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, all student ministry programming should be held to honest evaluation and scrutiny. Everything we calendar in the name of ministry ought to have Kingdom impact. The ministry calendar however, should not exclude a valuable tool simply because it has been around for a long time. It is tempting to board the trending train where things seasoned and aged are sometimes pronounce obsolete as it leaves the depot in search of the newest alternative. I have no dog in this fight, but I do have a lot of skin in the game so allow me give full disclosure here. I am not, nor have I ever been, paid by any camp producing entity for an endorsement. I have never 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 – its 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 team-ship. Summer camp serves as an investment towards at least 4 of the 5 biblical purposes of student ministry: Fellowship, Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, and Ministry Service (not a bad return for a single strategic event). If it is a mission focused camp like Mfuge, then you are likely swapping 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 camp 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 than keep them at home eating snacks between meals and consuming hot water, electricity, and fuel.
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. Generate camp made its debut in the summer of 2016 and is a trustworthy and high quality option knowing it is produced by several of the same masterminds who once produced Student Life Camps.
Contract Camps (programming, recreation, family group leaders provided)
Centrifuge Camps by Lifeway
Generate Camps by YM360
Global Youth Camps, Chattsworth, TN
Camp Anderson in Central FL
Student Life Camps by Lifeway
Summer Camp Facilities (you create your own camp from scratch)
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 camp facilities for rent. Southern Baptist have a large network of camp locations through many of their state conventions, as do Methodist and Assembly of God.