For the past ten years, I have heard whispers questioning the validity of summer youth camp. As the whispers turned more frequently into questioning voices from passionate youth ministers, I felt a need to weigh in on the subject.
Camp or no camp?
Unquestionably, youth ministers should hold all student ministry programming to honest evaluation and scrutiny. Everything we calendar in the name of ministry ought to have Kingdom impact. However, the ministry calendar should not exclude a valuable tool simply because it has been around for a long time.
I have no dog in this fight, but I do have a lot of skin in the game so allow me to give full disclosure here. No camp producing entity has ever paid me for an endorsement. Neither have I served on the board of any youth camp organization or been a summer camp employee. My opinion is offered as an objective and impartial observer. So, trust me when I say . . . there are some things which almost always produce Kingdom impact if done with excellence – and I believe summer camp is one of those things – as are small groups, relationship building, and leadership development – to name a few.
Let me share four compelling reasons to incorporate summer camp into your student ministry calendar.
1. The “Get-a-way” principle
There is high value in removing people from their everyday environment, distractions, and conveniences into a focused and purposeful getaway experience. Jesus did this with His disciples for the purpose of helping them understand WHO He was, WHAT He required of them, and WHERE He was going to end up. Getting away to rest, focus, and learn is neither a new concept or all that genius – it’s just highly practical and valuable. That’s why fortune 500 companies take retreats, why the US Naval Academy sponsors a one week Summer Camp, and why successful companies like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby utilize employee retreats to achieve their goals.
2. The “Investment” principle
Dedicating a specified time away is an investment in relationships, discipleship, leadership, and teamship. Summer camp serves as an investment towards at least 4 of the 5 biblical purposes of student ministry. Those purposes are Fellowship, Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, and Ministry Service. Mfuge and other missions focused camps, swap Evangelism for Ministry Service and can still achieve four of the five purposes.
3. The “Life Change” principle
The simple truth is – when lost students attend a Gospel-centric summer camp with programming excellence, there is a high probability they will return home as a new creation in Christ. Of my 35 years of doing summer camp (both contract and custom built), the return is between 40-70%. Not only is the salvation potential high, but spiritual markers and faith growth spurts are more likely. When summer highs fade into school semester lows, it is a valid downer – admittedly, but that is not sufficient reason to kill it. Like a rubber band that expands and contracts, it does not return to the same exact form it was before being stretched.
4. The “Biggest Bang for the Buck” principle
If you add up what is spent through the church youth budget and programmed ministry event fees over one year, you will find summer camp to be a pretty good bargain. Compare YMCA camp costs at $500-$950 without leaving town and eating at home each morning and evening. The average high school sports camp runs $300-$1200 depending on the age level and does not include transportation. According to USDA healthy food facts, it cost parents between 195-$295 per week just to feed a teenager. It may be cheaper to send them to youth camp.
Let me share a small sampling of camps designed specifically for youth.
These camps are designed for church groups and do not allow individual camper registration. I have personally directed, spoke at, or visited each of the following camp ministries except one – Generate Camps by YM360.
Summer Camp Facilities
Laguna Beach Retreat, Panama City Beach FL
Blue Horizon Lodge & Retreat, Panama City Beach FL
Springville Camp & Conference Center, Odenville, AL
Surfside Christian Retreat, Panama City Beach FL (Small – 72 beds – but directly on the beach)
Camp Lee, Anniston, AL
Several denominational conventions maintain an extensive network of facilities for rent. Southern Baptist, Methodist, and Assembly of God have a large network of locations through many of their state conventions