Camp Doesn’t Always Stick, And That’s Okay

It’s camp season. Best time of the year. But as you start buying an absurd amount of pool noodles and beach balls and scour Amazon for a pineapple themed Bluetooth speaker, there’s likely a small, negative thought nagging at you in the back of your mind. If you’ve been in youth ministry for a few years, this thought has been there for at least a year or two. If you’re a youth ministry veteran, you’ve read articles and blog posts and set up all kinds of systems to combat the reality that this thought points to, but nothing seems to truly work the way you want it to:

The passion and breakthrough some of my students demonstrate at camp isn’t going to last.

This just eats away at us as youth pastors, doesn’t it? Especially us millennial youth pastors. Because, as a generation, we’re reacting away from the purely attractional model of the 90s and early 2000s. We don’t want to just put on the best show in town. Emotional manipulation isn’t what we’re after. We want to see sustaining life change. And for some of us, we’ve been doing camp long enough to see that, for some of our kids, that sustaining life change just isn’t going to take root.

I don’t have any tips for you on how to change that. I’m sure there are blogs that can give you excellent advice for follow up and post-camp discipleship strategies. What I want to do instead is invite us to consider whether or not sustained life change is required in order for camp to be a success.

I get it. That sounds insane. Of course sustained life change is the primary goal. But when I look at the way the God quarterbacks our sanctification, I see the Holy Spirit working in a nonlinear fashion. More often than not, our growth in Christ is spurred on by significant moments—good and bad. Yes, the mundane spiritual rhythms and church community matter in the in between, but when you think of how you became who you are today, you can probably point to five or six very specific events in your life that God used to transform you.

Were you immediately transformed overnight from that event? No. But it was a touchpoint that remained significant in your life over the next few months, years, or even decades. Because moments spur change, whether that change is constantly sustained or not.

God works in moments, and camp often fosters significant moments in the life of a teenager.

So I get that you wish Davon would read his Bible every day for a year after camp. When you saw him ugly crying at the foot of the cross Saturday night, you hoped that would be the case. But even if, two weeks later, Davon goes back to blending in with his school friends and being spotty in his youth group attendance, that moment of freedom at camp was real, and God won’t waste it. Two months from now…two years from now…heck two decades from now…when Davon is praying with his kids before bed every night, he’ll think back to that moment at camp as a major touchpoint that moved him along in his spiritual progression.

Camp matters. Moments matter. So by all means, establish your follow up and discipleship. That stuff is great. But as far as your heart goes, let’s let go of the Christian guilt around the spiritual high of camp. God works in moments. He always has (it’s all over Scripture), and He continues to today. To the best of your ability, foster moments for your students to experience intimacy with God, freedom in Christ, and repentance from sin, and then ultimately trust that God will not let those moments go to waste.

Mike Haynes is a full-time youth pastor and the creator of G Shades Youth Ministry Curriculum. Feel free to reach out to Mike anytime over email at mike@gshades.org
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