Why Camps Matter
It’s been a couple weeks since we finished our summer programming which included trips, events, and of course, camps. Towards the end of July, I had the chance to speak for a week at a camp as well. Needless to say, it’s been a busy and full summer.
Yet again, I was overwhelmed at how God uses camps to speak and guide students. After twelve years of youth ministry (with lots of camps and retreats), I’m convinced now, more than ever, of the importance and necessity of camps.
In my experience, camps matter for a number of reasons, but perhaps most profound are the impacts they make on your group dynamic and students’ spirituality.
Let’s start with the group dynamic.
Nothing bonds students together faster with leaders and one another like quality time. Camp gives you this more than any other event, outside of a mission trip.
Students are around one another for several, uninterrupted days. Add to this the fact that distractions are limited, and you have an incredibly rich environment for relationships to grow.
They play together.
And share meals together.
Unfortunately, sharing meals is often times a unique experience for students. Many have confided in me that most of the time they eat alone or in the midst of homework or tv watching. At camp, though, they sit at a table together and converse and share.
Moreover, conversations happen in the “in between” times of the sessions and group activities. It’s the convos that take place in the cabins or walking to the dining hall. These little moments are profoundly impactful.
Typically over the course of the school year, we get a few uninterrupted conversations with students outside of youth group or church.
Small groups will give you thirty minutes to an hour. But at camp? Hour after hour of these conversations come about. And students love them.
You can’t recreate the kind of relationship building and bonding that happens when you leave your surroundings and spend time together creating a shared experience. Camps do this every year.
Now, what about the spiritual impact?
I’ve often joked that camp speakers can say the exact thing you’ve said for months, but when students hear it from them, it changes everything. It’s true.
Part of that, I believe, is the environment. Camp breaks down barriers. It frees us from distractions. God uses those special places to get our attention.
I begin praying for camp and the messages months in advance. I know that the words from the speaker (for the most part) will have a life-changing impact. Having been on both sides of this, I can attest to its significance.
I’ve seen students entire lives changed by that one message. And I’ve been able to chat with students after a message I’ve given, hearing how the words spoke to them and how they were changed in the process.
It always amazes me how God works in this way.
Another part of spirituality that is impacted by camps is the creation of habits. Students, at least for a week, participate in spiritual disciplines.
They worship every day.
They read the Word.
They experience small groups and fellowship in their churches.
Of course, there is the “spiritual high” that camp produces–being surrounded by Christians for the most part and living in idealistic Christian camp world will do this.
The rest of the year won’t be like this. But for that week, this, I’ve often found, is the best thing for students.
No, they probably won’t come back and stick to these practices with the same intensity and passion. Life isn’t like that. But those moments at camp DO stay with them.
And maybe it’s not a drastic change, but it’s one that they will not soon forget.
Another aspect of spirituality at camp is simply the observance of nature. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but for kids who are city dwellers, nature provides such an awesome pathway to God. It opens them up the grandness of God’s creative force and energy.
Nature is like a reset button that aligns them with their creator.
Staring up at the stars.
Going on a hike.
Or just being amongst the trees and the water and feeling the wind.
These all contribute to experiencing God at camp.
As we prepare for the fall, we say goodbye to another summer. Looking back over the past couple of months, I’m assured once again that camps are one of the greatest investments that we make in our ministry.
Students love the experiences. Leaders are given a chance to have a maximum impact in the lives of their kids. And God uses these weeks to speak and move in ways that will stay with them the rest of the year.
However youth ministry grows and evolves in the future, I’m going to make sure we continue prioritizing camps and giving students the opportunity to experience a life-changing week.