The Problem With Summer Camp

Dear Youth Pastors,

I’ve got a bone to pick with you. Isn’t that an awesome and encouraging way to start a blog post?

But seriously, there something I see a lot in relation to summer camps and retreats. It’s the problem of being sold out. Some youth pastors wear that as a badge of honor year after year. Please stop doing that! Sold out camps mean students are getting left out. Sure it could happen by accident one year. If that problem becomes an annual tradition, it means you’re not taking steps to fix the problem.

Excuse #1: The Sacred Cow

Here’s the great news! Some of you have to use the same camp year after year because the pastor’s cousin’s sister-in-law is married to the person who runs the camp. We’ve always gone there and we always will! Sold out camps are your leverage for killing that sacred cow.

The Fix: Leverage the cow over a cliff

If your pastor is nursing a sacred cow and won’t consider other options for camp, it’s time to come at it from a different angle. Don’t ask to move the camp to a new location. In your next meeting, share the amazing successes that came from camp. Get him all fired up about the decisions made. Tell him how it’s impacted your youth ministry for the better. Then lay it on him. Show him your waiting list of students who didn’t get to go because that camp can’t accommodate your ministry. Be ready with a list of camps where you can get more bang for your buck and have room for more students.

That’s a long shot. However, the approach of asking to change camps up front has never worked, so taking a different angle might.

Excuse #2: There Are No Other Options

The only camp within 200 miles of our church is the one we go to. There literally are no other options.

The Fix:  The fix for Excuse #2 is the same as Excuse #3… stay tuned

Keep reading

Excuse #3: Because of family/church schedules, this is the only week we can go on a weeklong camp

The Fix: Offer more options

Our ministry does a fairly good job of this, but has flailed a little over the last couple of years.

Here are some ways to offer more options:

  • Offer a second week of camp if possible
  • Offer other types of camp (ie: Guys camping trips, girls getaways, whitewater rafting trips) These can be shorter if needed, but still offer students opportunities to have relational time with leaders and get challenged in their faith to take next steps.
  • Have a discipleship retreat where students are placed in homes by grade and gender and meet at the church or around the community to learn about how to grow spiritually on their own

Here’s the bottom line I’m getting at:

Please don’t be proud of a summer camp that sells out every year. Figure out how to solve the problem or offer more options. This will require some extra work on your part and creativity. You also don’t have to be at every type of camp offered. You could also have different options going on at the same time – like with guys trips and girls trips. Equip, train and release your leaders to take ownership of some of the opportunities.

Whatever you do, please never be satisfied with a sold out camp until you have other options for those who couldn’t go to sign up for. You’ll have some kids who go to more than one camp. Awesome! Even put the word “camp” in all of your summer events. You may see the main camp numbers go down a little and students spread out among all of the options. That’s a good thing, even if it hurts the ego a little that your camp doesn’t have a sold out sign on it every year.

Thanks for reading and for thinking of ways to solve the problem rather than wearing it as a badge of honor.

Volunteer Youth Worker

The First Night

I will never forget December of my freshmen year of high school. I grew up in a Christian home and attended church every weekend and midweek every Wednesday night. However, as a teen I never enjoyed it. This is the story of the night that changed, and I changed, for good.

On a Wednesday night I walked into a new friend’s home. What I experienced next was radical to me; something that all of our students should feel. I was in the youth group of my friend’s church, but we were in her house. I was greeted with kind words, open arms, and leaders who intentionally got to know me that night.

Within twenty minutes I was braiding some girl’s hair while talking about Manchester United with the guys. I don’t know how it happened as I was an extremely shy introvert growing up, but it did. Now as I adult I look back and know what I experienced that night was the love of Jesus flowing out of his people.

That’s how our youth groups/small groups should look and feel. What if every group was a place where students felt so loved that they couldn’t help but bring their friends to group? And then what if those friends felt the love of Jesus so they became committed to followers and invited their friends?

The ripple effect of having a welcoming, friendly, family-like youth group is astonishing. It doesn’t require money or flashy programs. It just requires the love of Jesus being rooted in the hearts of students. It’s been sixteen years since that night. The small group leader  I was assigned to that night is still involved in my life! She’s one of my best friends, as is that friend who invited me to group the first night.

This leads me to two questions I hope readers will reflect on:
1. Is your youth group a place where visitors see and experience Jesus through your students?
2. If not, what needs to change?

Let’s have a conversation about this. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. What works for you? Do you have questions about how we do Life Groups at Saddleback Church? I’d love to chat back and forth about this.

VYM Vision

We at VYM stacked hands on our vision today. It’s all about the conversation of the community and we want you to be part of it. As a group of volunteers, we’ve benefitted from sharing with each other what we’ve learned in youth ministry over the last several years. We don’t want to limit that to our little group. We are widening the circle to include the broader community of youth workers… including you. We want to learn from you and help you benefit from what we’ve learned.

Please visit our vision page to see what all of this means and how you as a youth worker can personally benefit from it.