Summer is closing in on us quickly! Among the activities and events related to Summer, youth camp is one of the biggest and potentially most important. If you’re like me, you look forward to camp all year! I love it! However, I know many people who aren’t too fond of Summer Camp. I am sure there are several legitimate reasons why one would be apprehensive about camp, even still, I want to take the time to share why camp mattered to me, and why it matters to our youth.
When I was 15, I was spending my summer back home in Colorado. I was the big brother/class clown kind of guy in my youth group. I had a general sense of “being a believer” but I thought that just meant not doing bad things and trying to only do good things. As youth camp approached, I really wanted to go, mostly because I wanted to chill with some friends. I begged and begged until my mom agreed and paid for me to go to camp. Over the course of 5 nights, I went from just having knowledge of God and His love for me to experiencing God and seeing His Spirit move through fellowship and community. I came home with new friends, new girlfriend(s), and new favorite songs (lots of GRITS & Relient K). But more importantly, a renewed excitement for Jesus and new convictions. Maybe you have a similar camp experience? Maybe not? Either way, the following points are the main reasons I choose to support, encourage, and attend camp, to this day.
Why does Camp Matter?
1. Change of Scenery & Dynamics:
We all have heard people say (or maybe have said it ourselves) that whole “I could say something 100 times with no result but a stranger says it once and students act like it’s revolutionary.” At camp, this is even more relevant. I’ve been privileged enough to be involved with running several camps and I’ll be honest….I’ve never heard a message that was so radically different that it blew my mind. That’s ok! The fact is, sometimes a reinforced message is more effective. When your students hear you and your leaders say it, it may sound biased. When they hear other leaders from other places and different backgrounds echo the same message, it may tend to hit harder. Also, getting students out of the normal, week to week, environment is necessary. New venue, new sounds, new sights, new people, new voices, all make for a fresh take on things. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of presentation to make the same message impactful.
2. Heightened Sense of Accountability:
I like this one a lot. Being a youth pastor in Detroit, my students tend to follow a squad or gang mentality. If one of the guys does something wrong, even if they all agree it’s wrong, no one will speak up. When they are their only accountability, things get shady really fast. Putting students like this with a different or broader group of peers subjects them to more opinions, more personality types, and more feedback. They either act right or they sit out. In the same vein, if you have a student who is influential and they undergo a solid attitude change while at camp, that may rub off onto other students within their social reach. The idea is that a few of the students grab on to a solid message or God-moment and begin holding each other to a higher standard.
3. Fellowship & Community:
Plain and simple…it’s good for any believer to be around other believers. For me, it’s so cool to see students from Detroit hanging out with students from Saginaw, Ann Arbor, Flint, Lansing, etc. Meeting and making friends with teens from across their state (or country) gives students the sense of being part of something bigger. Knowing that there are people in other cities and states who are seeking God too can be a huge encouragement for a struggling student. Plus, everyone has those 1 or 2 friends that they met at camp that they reunite with every summer…think of the memories they’ll make!
4. Intimate Experiences:
This may have been the most powerful aspect for me, as a camper. Being removed from my normal environment liberated me! I felt like I could tell my camp counselors things that I was afraid to tell my youth leaders. After sharing it with a counselor, it broke the ice enough for me to feel comfortable talking to a leader back home. I was free to be vulnerable because there were so many more students seeking God or engaging in worship time than there were back home due to the fact that there were more students at camp. By the end of the week I had spent such a concentrated amount of time digesting bible verses, praying with my peers, talking with counselors, worshipping, etc. that I was ready to go home and tell people how amazing camp was. When the camp talk wore off, I was so confident in what camp showed me and in my youth group family that I was unashamed to represent my faith no matter where I was. That passion was cultivated at camp.
5. Future Investments:
At camp, I was one of the older boys (most of the boys were 13 and 14) and the boys who were older than me ended up being smaller than me. Because of this, the counselors charged me as a student leader after just one day. They even gave me a large wooden staff and started calling me Moses! By the end of the week, I think most people believed my real name was Moses! I remember one of the counselors telling me how much of a natural leader I was. He explained that He saw qualities in me that God put there in order to use me. This was the first time I ever considered the idea of being a leader in church. It opened my eyes to the idea that God could use me in such a way! Here we are 13 years later and I’m trying to invest in teens the same way!
Camp has a way of creating space for these types of conversations and realizations to take place. You never know which students are going to leave camp with the realization that God has anointed them for a specific type of work or ministry. Do these things happen in our weekly programs? Absolutely! But due to the personal nature of camp, consistent presentation of the gospel, reiteration of scripture, daily small groups, etc. Camp generates the kind of atmosphere students sometimes need to bring about such introspective moments in such an effective way.
There are a slew of other reasons I could name to illustrate the pro’s of camp. Camp is just special. Do some research of camps in your area (if you don’t have a denominational camp) and send some teens! Prime them by using the theme and/or verses to be emphasized at camp in the weeks leading up to it. Use camp to your advantage as the leader! Camp can be one of your greatest tools & beneficial events of the year! Leverage it!
One thing is for sure, Summer is almost here and camps everywhere are going to be popping off! Are you encouraging students to attend?
By Richard Colon
YGC Content Contributor
& Youth Pastor at Central Church