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.

The Leadership Dilemma: Questions to ask before giving someone a position of influence.



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All spring we will hear sports personalities argue Florida State’s Jameis Winston versus Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in the upcoming NFL draft. It is a conversation that happens every few years: an incredibly gifted, NFL ready talent with character and maturity questions, versus a good talent with character and maturity. One young man is a freak: So physically gifted he became the youngest person to ever win a Heisman trophy. The other is very, very good – good enough to win the Heisman trophy this year. Two players who will be asked to play the most difficult position in all of professional sports. If you land one of the eight or nine humans who have freakish talent combined character and maturity your team will be relevant for the next decade. How big of an issue is landing one of the “right guys” for an NFL team? They become the face of your franchise. They might mean a billion dollars in revenue over the ten or twelve years they play.

A similar conversation happens in the church: Talent versus character. I had a friend (with character issues) telegraph those once when he said, “I was having a conversation with another pastor. We decided our tradition has all of the gifts and yours has all of the character.” I could have very easily told him of the people in our tradition who have not exhibited character. Instead I cut the conversation short and wondered how long until his indiscretion was revealed. (It took less than 60 days. Four years later I remain hopeful that he develop character and be restored to grace in his own heart.)

Maybe you are on the team searching for a senior pastor. Maybe you are a pastor looking for coveted leaders for your ministry teams – People of spiritual passion and the gifts necessary to reach your community. You know the temptation when the gifted, articulate, personally charismatic person shows up on your radar. They start coming to your church, or you meet them at a ministry conference or a coffee house. They have obvious talent and fill a need you have been praying for the right person to fill. And they have “the stuff.” You know, that intangible thing that makes others want to follow them. The big question: Can you trust them?

Here are a few questions to ask before putting someone in leadership:

  • Is what they have holy fire or arrogance?
  • Do they submit to authority
  • Do they complain about their previous leaders?
  • Do they follow through on tasks?
  • Do they have a teachable spirit?
  • Do they ask questions?
  • Do they have a past? (Do they flop churches when under accountability?)
  • What is their end-game? (What do they want to be doing in 10 years?)
  • Do they have a positive demeanor?
  • Do they have self-control under fire?
  • Are they a good fit? How does the rest of the team view them?
  • How much supervision do you want?

And for sure check their references!

When all of those questions are answered to your satisfaction, give them 6 months before you put them in charge of anything!

Make the process take a while. Make sure they know you like them and see their gifts, but that you want them to be part of your family before leading the family.

If you hire on character alone you end up with Tim Tebow: A great guy who could not get the job done. If you short circuit “due diligence” on talent you will wake up to find yourself in the position of the Cleveland Browns who got caught up in the hype last year and drafted “Johnny Football.” Now the Browns are stuck with a distraction who has shown little indication that he has the ability to turn into a dependable leader. In football that costs you wins and money. In the church it costs us the souls of those we have been charged with tending.

What Jerry Colangelo taught me about recruiting and training leaders…by a former Suns ballboy

Walter Davis. A great guy, neighbor, and the silkiest jump shot in the NBA. A basketball was a dagger in his hands at the end of a game.

I picked up a great many leadership lessons as a teenage ball boy for the Phoenix Suns in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a heady era when new Commissioner David Stern and General Managers like Jerry Colangelo remade the N.B.A. That leadership team gave us superstars and entertaining rivalries. Those were the days of Magic, Isaiah, Larry, and Michael. The N.B.A. went from a backwater 3rd tier sport to, arguably, the most influential professional sports league in America. Here are three leadership lessons from those days that have application for leadership recruiting and training for the church:

1. Get players who produce – people who can fill up a stat-sheet. You are never better than your best players. A team with second-level talent, will never be better than .500. Are we ordaining people because they are the most gifted or because they are not doing something better…or, even worse, because they self-selected? Scottsdale Bible, a church with a history of great pastoral leadership, finds 95% of the people they hire. Then, only ordain those people after they have proven that they can grow a fruitful ministry.

Most people who fill up a stat-sheet are quirky. So you need good training. That is why we need to…

2. Have great coaches.  As legendary Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry said, “Leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do, in order to achieve what they want to achieve.” We need high capacity, high-expectation mentors for emerging leaders – folks who can get new leaders doing the things it takes to be successful. Success is not just Sunday Attendance. There are other metrics that are of great value to the church…but to not be concerned about Sunday attendance is absurd. What are some things great coaches do?

  •  Give structure. Quirky people need to be protected from themselves-structure does that! Teams have curfews on the road, dress codes, special diets. There is a theory- practice -theory pattern in the season. There is no three-year pre-season camp. It is 6 weeks of camp and then into the theory-practice-theory long season.
  • Show and tell. Someone who has played the game and can show others how.
  • Push them to over-achieve. Have the hardest practices in town!
  • Set clear goals.
  • Study to have a good game plan.
  • Live with your player’s quirks– after all they produce! Don’t frustrate them with making them impress those up the food chain…or those beside their ministry setting. Set them free to produce for the team and the fans.

All of this makes players into a team. Then, when they do well…

3.   Be a great PR person. Showcase your player’s talents. When the team does well, we all do well. Sing their praises. When your people know you will make them a star they will repay you in loyalty and effort.

