for students to connect with God in different ways. I firmly believe that one of the biggest reasons students leave a retreat changed so drastically is because, for a brief period of time, they are saturated in God’s Word and are constantly being invited to think about their relationship with Him.
In student ministry, quality over quantity is something we strive for most often, but the unique part about a retreat is that, often, both are present. There is a large quantity of quality spiritual moments to invite students into, and when we give students so many different opportunities to interact with God, it can often soften even the hardest of hearts, setting the stage for God to do something extraordinary.
3. The Distractions Are Gone
Taking students to a place that removes so many things that can distract them from connecting with God is another reason why camps and retreats are so impactful. Removing those screens that Gen Z and Gen Alpha are often so glued to and creating some space from all the stuff that might be going on at home creates an environment for students’ attention to be pointed in a different direction.
Part of our role as youth workers is to always be intentional about getting out of the way and removing obstacles and distractions that get in between a student and their relationship with God. Retreats are intentional periods where removing distractions can be taken to
another level. The phones that might constantly be vying for the attention of your teenagers are gone. That stressful situation going on at school is temporarily put on pause. That fight one of your guys got into with his mom on the car ride over is put in the rearview mirror for a weekend. Creating a space for an extended period of time where students don’t have anything distracting them from connecting with God has incredible potential to change lives.
These three things, paired with some other factors, are what I believe make camps and retreats so crucial in our student ministries and the stories of our students. Yes, these events are incredibly taxing on us (especially if you’re responsible for all the details and programming). They are big asks for our volunteers, but the return on investment is well worth the extra time, money, and energy because these experiences continue to have incredible potential to change the trajectory of a teenager's life forever.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- How does your ministry currently view camps and retreats? Do you place a high value on them? Why or why not?
- What are some other factors that make camps and retreats so impactful from your experience?
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