Well, I’m in Phoenix Arizona and it is going to be hot… really hot. It’s gonna hit 115˚ (for my American friends) or 46˚ (for the rest of the world) this week. But hey, it’s a dry heat. With the heat comes summer camp. Ah yes, a great time to cool off near some water and have a great time of Christian fellowship.
A few weeks back I asked two questions about camp, “What is summer camp about?” And “Who is it for?” Now I realize that this may sound like an odd question, but I’m not convinced that we have really thought this through all that thoroughly. We tend to limit our thinking to, “I’ve been to camp, my family has been to camp. Camp is great, support camp.”
However, culture is changing and, if I’m not mistaken, we will start to see a bit of a hurt put on the whole camp movement. The average summer camp isn’t bursting at the seams with volunteers and leaders. We are struggling to fill our positions each summer as we see a decline in numbers in our local church youth groups. There is a ‘trickle down effect’ and it is my worry that we will continue to see a decline in the numbers of volunteers needed to staff our camps and a drop in the numbers of campers themselves. The pool that we draw from is shrinking and less kids in church based youth groups = less camp staff and less campers. (There is one caveat I can add about camp—with the increased busyness of parents, summer camp may well become a viable ‘babysitting club’ option for some youth. This may help to extend to life of summer camp but will significantly decrease its effectiveness.)
With this in mind, it is crucial that we think critically and carefully about summer camp. Let’s tackle one of the questions I raised a few weeks back—who do we aim to attract to our camp? Here is my answer:
Camp is a temporary gathering of members of the Kingdom of God who come together for a week of Christian fellowship. They do this because summer camp offers them two things: 1. A chance to gather with spiritually like-minded youth from a wide region. 2. The summer break gives them the luxury of spending a solid week in unhurried Christian fellowship pursuing Christian disciplines. Many of the youth’s schedules ‘crowd out’ some of these spiritual disciplines. Summer camp is a time to slow down and ‘re-engage’.
Please note that my definition is not meant to exclude nonChristians but rather is about placing the emphasis on ministry to the Christian youth, not on attracting the nonChristians. It will mean that at camp we can work on those activities that we should be able to do well: prayer, Bible study, worship, service, growing together in fellowship, love etc. (As I have said earlier in other forums we must remember that the Bible teaches us that these activities in and of themselves are attractive and effective in Christian growth and promoting the gospel to the outsider.)
Our goal for summer camp is that the youth who come will be encouraged and equipped to go back to their communities to live for Jesus. This will also mean that those Christian youth who come to camp will minister their friends and seek to bring them to the very camp that was a blessing for them! They will want their friends to experience the great things that summer camp offers: prayer, Bible study, worship, service, growing together in fellowship, love etc.
Can I remind you of the ‘Iceberg Principle’ of youth ministry? Imagine your group (or summer camp) is an iceberg, if the base of this (70-90%) is nonChristians, you will spend all your energy keeping it from toppling over. If your base is built of Christian youth, you can effectively minister to the 10-30% of nonChristian. What this means practically for us is that we will seek primarily to attract a large majority of Christians who will invite a much smaller minority of nonChristians. This will allow us to do those things during the week that promote Christian growth and truly effective evangelism. When the Christians go home they will be built up and encouraged, and when the nonChristians go home they will have a clear experience and understanding of what the Christian community is all about. Some of them will no doubt join their friend’s youth groups because they enjoyed the experience of camp. (Obviously our hope is that many of them became followers of Jesus on camp as well!)
It is my belief that summer camps have a direct parallel with local youth ministry. Not only are they inseparable, but they are symbiotically linked and connected in the deepest possible way. With this in mind I want to suggest that many of the questions that we deal with in youth group (i.e. ‘How do we attract nonChristians?) have the same answers when we think of summer camp. Aim first to build, equip and encourage the Christian. Once we have done this they can reach their friends in a way that has spiritual integrity.