In high school our church’s youth group would go to camp. We rented cabins at Waianapanapa State Park we were a small church and it was a small camp but many fun and good memories.
Once I started in youth ministry as a volunteer at a small church in rural Oklahoma I found myself joining forces with a larger youth ministry to take our students to Fall’s Creek, the world’s largest Christian camp. Fall’s Creek was amazing. Incredible camp pastors, great worship leaders, just a huge experience. When I went into youth ministry full time we took our youth group to Fall’s Creek each summer.
When I moved to North Carolina to be a student minister we started taking our students to Student Life camps. Over the past 14 years we have done a mix of Student Life, our own camps, and Camp Cale. Every summer of the past 22 years I have been part of taking students to summer camp. In fact in the past 22 years over a year of time from my life has been spent at camps, retreats and youth group trips.
Why do summer camp?
- Removes students from their usual routine and atmosphere.
There is something about getting away from the normal ebb and flow of your life that helps take your guard down. Going to a place where most of life’s distractions are removed helps one to focus on God. Sometimes when the noise of life is removed a student can better hear that still small voice, the whisper of God.
- Provides a temporary escape.
It’s sad but there are students who have a terrible home life. There are students who get juggled from living with one parent then back to the other. For them the “normal” of life is living in a constant state of flux. At camp a student can be in a place where they don’t have to be concerned or even think about the mess back home.
- A break.
Students work hard (or should) all year in school, athletics, extra curricular activities. Many of those students take up summer jobs. God created this universe in six days and on the seventh day he rested. God intends for us to take breaks and rest. Camp can provide a well needed break for students and rest from normal life.
- Intentional focus on God
Summer camp provides a week where the focus is on God and spiritual growth. It is rare in a person’s life to get to spend an entire week that is built around God and his word. How many adults wish now that they could get away for a week and focus solely on their relationship with God.
- Lives are changed at summer camp.
I have seen summer camp have an impact and influence on so many teens’ lives. I have seen students come to know Christ at camp and even carry that new relationship home and influence an entire family to turn to Jesus Christ. Many students realize at camp God’s purpose for their lives and even answer the call to ministry at camp.
- Camp can be a springboard.
Camp can be a springboard to launch your youth group into a stage of growth and outreach. Students come back from camp challenged in their faith walk. This is a great time to take that challenge and build on it. (more on that in another post)
- Camp is fun.
Let’s be honest, camp is fun! Students have a great time at camp. I have a blast when I’m at camp myself. Most camps have built into their schedule some rec time for games and competition as well as some free time where students choose their afternoon activities. Fun is a huge draw factor on getting kids to go to camp.
- Builds relationships.
Camp provides students opportunity to build relationships within their own youth group. Living together, eating together, playing together, worshipping together can be a huge factor in tightening and strengthening relationships among your students.
A week at camp allows you, their minister, to focus on them. During the year we get around 50 to 100 hours with them at youth group. A week of camp gives you 120 hours of living life with your students. You get to sit around the table and chat with them, worship with them, cheer them on, spend focus time answering questions and asking questions. When do you get that kind of opportunity as a youth pastor?
So now that summer is over we should be looking to next summer and deciding what to do about camp. In my next blog post I’ll write about what I look for in a camp and even challenge you to mix it up, break away from what you always do, “We always go to ________ for camp”, or, “We do mission trips, not camps.”. Try something new, do something different.
(Part 1 of 4 on Summer Camp)