I remember finding the entire church experience to be quite boring as a kid. I didn’t connect with other kids, and the adults were all too happy- happier than I knew they were outside of church. It all became part of a monotonous dance we all partook in every week- at least, from my perspective. I was young, but I knew that church had become vapid. I clocked out, and I didn’t care. This was not only my experience, but has been the experience of dozens of people in my millenial age bracket. What made matters worse was the fact that people would actually comment on my lack of engagement to my face: they would ask why I wasn’t a church very much anymore, or why I didn’t go to youth group. It was all very off-putting, so I was content to feel myself slipping out of their tightening grasp through the power of apathy.
Of course, this is not the churches fault. Let me be clear that this is not another tiresome article expressing how the church needs to change so that it can attract youth. The Church has done nothing wrong; it has faithfully lived and proclaimed the gospel since I was a child. Plenty of other people have profound experiences with God at church. The issue was with me, and more broadly, my human condition. I was unconvinced I needed the gospel, and unconvinced that the church had anything to offer me: There was no way that the rhythmic life I had been raised in could open my closed ears to hear God speaking, which of course He was.
The Gospel had fallen on deaf ears.
But then, Something happened.
Like a child ripped from the muted comfort of a womb, I was thrust into the presence of God. Nature was blaring. People were foreign. The cabins rugged. I was uncomfortable… but my curiosity was piqued. As I began to lean into the words that were said during chapel, I found myself strangely disarmed. I was caught up in the mystery of God.
And of course, I became a Christian.
As I’ve spent my summers at camp ever since, I think I may have caught on to it’s secret: Camp helps kids own their faith by giving them a place that is all theirs. Camp is an experience away from the familiarity of family and the comfort of routine where youth are forced to forge new paths of friendship and faith. It’s in the context of this untamed community of believers and seekers that youth gain the capacity to listen for and hear God.
So if you’re like me, you’ll find this revelation completely underwhelming; Camp helps kids hear God in a new and relevant way because it is outside their normal life. Yet there’s something refreshing about this: It is not our responsibility to make children hear God. It is not even within our own power to make children hear God. It is by releasing our children to the spiritual wilderness of camp that they’re free to listen to God on their own terms.
And then of course,
This summer was full of great stories and adventures. In ministry, it’s easy to get caught up with numbers and programs, but the fact of the matter is that stories are what we take with us after summer camp. Sometimes those stories are happy- they’re stories of kids being taught to ride bikes, or making lifelong friends, or even meeting Jesus for the first time. Sometimes those stories are sad, like having to leave camp early because of an injury, broken friendships, or even broken hearts.
The common thread through all of these stories however, is that they’re all our stories, and they will carry on with us for the rest of our lives. It’s this experiential punch that makes camp so dear to us; camp means something to each us individually, uniquely.
The uniqueness of camp is also what makes it such a powerful means of conveying the Gospel. Camp, in all of it’s glorious, local, specific nature, is where children (and staff) can meet Jesus in a personal way.
We’re excited to take what we learned this summer and apply it next summer in ways that really impact the way we do camp. We’re even more excited to see you next summer!
Jesse Kane, Social media and promotions coordinator