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.

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A parent shares an unlikely secret to raising great teens

Studio Portrait Of Five Teenage Friends Standing In Line

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Do you have kids in those really enjoyable third through sixth grade years? If so, you are probably a bit nervous about the teen years you know are looming around the corner.

I am the parent of two teens…at least until my daughter turns twenty next month. For the most part, our kids thrived through high school. And without arresting beauty, stellar brains, or athletic prowess, our kids were both voted president of their classes all through their high school years and were pursued by quality universities…including my son being invited to the Naval Academy’s summer program. Our parenting secret? While my friends pushed their kids to learn second languages, play on club teams, and take etiquette courses, we charted another parenting course. We involved our kids in an innovative program for youth. A program that data told us is linked to:

  • Dramatically reduced rebelliousness and risk of committing a crime
  • Increased participation in high school
  • Lowered rate of premarital sex
  • Reduction in binge drinking in high school and college
  • Improved academic performance in high school and college
  • Improved odds of saying they have a “very happy life” as an adult
  • And is even linked to an 8 year increase in life expectancy!

What is the activity that gives parents these outcomes we want for our kids?

The answer may surprise you. It is active participation in a local church. No, I’m not kidding. The data comes from sources such as the Center from Disease Control, Indiana, Michigan and Duke Universities, and the Barna Research Group. The caveat, the student has to be “deeply involved” in the church. According to the National Survey of Youth and Religion, “occasional attendees” have virtually no behavioral difference from non-attenders. Research indicates that regular church participation is associated with a decrease in every risky behavior that parents want their children to avoid and an increase in the behaviors that parents want to encourage.

Sometimes it is an issue of not seeing the forest for the trees. What we really want for our kids isn’t to be a great soccer player or to have a specific friend group. What we really want for our children is to have a great life. We see those other things as means to the end of becoming great human beings; self-sufficient and making a contribution to the world we leave them. The church is your number one support in your deepest yearnings for your kids.

Which brings us back to my kids: Although I am a picky parent, I genuinely like and respect the people my kids have become. I am proud of the decisions they make and the motives behind them. I am proud of how they carry themselves, a strong young woman and young man who stick up for underdogs, refuse to push others around or allow others to push them around. They are kind. They work hard. They serve others. They have stuck to their sexual purity guns. They are deep and fun. They, especially my daughter, are admirably resilient. They are viewed as leaders by their peers.

Why does it work?

To a great degree the people they have become is the result of a deeply committed walk with God. And a deeply committed faith is almost always the fruit of deep commitment to a local faith community. Regardless of what you personally think of Christian commitment, a deeply committed faith is a gift that, unlike participation in a club team, will keep giving to your child over the arc of their life.

What is the secret sauce?

Deep immersion in a church almost always includes a relationship with an older Christian mentor, aka, a youth worker. Youth workers reinforce parent’s messages from home. They do this as an influential voice a step or two older and wiser than their peers. Youth workers are role models and visible pictures of what positive choices gain one in life. They are a gift to parents that cannot be under-estimated.

As a parent, you and I have more to do with our teen’s success than anything or anyone in their lives. One of the best things we did to leverage that parental influence was to involve them in the church. At church, great young adults who love God, loved my kids. These young people, both church workers and Young Life leaders, helped my kids have a bigger vision for their lives. They helped my kids see their gifts, gave them opportunities for leadership and encouraged them to develop those gifts. Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” tells us that highly successful people are the first ones to 10,000 hours in an activity. In a good church, leaders will spend a great amount of time teaching your child to serve others, speak in public, develop and articulate deeply held beliefs, discover musical gifts they didn’t know they have, and develop social skills that will bless them the rest of their lives. They will be busier, without a doubt, but they will develop new capacities, and the life skills that they need most for future life-success. And our kids are not unique in this. The kids in our small mission church’s youth program are a virtual Who’s Who of the student leaders in the four neighborhood high schools they attend.

So parents, take your kids to church. Get involved. Get your kids involved. In the end, it will do far more for them than the soccer league you miss on Sunday mornings. I promise.

A faith that will last: A call to ancient-future youth ministry

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It is values driven and data supported. It is life-changing and both church-sustained and church-sustaining.

Click the link then tell me what you think…

Building Faith That Will Last: January 5 Edition of The Living Church Magazine

Are priests killing the church?

Crap

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A response to Kate Murphy and Episcopal Café.

The average Episcopal Church has a Sunday worship attendance of 64 people.[1] With congregations that tiny, money is certainly a challenge. How can we maximize our meager resources for mission? Well, the most expensive line item in most church budgets is clergy. Our normative form of worship since the 1979 prayer book is the Eucharist, and that necessitates a priest.  A bargain basement full-time priest, with medical, retirement, office expenses & mission share, costs a church in the neighborhood of $80,000 per year. Think about the opportunity that presents: We can solve our financial limitations today! All we have to do is fire those expensive clergy. We could generate more than half a billion dollars per year for the work of the kingdom with this one simple solution![2] And besides being expensive, paid clergy are unscriptural. And let’s be honest, many clergy follow outdated ministry models that have been statistically proven to harm future attendance. What we need is to dump all of these clergy – they are millstones sinking our church’s future. It is time to ask the hard question: “Are priests killing the church?