A few thoughts specifically on leadership in the church…

  1. Calling is not just heard by the individual, it is discerned by the community and confirmed by fruitfulness in ministry.
  2. Capacity is not the only quality we are looking for:  Character (are they dependable) and chemistry (work well with others) are also important.
  3. We  should stop ordaining people because they do good ministry. We should ordain people who can recruit, encourage and deploy other leaders.

It was a lot of fun to be a junior and senior high student sitting on the floor and hanging out in the locker room during Suns games and watching a near-dead league ramp up into a day of influence it had never known. With the movement of the Holy Spirit and the right group of called people of character, capacity, and chemistry, I am convinced our “heady days” are yet in front of us. I am hopeful that I will be sitting front row and in the locker room when that day comes.

Life After “Cool Church?” Ancient-Future Youth Ministry, Part 3.

His name is Iliya. He was an atheist. At least he had been two weeks earlier when he had first come to youth group and (somewhat politely) mocked it. This night he stands up and passionately describes the love of God that has flooded his heart and passionately urges other students to give themselves more completely to Jesus. The most beautiful part: he was led to Christ, not by an adult leader, but by a student. In fact, he was the fifth generation of student to be led to faith by other students in the group. It is an example of remaking youth ministry as youth who do ministry.

Let’s continue the dialogue about a youth ministry that starts from a new center: The view of what we want our students to be and do (both as individuals and as a community) when they leave us. This stands in stark contrast to attendance and conversion numbers as our primary goals for students. I have called it ancient-future youth ministry. Feel free to call it something else. What I am proposing is not new to me…or to any of the other authors that have been saying much of this same stuff. It is really the church for 2000 years called back to it’s roots, but embracing our place in our current cultural context. Here are the core values that we program from in our context…

Our Mission: To raise up a faithful Christian generation that is leading the church and changing the world.

Our Vision: To be Christ-centered youth ministers who use our spiritual gifts to build and equip teams of volunteers who join us in going where youth are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and to guide, serve and disciple youth in the Anglican tradition.

Our core values are that our ministries will be…

  • Incarnational: We GO! We start in student’s world. We follow the Great Commission and “go” engage students. (Matt. 28:19-20, John 1:1-14, Col. 1:21)
  • Transformational: We Proclaim the transforming message that “Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again. (Eph. 2:8-10, 1 Pet. 3:18, 1 Cor. 15:3-5, Rom. 1:16)
  • Formational: We Walk…along side and teach students by our lives. Connected to the historic body of Christ, we stand on the shoulders of giants-back through time. As part of God’s family, we utilize the ancient wisdom and experience of the church…spiritual disciplines, the Christian year, monastic practices, etc.
  • Integrational: We Work to see youth fully integrated into the life of the local parish and the world. (Eph. 3:19-22, Eph. 4:12-14)
  • Sacramental: We worship with students and artfully engage students in worship, using both ancient and modern forms, to engage with God on the basis of his great narrative that rewrites both our very view of life as being birthed from (Baptismal) and sustained (Eucharistic) by God in Christ as revealed in Scripture.

Imagine what would such a group create in student’s commitment to the faith: In their commitment to the Scriptures, the unchurched in our communities, and the broader church community.

As a result of our Christian convictions we will do the following…

  1. Evangelize We will Share
    1. Meet unchurched students in their world.
    2. Clearly proclaim a relationship with Jesus.
    3. Give regular opportunity for students to respond.
    4. Believe and teach that knowing God is the best, most joyful, purpose-producing gift we can give students! Way better than soccer.
  2. Disciple We will Teach
    1. Theological method: Scripture,Tradition & Reason
    2. God-filled lives…taught by God-filled worship: shaped by ancient patterns, rhythms and liturgies.
    3. Sacramental understanding
    4. Prayer (all seven types, BCP)
    5. Scripture and being shaped by the narrative

-Open it & use it. (Get the same Bible for everyone!)

-Memorize it. (Ps. 119:11)

-Understand it. (Exegesis & hermeneutics)

-The Big Picture of God’s story starting in Genesis

-Teach passages rather than cherry picking topics

-Give them tools to read daily at home.

F.  Integrity: have “one life”

G.  Growth is joy producing and enjoyable (fun)

3.  Serve – We will Act

    1. Servant hearts: family, school, church, ‘hood, world
    2. Work for justice (Luke 4:16-21)
    3. Teach students to use their spiritual gifts
    4. Appreciate & celebrate other Christian traditions

4. Develop Christian Leaders – We will replace ourselves

A. Recruit leaders (from within and without the church)

B. Develop, train, serve and equip Christian leaders

With these principles in mind We will run high grace/high expectation groups in which:

-All are Welcome. A multi-ethnic, multi-economic community (John 17:20-23, Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff.)

-All can be Transformed– Discipleship is for all (Matt. 28:19)

-All should become Evangelists (Rom. 1:16 )

-Our attraction will be the power of God on display. (Acts 2:42-43, 2 Pet. 1:16, 2 Cor. 2:4-5)

What might this look like?  I am not exactly sure. I would guess that it will be contextual and be a bit different in every different church. It wouldn’t be easily packaged as a model. Did the Apostle’s follow a script?

Swing for the fence- your students and leaders will surprise you!

It’s up to us.  What will you do?