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

Also published on Medium.