I just got off the phone with a youth pastor who is in between camp weeks. Last week was senior high, next week is middle school.
Part of me was a bit envious. The rest of me was kind of thankful it wasn’t me (at least this time).
I love camp ministry. I met my wife working at summer camp, and have led a number of camps in various ways throughout the years. But as I wrote last year during a week of middle school camp, I often wonder how we help young people translate their experience with God at camp back home.
Earlier this year we asked camp veteran Mindy Coates Smith to write an article for us capturing some emerging ideas and best practices on approaching camp differently. Her article, Beyond Camp-As-Usual, is a good read (or re-read) for this summer season.
Here are three ideas you might find helpful whether you’re mid-camp season or already thinking about next year:
1. Measure outcomes beyond the numbers. When students come home from this camp, what do you hope they will have gained from the experience? What evidence will you see in their lives or in the group? Imagine telling a story about the student experience at camp when you get back. What excites you about what you’ll share?
2. Think more holistically about the camp experience. Create the space needed to embrace and take advantage of the camp experience. For example, host pre-camp and post-camp meetings for students with a focus on spiritual formation rather than logistics. Schedule a parent meeting an hour before the students return home to update the parents on what the students experienced and give them some tips for reconnecting. Send out an email with follow-up questions parents can ask their kids or specific ways they can be praying for their spiritual growth in light of camp.
3. Help students take it home. For camps your team organizes, create practices that students experience at camp and then can repeat at home. Give them tools for making this transition from the retreat experience to everyday life. If you’re at a camp run by someone else, look for practices (or build them in yourself) that can be translatable. Even taking ten minutes at the end of the day to reflect on what happened and how God showed up can create a pattern students can take home. Sometimes they just need us to help them connect the dots.
What other ideas do you have for making your camp experiences more effective this summer?