5 Reasons why camps are essential for youth groups
By: Iain Anderson
December 5 2017
If you were to ask me if you should run a youth group camp then I would answer with a resounding YES! This isn’t just because I work at a campsite and want to generate business either. I have been involved with Ministry Camps since I was in Grade 3 and I have seen firsthand the impact in myself and those around me. Working now, as I am, at Camp Clayton in the Ministry team, and as a Youth Minister in a local church I have been gaining renewed vigor of the importance of these camps for young people. So here are 5 reasons why these camps are essential for the young people in your church! Please note that this is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list!
1. Build Relationships
One of the most important things in youth ministry is trying to build relationships with the young people. While the programs that we run are helpful, it is through the relationships we build with young people that we are able to do what needs to be done to share Jesus with them and disciple them.
This can be really hard when all you have is 2 hours on a Friday night, and maybe some time at church. I know that for my context our numbers fluctuate and on a Friday night my leaders and I are making sure new people feel welcome, running a program and making sure we try to connect with the young people we already know.
Running a camp, whether it is a single night, whole weekend or even weeklong, automatically provides you with more time to spend doing this relationship stuff. Even when you are doing more programming than you would normally do there are many more opportunities to sit down and build relationships with the young people that naturally occur during camp times.
A brilliant example of this would come through the addition of meal times, or time in the cabins of an evening. Both of these events are times when conversations can flow naturally, and in my experience there is often the capability for deep conversations that can end up being a highlight of the camp.
2. Allows those on the fringes of the group to come in
A challenge in running a youth ministry is ensuring that everyone feels welcome and part of the group. One of the unintentional side effects that I have noticed from running youth group camps, and other ministry camps is the way that young people who are on the fringes of the group often build relationships with each other at camp and are able to move from the outskirts into the core area of the group.
Camps provide an opportunity for shared experiences and memories to be created together. When this is added to the temporary community of a camp, something already present at a youth group but more noticeable at a camp, then many of the normal social barriers are broken down. I have noticed that after our Youth camp each year the relationships and cliques within the youth group are more open and welcoming to others. By adding a camp into your annual or bi-annual calendar you are creating opportunities to help those on the fringe become core members of your group.
3. It’s a peak experience
The term Peak Experience comes from the work of Here2Stay which is a collection of Christian Churches and Parachurch organisations that have been researching the epidemic of young people leaving the Christian church and faith.
If you haven’t checked them out before then I suggest you check them out: http://here2stay.org.au/
One of their 8 formational pillars is the idea of making sure that young people have the opportunity to have peak experiences in their faith. Times and places outside of the norm which help lead to the mountain top experiences. They are places of growth in the Christian faith, planned or unplanned. I know that in my life so many of these peak experiences have happened within my camp experiences. Being outside of my normal life and community, in a place where God is shared freely, I have had the opportunity to grow in incredible ways. These experiences have helped to solidify my faith and given me things to hold on to when times are tough.
Youth Group camps are an incredible way for us to provide peak experiences for the next generation.
4. It becomes a rite of passage
At my church we have generational ministries that run on a Friday night for grades 3-12. For the past 2 years we have run our Generations Camp. This camp is for the whole age group (though the grade 6-12’s stay an extra night) and is a very specific part of our transitions process. In term 4, like many ministries, we open up the age groups to let those joining in the next year to move up. This means that grade 5’s join our junior high ministry and grade 8’s our senior high ministry. At camp we put time and effort into creating opportunities for this to happen. We use a camp, with all of it’s other helpful items to create a shared experience for those moving up.
We also however, don’t let the grade 5’s stay for the extra night. Or allow the grade 6-8’s to stay up as late as the grade 9-12’s. We limit activities to certain ages and through all of this we are creating things and times that the young people look up to and wait for. We are already hearing of young people who can’t wait until they are old enough to stay for both nights.
We have started to create rites of passage and anchors for our young people that we can celebrate with them. This is another thing that has come out of the Here2Stay research that is important for young people’s faith development. These rites of passage give them an opportunity to feel special as they grow older, and to be able to enjoy increased responsibilities and opportunities.
Even if your camp is not set up like this however, the simple act of having a camp creates a rite of passage for young people. It might be that they can attend the youth program and not the children’s program at your church camp. It might be the ability to be part of a certain activity that they couldn’t before. It might just be that they are finally old enough to come to the camp. Whatever it is, these rites of passage help us to acknowledge to the young people that we understand they are growing up and that we are willing to give them responsibilities.
5. Camps are fun!
The final reason to run a camp is… they are awesome fun! While they might be more work and a bit of stress during the planning stages, the outcome of them for the young people is that they are fun! They are lots of fun, and they will create lasting memories.
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