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4 Ways to Kick Camp up a Notch

By John Vandervelde May 3, 2016

If you’re a youth pastor, you’ll likely be taking your youth group to camp this summer. No doubt, camp week is a ton of fun, but it can also wear you out and leave you frustrated if you don’t see growth and change in the lives of your students. When camp ends, you may find yourself asking, “Sure, we had a lot of fun, but did anyone learn anything meaningful?” To avoid that post-camp frustration, here are four tips for a better camp experience this summer:

1) Cast a compelling vision.

Make sure you clearly lay out the vision for why you’re going to camp this summer. Vision statements are full of intentionality, and they give your students a clear picture of what to expect. Here’s a sample vision statement for camp:

“We’re going to camp because it’s a ton of fun, but also because it’s a great opportunity to grow in some specific ways: a) We need to make some great memories that will become a foundation for better relationships during the year ahead. b) We need to get away for the technology that controls our lives, and we need to discover a healthier view of this stuff. c) We want to spend time in God’s creation and adore him for what he created. We want to explore and go on adventures to learn more about God and his creation. That way we can deepen our relationship with him and share his love and power with others when we get home.”

Students care about vision. Of course they love to have fun, but they want something big, meaningful, and inspirational to capture their hearts and make them come alive. Don’t underestimate the power of a compelling vision.

2) Help students set goals.

After you’ve cast the vision for camp and you’ve established some of your expectations for the group’s experience, have students set individual goals for the week. One great way to do this is to give each student a card with the space to write goals in three categories: relational growth (e.g., I want to make three news friends), spiritual growth (e.g., I want read my Bible daily), and physical growth (e.g., I want to make it up the climbing tower this year). Make a copy of each card so you can track students’ goals and help them stay on track.

3) Define your role.

Youth workers often wear multiple hats during camp week, so they can get off task and miss great opportunities with their students. I challenge you to work with your supervisor or mentors to come up with your defined role for the week, complete with personal goals and desired outcomes. Once you’ve landed on it, share it with your staff, volunteers, and students. This exercise gives you freedom and support to be “all in” during your week at camp.

“Students want something big, meaningful, and inspirational to capture their hearts and make them come alive.”

4) Meet with students one-on-one.

Set up a time to meet with each student individually during the week. If your group is too large, have your other leaders and volunteers help you with this. Check in with students on their goals and ask what they’ve learned at camp that they can apply to life back home. End your time praying for each student.

Note: Follow your church’s policy for meeting with students one-on-one. Always meet in a public location where others can see you. If you’re not comfortable meeting one-on-one, grab another adult leader or volunteer to join you.

A week away at camp with your students can be one of the highlights of your summer, but it requires some intentionality. If you implement these steps, you’ll find yourself encouraged and rewarded for your efforts. Camp will still be a blast, but it may also change some lives. Instead of feeling post-camp frustration, you’ll ask yourself, “When can we go back?”

About the Author

John Vandervelde

John Vandervelde serves as the Executive Pastor of Glen Ellyn Bible Church in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. He and his wife, Kari, have been married for 15 years and have five children. When he’s not at the church or chasing his kids around, John enjoys running, biking, and competing in triathlons.