Camp Followup: It isn’t about not “losing” kids. It’s about developing the next generation of Christian Leader

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Ten Ways To Supercharge Your Camping Program To Develop Christian Leaders

When camp is “Awesome” but two months later kid’s lives look just like they did the week before camp something is wrong – the Gospel is a transformative life change, not a temporary high.

Much post-camp “falling away” is alleviated by a great followup plan. But we have a higher bar than keeping kids from “bailing out” on the youth program and the church. We want kids to press on to become disciple-making disciples. A great camping program is a big part of that process. But great experiences without great followup, most literally, wastes the power of the experience. Here are a few thoughts on following-up on summer camps and mission trips…

1) All ministry starts with leaders. The first step in spiritual retention is to have spiritually solid, trained volunteers who are relationally engaged with students year ’round, not just at camp.

2) TAKE kids to camp. We want church leaders to BRING (rather than send) their students to camp. Why? Because to maximize the benefits of the camp experience we want the affiliation bond built at camp to be with a parish leader. You want the emotionally and spiritually intimate cabin group to also be the youth group. That way camp followup is in the local church, building on the good work that was begun at camp, rather than atomizing this powerful experience.

3) Send kids home with food. At our camp we work hard to “send kids home with food.” We have a “taking Jesus home” experience that helps students with how to press on in the Christian life. On the last morning, in front of parents, we have a “say-so,” as in “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” (Psalm 107:2)  Students stand up, grab a microphone, and talk about the life-changing experience camp was for them. Then, when parents are in tears over their kid’s tears, youth pastors stand up and line up not-yet-churched students with the youth pastors and groups near them so that they go home ready to plug into a church community. They go home with fliers to help them apply the scriptural truths they have learned, find a church and know when the “reunion” events are during the year.

4) Stay Connected. Have periodic reunions and weekend camps IN PARISHES around your diocese.

5) Gear up (not down) in summer. Kids today tend to be really, really busy. Summer is often the exception. Students are usually either out of town or bored. This makes summer the time of the year in which it is often easiest to build momentum. “Gearing up” after camp has two benefits: First, you can build numerical momentum going into your fall ministry year as excited students invite their unchurched friends to come join the community. Second, you keep students from falling back into old habits and destructive patterns. The spiritual discouragement that accompanies “falling away” not only causes your students to struggle, but it poisons the well with those students’ friend group when they say, “I tried God. It just didn’t work for me.”

6) Equip your parents. Parents are also least busy in the summer. Equipping parents to be the primary source of spiritual formation is not only scriptural (Deut. 6 and Ps. 78), but it is how the faith was passed on for 19 centuries before “youth ministry.” Equipping parents is especially critical in elementary school and junior high. In high school, students are emotionally separating themselves from their parents. In late adolescence your equipping will be more along the lines of making sure parents know the what, when, and why of your ministry and knowing your leaders as safe, trusted Christian adults who are reinforcing the faith of the family. Leaders become parent’s allies, saying what mom and dad say at a time in life when students, for the healthy developmental reason of self-differentiation, tend to look for direction outside of the home.

Leaders become parent’s allies, saying what mom and dad say at a time in life when students, for the healthy developmental reason of self-differentiation, tend to look for direction outside of the home.

7) Fill the Pipeline. Think strategically about your students. What do you want for them in Christ? In our diocese youth camp programs are about evangelism and the beginning of the discipleship process. We program 7th-9th grade to be like a confirmation retreat – an adult experience of Christ…but one with the “talent” of 60 parishes on tap. We program high school to be a discipleship week. Following that experience we have a leadership development camp we call WILD (Wilderness Introduction to Leadership Development) available for high school juniors and seniors. WILD involves a variety of outdoor/wilderness experiences and group leadership skills development. Then we have a three week long experience called Leadership Encouragement and Development (LEAD) for graduating seniors and first year college students. In LEAD, students live in community, serve campers, and are given intensive discipleship and bible study by a team of handpicked youth ministers of spiritual depth with powerful ministries of their own. Needless to say, when our students graduate from high school, young adults growing in their faith from our parishes line up for the chance to be camp counselors (a minimum wage paid position). Also, as part of the development of our young people as Christian leaders, we have a week of discipleship and counselor training to prepare them as counselors. We have a clear, strategic pipeline to develop young people as Christ-centered leaders.

8) Camp Assignments. Our full-time youth ministers spend three weeks each summer at camp. These committed individuals fill senior staff roles: camp speakers, head counselors, and discipling the high school LEAD staff. This builds a shared vision, spiritual commitment, and increases the spiritual, emotional, and physical expectations of our camping ministry, and year-round ministry in the parish.

