I have been to dozens of camps both as a student, volunteer and pastor. This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a camp in northern Georgia. My buddy Tim Tullis, a junior high pastor at a church in Knoxville invited me to spend the weekend with him and his students. Camp was a blast, I enjoyed the students and absolutely loved the camp. It confirmed that you can pull off a 6-12 camp for students in how you organize their time at camp, a schedule for HS and one for MS. The setting was truly an escape from reality, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I would highly recommend Woodlands Camp for any youth group looking for a camp setting in the south/east.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed speaking at the camp, I had the great privilege of participating in a 7th grade boys cabin talk one night. Hearing them say things like, “I need to apologize to my parents for the way I act” shows me they have a group of friends hearing them out, trusting them, and participating in life change when it happens – there was some really great conversation! Sitting in the small group and hearing the the boys reflect on the things I shared in the large session really solidified some thoughts on camp. Students will run around, play crazy games, eat that awesome camp food and even take notes in the main session BUT the life change is happening in small groups. Talking with my team at staff meeting this week my convictions were confirmed. Much of our time is spent programming for the main program, energy spent developing games, we make sure to provide students with enough free time – and cabin time becomes “whatever you guys want to talk about.” There should always be room for the whatever in a small group, but the whatever is hopefully guided toward the essentials of one’s faith journey.
When a youth group comes off of a mountain top experience, like camp, many students experience life change. They have encountered and dealt with some big things in their life and focused on their relationship with God for a solid 3-5 days. What helped make that life change a success?
- Proximity – Take a student out of their element and put them in an environment that is not regular to them. Getting a student away from the computer, cell phone, their favorite CD allows their mind to think about other things in the present such as God and the people around them. When you take a student out of their normal routine it allows them to zoom out and get a panoramic view of life.
- Scheduled God Time – For the most part, students hardly spend time with God or thinking about God outside their regular program(s) or small groups that the church facilitates for them. With 2 sessions a day, personal devotions, and cabin talks – scheduled time for students to rest in God’s word and think about their relationship with Him make a HUGE impact over a few days at camp.
- Small Groups – This is where success happens at camp. It is not only the conversations that happen in the cabin but the intentionality of taking that stuff home as a small group and continue the conversation. The camp speaker is NOT the focal point, but merely someone who primes the pump and begins the conversation for greater conversation among established relationships.
If much of the camp’s success is dictated on followup with small groups, how can we better aim at equipping our small groups and leaders for the long haul when returning home? If you haven’t participated in a small group in some time but lead the direction for them you are missing out. It is incredibly important to take constant pulse checks on your small groups to better serve them and provide resources to help students get connected and stay connected.