I have heard a lot of positive feedback lately about this blog, and I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Hearing that people are reading this and consider it something worth their time is something I am very grateful for. I couldn’t do it though without the fabulous writers, so a huge thank you to all the writers who have given of their time and energy to create the material. Without the help of my friends in ministry this site would not exists. Let us continue our month of Camp-focused-questions with…….
“What are some useful things you have learned over the years of taking youth to camp?”
Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys foosball and skittles, but doesn’t particularly care for static electricity. He is currently serving as Minister to Students at St Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
For many youth, going to camp is one of the biggest highlights of the summer. Oftentimes, it’s a wonderful week for the youth leaders, as well, because programming, meals, and even bedtimes are predetermined. What is it, then, that separates a good week at camp from a great week at camp?
I have 14 years of youth camp experience, and I’ve been to 3 different youth camps. I’ve also seen camp from all sides—camper, staffer, chaperone, and group leader. Though all the experiences were different, especially from camp to camp, some of the difference makers are obvious—good information for parents, keeping the cost low, and finding a workable location. One thing, however, seems to remain constant and continues to stand out above the rest.
What I’ve learned separates a good week from a great week is giving the youth permission to make fools of themselves. That may sound, well… foolish, but I promise it works. Every camp I’ve ever experienced asks the youth to play silly games, do ridiculous morning energizers, meet lots of new people, and generally be insane for a week. The youth groups that have the most fun (and, consequently pay attention the most, learn the most, and bond the most) are the ones who are willing to use their hands to create imaginary moose antlers, to jump around and lose their voice during parties, to go all out with silly costumes, and to take a chance on meeting a new friend.
If I had to boil all my years of camp experience down to one piece of wisdom (I call it wisdom, but you might call it lunacy…), it’s to encourage all of the youth and chaperones (!) to make complete fools of themselves for a week, to live outside their normal boxes, and to have a great time doing ridiculous things. Of course, this also means that the youth leader needs to follow the same advice! If passers-by can’t find a good reason to fit you for a strait jacket come the end of camp, you’ve done camp wrong.
John Uldrick has served in Youth Ministry in some form since 1996. He has served churches in SC, GA, & FL and is currently Minister of Students & Missions at FBC Rome, in Rome, GA. John married his wife Jennifer in 1998, and has a son Charlie born in 2000 and daughter Annalise born in 2002.
Expectation is everything. Youth camp is the seminal event in the yearlong life of our ministry. It is the high water mark. It is the energy that drives us through. It can be the catalyst to change a life and to unify the group. It also can be a week of missed relationships. It can be a divisive and self-centered event. It can serve as a time that focuses only on our group, or our issues, or individuals who are habitually negative. So…expectation is everything. I try to set the stage prior to each week, challenging youth to have a positive attitude about everything. I also ask them to fully participate in the experience. The more friends they make, the more they participate in worship, the more they learn in bible study, and the more they engage the process the better their overall experience will be.
Fun should be a high priority. Energy and fun are a vital part of any experience for teenagers. They stay more engaged with the group and in the process when things are well planned, engaging, and energized. Teens are surrounded by things that fight for their attention spans, and youth camp can fall down the list of priorities for some families. In the past, I have chosen to tack on a special event to the beginning of our Youth camp trips to Passport. We’ve spent an extra night on the beginning of most each trip. We’ve white-water rafted, taken tours of pro football stadiums, gone to amusement parks, and taken in baseball games.
Sometimes things will happen that are out of our control (thanks be to GOD). Bad things can happen, even if we’ve planned our fanny off. I’ve had youth visit emergency rooms. I have had youth make bad decisions and almost get us excused from our hotel accommodations. I have had youth unintentionally hurt students from other youth groups while working on work sites. GOD things can happen, even if we didn’t plan for it. I’ve had youth make decisions to follow Christ. I’ve had youth make decisions NOT to follow the crowd they’ve been hanging with. I’ve had youth sense a calling to ministry. If we get out of the way, God can use youth camp to transform our students into the people God intends for them to be!
Those are some things I’ve learned over years of taking youth to camp…