church-camp-2As presented at the Today’s Teens Conference, February 21, 2015 at the Meeting House, Oakville

Intro, who I am, what I do, my affiliations and why I’m here
• Director at Camp Widjiitiwin (8 years)
• 28 years in full time camping ministry
• Became a Christian at Camp Ambassador at 13 and have been at camp every summer since
• Conference speaker
• CCI/Canada Ontario committee chair
• OCA Board member
• I hire 45 students every summer
• I’ve been married for 34 years, I am a dad of three grown girls, two are married and I am soon to be a grandpa!

My personal mission is to develop students to become the next generation of Christian leaders. I want to help them be better leaders wherever they will go and serve. At camps we love kids and youth and want t the best for them. I am passionate about youth ministry and the place I chose do it is at camp.

Today I want to discuss how we can connect the summer camp experience to Sundays at church? Equipping the camp staff worker; a partnership between churches and camps. How do we maximize the relationship between camp and the local church for the spiritual development of youth today?

How do we connect the summer camp experience to Sundays at church and youth groups? As camps and youth pastors/workers we share a large number of youth and young adults between camps and churches. We need to work together for their best spiritual & personal development! Its all about relationships and we have some to work on to build greater trust.

Staff come home from a spiritual high at camp. I realize that at camps we have a unique advantage due to an unnatural environment of openness to Christianity. We have chapel multiple times per week; staff lead campers in devotions, campfires, testimonies, staff prayer and worship times, one on ones and more. Staff tell me that they feel isolated when they finish camp to return home and their friends who haven’t had the same experience aren’t really moving ahead spiritually. They talk about the hard adjustment to make with all the pressures of home and school and keeping up their spiritual disciplines. How do we work together to help these students we share? We don’t have a complete answer yet, but we want to work on one together.

At camps we give students an amazing amount of responsibility at a very young age. At 17 they can be cabin leaders, responsible for the lives of 8 campers. My senior summer leaders are between 19 and 23 years old. They can do a lot! It would be great if they could get responsible positions when they get back to church. I understand there are some in churches that don’t think youth and young adults are part of the church yet, but we in this room certainly know they are!

Staff coming back from camp can experience the loss of community, friends, withdrawal, depression, loneliness, lack of direction, spiritual hunger or confusion without all the mechanisms of camp to fulfill those desires. Those going into or back to university and college have an even harder time because they are also away from home and the support that comes from family and you as youth workers.

Camp serves as a “touchstone” in many lives. A “touchstone” is a talisman or comfort object one needs only to see or touch to feel more at ease. It’s a place where something significant happened. Something that really matters. Something that touches students deep inside and draws them back to this sacred place called camp.

Camp is a rock/foundation or touchstone for lots of people. For many of us our greatest spiritual decisions were made at camp. Whether that’s to become a Christian, get serious about our relationship with Christ, reinventing your life with Christ, commit to full-time ministry or repent. How many of you made a spiritual decision at a camp?

For campers and staff, camp is a touchstone of people, activities and events on which they can depend each summer. I used to visit the camp I grew up at whenever I could and could “feel” the presence of God when I drove back onto the property. There is something about the place of our spiritual home that compels us to do better and be better for the Kingdom.

The home church community is critical to building leaders (for this year as well as for the future!) who can use the home base of their local church and the faith experiences they have at camp to reach the world for Christ. We try very hard to help our campers understand that we are a place they can explore and grow their faith, and that we hope their home church is the place where they live out their faith. Their home church is not just about Sunday morning services but is about becoming a vital, contributing member of that community. We stress camp as a place where campers can explore ways to participate in that home community — learning and participating in spiritual practices, exploring Scripture, becoming prayer warriors, being involved in creative worship experiences (drama, music, etc.; leading them, creating them, enjoying them). One big idea is to discover your interests and gifts at camp, then take them home and get involved! build strong disciples.

I sat down with a group of camp directors and here is a list of some of the ideas we came up with about how we can work together. There are surely more ideas we haven’t thought of. There are extra spots because there are more answers.

The Top Ten (Plus a Few More) Ways Camps can Help Churches
1. Build skills, leadership, responsibility and character in students
2. Share leadership materials
3. Identify possible leaders
4. Do training for churches
5. Communicate about staff
6. Host events for youth & churches
7. Partner with churches to meet needs for families at discounted rates; gift certificate for family who cannot afford camp
8. Have camp staff train local church youth ministry leaders in faith-based initiative games
9. Mentor kids at church
10. Provide opportunities for students to serve God, local missions
11. Follow up on campers, direct to churches
12. Share success stories from camp
13. Offer pastoral retreats
14. Create experiences for churches
15. Free camp day Sunday service for local churches, camp available for activities
16. Take day camp to churches, like VBS on the road, collaborative programming

The Top Ten (Plus a Few More) Ways Churches Can Help Camps

1. Visit students working at camps in the summer
2. Encourage students to attend & work at camps
3. Have returning student share songs and experiences in local church worship
4. Write students letters of encouragement, everyone at camp loves real mail
5. Help support students as missionaries from missions budget
6. Communicate about your students, especially for staff reference forms or calls
7. Get the youth group together and send care packages to those away at camps
8. Encourage returning students to lead
9. Share resources
10. Identify possible leaders
11. Be camp pastors
12. Staff development teachers
13. Spread the value of Christian camping
14. Support families to attend camp or send kids
15. Prayer support for students and camps
16. Host a camp fair on a Sunday morning
17. Work weekend and/or summer volunteers
18. Churches could sponsor a cabin, name plate on door

Next Steps
We both have the goal to build strong disciples and we can accomplish more if we work together. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m very interested in a solution and being part of that. Here are a couple ideas:
• Create a task force of youth pastors and youth leaders plus camp directors to look at how we can support students in their faith journey
• Foster more communication between camps and the leadership of the churches the students attend
• We want to help. Really

Questions??

There are about seven camps represented with booths out there today. Please stop by and see what opportunities might be there for you and your students.

Thank you for your time.

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