9) Train volunteers. Many churches do not train volunteers. That sends a message that being a youth worker isn’t very important and neither are our young people. Volunteers buy-in and stay bought-in when they know the goals, the methods to reach those goals, and are equipped to walk with students and share the Good News with them. In our context, we have a variety of training experiences for volunteer youth workers, camp counselors, and both a one-year part-time youth director and a two-year full-time youth minister training program. Your youth leaders are the relational bridge to Christ when students are developmentally separating from their parents. This makes them a critical gift to families. Treat them as such by equipping them well and thanking them often!

youth leaders are the relational bridge to Christ when students are developmentally separating from their parents. This makes them a critical gift to families. Treat them as such by equipping them well and thanking them often!

10) Recruit the called to seminary to be the next generation of Christ-centered, theologically grounded, missionally-minded clergy to lead our churches.

If this looks far larger than simply following up with your students from camp, it is. Your camping ministry is much more than keeping kids busy. It can be the strategic beginnings of a leadership development pipeline to replace yourself with the next generation of Christian leader.

It’s Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious: Why You Want Your Kid To Go To Camp


The question was simple, “What are you telling your friends about summer camp? I am still scratching my head at the 8th grade girl’s answer: “It is absolutely the only thing in the world that is both Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious.”

I am writing to you both as a parent of teenagers, and as someone who is a little fuzzy on what it means to be, “Absolutely Swaggy Approved” and/or “Bieberlicious.” I am writing to share with you the way Chapel Rock’s summer Youth Camp experience has profoundly affected my children’s faith and lives.

Granted, as the diocesan youth director and one of the architects of our youth camping and leadership development system, I am a bit of an insider. But, anyone who has had children can tell you that the best way to make your kids not want to do something is to force them to do it. We live at Chapel Rock for three weeks during the summer, so my kids had less choice to be at summer camp than they did to eat vegetables or do their homework. On top of that, we came from a ministry that has “resorts” for youth, gives campers a money back guarantee, and has more students involved than there are Episcopalians. To say that my kids had a few reasons not to like camp is an understatement. So how did that  work out?

Ellie, my college freshman daughter sent in her camp counselor application this week saying, “My one priority this summer is to be a counselor at Chapel Rock. Chapel Rock was the best thing about high school, so I am going to make sure that I give others the gift of Jesus that was given to me.” (I should probably say that my daughter had a pretty good high school experience: good friends, was student body president, got good grades. Yet it is Chapel Rock that was “the best thing about high school” for her.)

My son is a typical busy high school kid. He has some fairly intense college goals that involve extra summer classes and summer sailing and scuba programs. When I suggested that maybe this year he might miss camp he said, “Well, that just isn’t an option, Dad. Chapel Rock is my grounding for the coming year. The friendships, the worship, the teaching, the counselors…I come back in a Christ-focused space, an others centered space. Experiencing God at Chapel Rock is what makes me who I am, Dad.”

As a parent, I cannot imagine anything better than to hear that my children are having transformative experiences with God…that they are having them in our Church’s camp is icing on the cake. Our camp is forming my children in a depth of discipleship that will bless them for their entire lives. Camp gives kids a healthy peer group, adult models of the Christian life, and “God-experiences” communicated not just in sacramental worship, but through a sacramental view of life. They do all of this while strengthening the affiliation bond with our “tribe.”

Here is the short version of how it works: Our church’s leaders take (rather than send) students from our church. Our camp leaders – a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational group – the envy of other camps, are models of Christian commitment. Students engage with God in Scripturally based talks, small group discussions, and relevant sacramental and experiential worship. They play and have good, clean, old school fun.

You can imagine how grateful I am for the effect Chapel Rock has had in my children’s lives. They now actively worship God. They now actively serve others. They live lives that respond in gratitude to God’s love, both in what they do and don’t do. If the measure of faith is whether it changes the decisions someone makes, then camp has been a slam-dunk for the other 11½ months of the year.

Chapel Rock Youth Camp is ground zero for changed lives. I have seen a lot of camping in my 30 years of youth ministry, but I have never seen anything with a program like ours. And I have never seen anything that has the disciple-forming impact ours has. For us camp is batting 1000! My reason for writing is simple: As a parent, I am asking you to sign your kid up for youth camp this summer. It is a week that will count. Absolutely.

By the way, I asked the girl what being “absolutely Swaggy Approved and Bieberlicious” means. She said, “It means Chapel Rock is really great and you should come, Duh!”


“The Chapel Rock experience is a picture of what life should be like. We were made to live in community, be vulnerable, have fun, and love Jesus. Camp is the perfect opportunity to do all of those things and grow into who we were made to be.” – Bre Krall, counselor