Ridiculous? Obviously. We would never leave adults without a dedicated leader except in dire circumstance. And when that does happen expectations are lowered in a hurry. Not that a church cannot do better without clergy than with an ineffective clergy, we all know those exceptions. We also know that unled things don’t do well. Why then would we make that case for youth ministry?

Yet, this is precisely the theory making the rounds: that “youth ministry is killing the church.” According to the argument, youth ministry is expensive, unscriptural and unhelpful. This reappeared recently on Episcopal Café (goo.gl/TN9Q1A) in the form of a three-year old Christian Century post by Kate Murphy (goo.gl/9sJP0l). In defense of pastor Murphy’s article, I agree with the substance of it: segregating youth is a bad idea. I even have made the case that there might be data that seems to indicate that Rev. Murphy is right (goo.gl/gzXI5g). What I do not agree with the title of the article and the direction that conversation inevitably leads: “If age appropriate ghettoizing is bad, then ALL age appropriate grouping is bad, therefore we do not need to budget sacrificially for staff expertise to pass on the faith to young people.”

Lets take a look at the three common objections to youth ministry:

First, “a youth minister is expensive.” Yes. A youth minister is expensive. The issue, though, isn’t how much a youth minister costs, but do they present a good return on the church’s investment? Here is a case: I have a friend who made $85,000 a year as a youth pastor. Does that seem shockingly large? It might help to know that he built a program in his new church plant that started with him knocking on several thousand doors before their first service to 425 students per week. His big salary equated to $200 per year, per student. Compare that to a clergy salary of $60,000 per annum as the staff person for 150 parishioners (I am told the common church staffing pattern is a staff person for every 150-200 people in attendance). That means the average clergy person in the upper limit/most financially efficient scenario still has annual cost of $400 per parishioner. My friend cost 1/2 as much as an effective clergy. He was a bargain! Is your youth director giving a good return for the investment? Over time is the youth director growing the number of youth and the spiritual depth of the youth involved? That may sound mercenary, but it is a question that every organization, including the church, has to ask about every staff person.

The second argument is making the rounds in conservative circles: “youth ministry is unscriptural” (goo.gl/zgQVR5). This one is a bit of a face-palm. What Jesus did with the disciples was exactly what good youth ministry is supposed to do: A group of teen-agers with a mentor doing life together…hanging out around the fire discussing God, asking dumb questions, and being stirred with the ridiculous idea that God wants to use them to change the world. The twelve got three years of life-on-life youth ministry, also known as “discipleship.” The argument that a ministry involving large groups, small groups, and leadership development is without biblical precedence is, well, goofy.

The third argument is that youth ministry is “unhelpful” because segregating students from the adults drives them outside the church as grown ups. I make that argument myself in more than one blog post (see below). Segregation does not just fail to help students build an affiliation with the church, it also fails to give them a sense of being a member of Christ’s body engaged in God’s mission. But why stop with segregation, the status quo in youth ministry has many other issues: It is often alarmingly aligned with our culture. It often appears as if students are numbers to validate the leader’s ministry. Too often we truncate the Scriptures. Too often we are weak in our modeling of prayer, service to the world and evangelism. But none of that means that we should leave our young people unled. The answer to doing the wrong thing in the church is not to do nothing. It is to do the right thing. The idea that ineffective youth ministry models and ineffective youth ministers are a reason to eliminate youth ministry is akin to suggesting that because some priests are ineffective and follow ineffective ministry models we should eliminate priests.

The answer to doing ‘bad’ ministry with a group is not to do NO ministry with that group.

It is the idea that youth ministry should be “dumped” that is “unhelpful.” What might actually be helpful would be to note that none of the 100 fastest growing churches are contemplating getting rid of paid youth ministers or age-appropriate youth ministry (goo.gl/XPkH55). I understand financial realities in small churches. I lead a church plant. But to say that our children are not a staffing priority at the time in life when 8 out of 10 who make a decision to follow Christ are doing so is to hand them an invitation to the church down the street that will prioritize evangelism and discipleship to them (goo.gl/Tmofjt). Is it time to dump youth ministry? No way. Is it time to re-envision it? Absolutely. I may be a loud critic of the youth ministry status quo. But I really, with all that is within me, want people equipping parents, evangelizing the young, discipling students, and building the next generation of Christian leaders.

Don’t you?

The Rev. Matt Marino, Canon for Youth and Young Adults, Diocese of Arizona

Posts exploring a better way to do youth ministry…

Why are young people leaving the church?

Young Adults and the Church: Will the Mainline benefit from Evangelical Dissatisfaction?

David Kinnaman is wrong: How the church really lost the millennials & what we can do to keep the next generation. 

Is the way we are doing youth ministry emptying the church?

Tickled! (An article in The Living Church Magazine, Sept. 2013)

Life After “Cool Church”? A New Vision for Youth Ministry, Part 1.

Life After “Cool Church?” A New Vision for Youth Ministry, Part 2.

Memo to Senior Pastors: What to do about these Youth?

What’s so uncool about cool churches?


[2] Assuming the 6667 parishes and missions who filed 2012 parochial reports at $80,000 per church = $533,360,000