I was in college. I had grown up in a church with one student (myself, which made group games really hard). Our church had recently merged with another and our newly merged church already had spots to go to summer camp. There was the need for a chaperone, and I was the closest thing they could find. I remember getting off of the bus and being bombarded with water balloons and drenched by massive off-brand water guns. By the end of the day, I sat through a worship service and a Bible study and, looking back, I realize that my life would never be the same.
I have had the pleasure of speaking at Christian summer camps for fifteen years. In that time, it has been an honor to meet youth pastors who love teenagers and want those teenagers to know and love Jesus. One youth pastor, in an attempt to encourage his students to come to camp, asked a simple question, namely, “Why summer camp?” with some observations from Pew Research and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Because in one week a teen will spend:
- 36 hours on school
- 46 hours consuming media
- 5 hours playing sports
- 6 hours in the bathroom
- Only 1 hour on their faith
The biggest win for a student pastor when it comes to camp is time.
- Time with student workers
- Hours with students who claim to follow Jesus
- Days with lost students
Let’s look at each of those.
Time with Student Workers
There are few things more valuable to a youth pastor than adults who buy into the vision that he is casting for the church’s student ministry. Invested youth workers deal with most problems before they happen, attend sporting events and extra curricular activities, and teach Bible studies. It is with adult small group leaders that we see rows turn to circles and faith become a conversation. A great student worker both models and shares the gospel. The time that a youth pastor spends with a group leader at camp is incredibly beneficial because as your student ministry grows, these leaders become a bridge to your students. They can give you insight that you may never discover on your own regarding a student’s spiritual life.
Time with Christian Students
I believe one of the most important and misunderstood aspects of attending summer camp with your teenagers is the sheer amount of time a youth pastor and his workers will spend with students who have already made professions of faith. At some point, the thought that taking kids to camp was for unsaved teenagers became popular. This is such an important aspect of camp. However, of the students who attend a summer camp, the vast majority already claim to have made a profession of faith. The amount of unbroken time at a camp allows a student pastor and/or group leader unique glimpses into the interests, needs, and values of students. Students get to be with you, and your adults play recreation games, serve on mission sites, poorly dribble a basketball, strike out in softball (!), and eat food that probably isn’t the best. These opportunities become moments that a teenager will remember as their faith grows, which will (hopefully) not only serve you but the church as a whole as that student responds to what was modeled.
Time with Lost Students
I don’t know what it is about camp that is so appealing to lost kids. In my head, the conversation should probably play out like this between a believing student and his/her lost friend:
Believer: “Wanna go to camp?”
Lost Friend: “What will we do?”
B: “Well . . . we will have a Bible study and worship in the morning where we talk about Jesus, recreation that has us think through how that Bible study applies to Jesus, and then we will worship Jesus at night.”
B: “But we will play paintball and eat Doritos.”
LF: “I am in.”
In sincerity, I don’t know how many times I have watched a youth pastor tear up because of how his Christian students have invited kids to come to camp with them. I have also had the privilege of watching those groups celebrate as lost kids placed their trust in Christ. The time spent with these new followers of Jesus is life-changing and can help the group leader to know how best to follow up with lost parents, provide discipleship opportunities for these kids, and learn to invest in the new believer’s circle of influence. This time is vital.
A Few Things to Consider
Not all camps are created equal. Here are some things to think about regarding the camp you choose:
Research the Speaker
You know where your kids are better than almost anyone. In 2019, we are able to look at websites and listen to communicators. Find someone who clearly presents the gospel of Jesus. It does not matter if the speaker is clever, witty, funny, trendy, or creative. What matters is that your workers are encouraged by the gospel, your believing students are challenged by the gospel, and the lost students with you hear the gospel. Your time at summer camp needs to be saturated with the good news of Jesus crucified and resurrected.
Evaluate the Camp Style
Some camps lean heavily on recreation. Others will use service projects to allow your students to experience mission for (possibly) the first time. As you think through your students, consider what would best serve them. Since you know your students, be sure to make the most of the time you have with them at camp with a diversity of options.
Over the course of a summer, students will play sports and hang out with friends and vacation and snapchat and instagram and snapchat some more. The summer camp you attend will be a small piece of a larger puzzle. You will learn that a student’s summer camp experience is not ultimate. The time we spend with a student at camp reminds them that those other things are not either. Jesus is. Make the most of time scheduled around Him.