As I write this, big snowflakes are falling outside the window. It’s barely above freezing, and the last couple of nights the temperature has been in the teens, so it may seem odd to be talking about summer now. But it will be here before we know it. Summer is primetime in student ministry and should never sneak up on us.
This month, we are going to look at the two big things on the summer calendar in most youth ministries: camp and missions. Here are some items we need to do now to make sure this summer is a great one in our student ministry.
Camp—Most camps—be it Crossings, ‘fuge, student life or a myriad of other camps out there—may already besold out for some camp weeks, but it is still possible to get some days. If you haven’t made reservations yet, do it now before the rest of the weeks fill up.
If you have made reservations, the day of reckoning is coming—the day when you have to guarantee spots and pay deposits for that magic number of participants you will be bringing. For me, that was always a delicate balance between the number of students I already had deposits for and the number I thought would actually be going. I wanted to have room for last minute students, but didn’t want to be footing the bill for unused spots.
Don’t let the deposit date slip by you. It is amazing how many churches lose their week at camp because they let the deposit day pass, and their spots were given to churches on a waiting list.
Promote Camp—Do a camp promotion day, especially for the families of new students. They are making a huge financial investment and may need some reassurance that it is worth the sacrifice to send their child to camp. Download or livestream the highlight and testimonial videos from the camp you’re attending, have students that have been to camp in past years talk about their experience. Have parents talk about the difference camp has made in the life of their child.
You need to also have a list of all forms they need to complete and key dates camp stuff is due or available for parents. If the forms need to be notarized, having one there at the meeting helps parents to get them in on time.
Missions—For most churches it seems to be an either/or for every year between camp and mission trip. Finances are the main reason. If parents have multiple kids doing multiple events in the summer, it can quickly become a major drain on the family budget.
While both camp and missions are a vital part of a youth ministry, they must be done with the overall vision for the ministry in mind. At the most, we will have seven summers with a student. If they have the exact same experience every year and are never challenged to grow in their faith, we have failed them in ministry.
There may be a need in our ministries to provide multiple opportunities, and we shouldn’t expect every student to attend everything. We need to see the seven summers we have with them as part of the progression of a student’s discipleship process. Our juniors and seniors may be better served in our ministry by a missions/leadership experience, rather than another year of camp.
The trip may consist of only a couple of students, and in churches with bivocational/volunteer youth leaders who don’t have enough vacation time to take more than one trip, it would be a great opportunity to have other adults in the church invest in those key students.
There will also be a time when we need to challenge some of our older students to serve for the summer. Most camps and missions agencies have programs where students who are at least 16 years-old can serve in various capacities. Encourage those in your ministry that are ready to give their summer in service to the gospel. It will be life changing for them.
Joe Ball is a former staff member of Crossings Ministry and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.