We all hear about the mountaintop experiences of youth who attend summer ministries. Whether it’s a mission trip or a weeklong retreat with hundreds of teenagers, summer ministry can be a vital part of a teenager’s spiritual development. Summer camps can be an important high point in a young person’s faith journey, but it’s easy to lose that energy once the experience is over. How can youth pastors help maintain that momentum?
Let’s first take a look at the reasons why camp has such an impact on teenagers’ faith formation:
It’s a change in routine.
It feels very freeing to spend a week away from our everyday routines and responsibilities. Today’s youth have heavily programmed and overcommitted lives—they’re constantly moving from one activity to the next. Camps can be highly scheduled as well, but the main focus is on immersing teenagers in the experience. There are no school responsibilities, no extracurricular activities, no jobs to report to, no social obligations, and minimal phone distractions.
It gives youth a chance to meet new people who share their faith.
It’s easier for teens to talk about faith when they’re surrounded by people who welcome the conversation. Being with peers who experience similar struggles, share the same doubts, and long to learn more about how to devote their lives to Jesus Christ creates an open forum where youth can freely discuss their questions and praises.
It will bring youth together.
Camp will help your youth group become closer. Relationships founded because of shared faith are extraordinary, and they become strengthened through shared experiences such as camps or mission trips.
It provides new outlets for faith formation.
A lot of importance is placed on Sunday morning church services. Summer camp ministry demonstrates to youth that there are other ways to experience worship. When youth step away from their routines and experience something new, it can lead to a new appreciation for Sunday morning services.
We know that youth are relational and that they learn about who God is through each other and through their experiences. Immersion experiences such as summer camps allow for teenagers’ relationships with God and with each other to grow quickly. Here are some ideas of how to continue this discipleship:
Hold pre- and post-immersion meetings.
It’s typical to have meetings to bring parents up to speed on the details of camp, but you should take that preparation one step further: hold a meeting with your students to go over what camp will look like. If you have youth who aren’t as involved with the group, this will be a great time for them to meet each other.
It’s perhaps even more important to gather shortly after camp ends. Spend some time debriefing the week. Share photos, memories, and talk about how each person was impacted. Share suggestions about things they may want to do as a group to continue the experience they had during camp. If you went on a mission trip, locate various outreach programs in your community and suggest to your students that you make a plan to visit each one. Maybe incorporate once-a-month mission nights into your youth calendar.
Spend one night at youth group discussing spiritual disciplines.
Help youth figure out how continue the momentum from camp through spiritual disciplines. Journaling, photography, spending time in nature, reading the Bible, doing daily devotionals, or going on a run are just a few examples of how to spend alone time with God.
If there was musical worship during the week, ask your church praise team to use the songs throughout the year.
You can also ask your lead pastor to let the youth lead worship on a Sunday morning. Use the camp songs for worship, and let the youth share with the congregation stories of their experiences.
If the camp focused on a theme verse, refer to that verse throughout the next few months during Bible study or Sunday school time.
You can also make a photo with the verse on it to periodically share on social media as a reminder to the youth. Post the picture with a caption that says, “Take a break from your busy schedule today and read this verse from camp. Pray about how you might use this verse in your everyday life.”
Have each student write a letter to themselves on the last day of the trip.
Encourage your students to write down exactly how they feel in that moment. Ask them,
- What have you learned about yourself?
- Have you discovered a new gift this week?
- What new experiences have you had with God?
Six months from that day, mail the letters to the students.
If you attended a camp with multiple youth groups, make plans to gather with those groups throughout the year.
You can share the responsibility of hosting the events at the various churches. This can be something as simple as inviting those youth groups to worship on Sunday morning at your church. Or you could schedule retreat weekends together.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re planning post-camp experiences is that they need to be relatable. In youth ministry, we’re to equip leaders and create disciples. Summer ministries may be a vital piece of faith formation, but it’s incredibly important to help students translate those mountaintop faith experiences to their everyday lives.
May God reveal all the beautiful ways the youth you work with might experience God’s presence in their lives, and may summer camp serve as a stepping-stone to a life-long walk with Jesus.
Ashley Mills is the director of Discipleship at Worthington United Methodist Church in Worthington, Ohio. She has served there for three years, and she supervises children’s, youth, and college programming. She has a bachelor of science degree in Human Development and Family Sciences from Ohio State University and a master of arts in Practical Theology from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She has a passion for equipping young people for effective leadership within their churches and communities.