Friday, March 14, 2008


    One of the best outcomes of the recent youth ministry conference I attended was affirmation from some of my colleagues about a question I've been thinking about for almost a year: "Is it time to rethink church camp?"
    Is it time to critique the same sort of program-driven approach to church camp that many of us have been critiquing for some time now in our congregationally-based youth ministries? Is there another way to "be" church camp without the constant focus on activity, activity, activity? I'm happy to report that some folks started asking that question long before it ever popped into my head and they've already begun to make the shift to a more thoughtful approach to church camp.

    I have to admit that the model of church camp that I primarily utilize is one I inherited from those who mentored me in the ways of "doing" camp. Having never gone myself as a youth, my only experience of church camp has been as an adult. And although there is much positive to be said about the model I inherited, it is inherently program-driven. Every moment of the day is scheduled with keynotes, family group, Bible study, arts and crafts, creek walks, sports, swimming, worship, campfire, and those big evening events that often result in half the camp covered in chocolate pudding! As they say on Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," but I knew in my gut that there could be more. And I felt strongly that one possible key to this "more" might be the contemplative approach to youth ministry that Mark Yaconelli promotes through his books and the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (YMSP) and that youth ministry guru Randy Kuss promotes in his God @ Center retreats.

    So coming in the next several days will be several suggestions for just what a contemplative approach to church camp might look like. But we would love to hear your thoughts on this, too. How do we slow down the "activity" at camp to make room for youth to hear the still small voice of God?


    Joel Mayward said...

    I've been wrestling with similar questions, as I have inherited a heavily camp-driven junior high ministry. It's not bad, per se, but I have this gut feeling that it could be so much deeper and richer. Looking forward to reading more from you!

    Brian said...

    Good to hear from you, Joel. I'm anxious to hear thoughts from others on this, too, as it will be new territory for my camp staff as we try to move in this new direction in June!

    Jacob said...

    I would love to see a camp that incorporated silence into its daily activities. I've heard of camps being silent each night from the end of dinner to the following morning. During this time, there are intentional worship services and various models of prayer. It's definitely a shift in thought, but one worth exploring. How cool would it be to have a "Contemplative Camp" for the entire week. I know some of my youth would enjoy such an experience. Has anyone ever done this?

    Randy said...

    lol . . . I happened to see camp post #2 first & responded to it before reading this one.

    The old "night of silence" was part of my teen-years camping experience in the 60's and occasionally since then. It was a regular part of YMSP in-service weeks. It can be a powerful and very counter-cultural experience for youth - and very challenging to spend a nite not only w/o talking but w/o podding!

    I believe that - if leadership can pull it off well - youth will respond to morning or evening prayers that are done together but with significant blocks of silence. And might do that better than the solo "morning watch" thing.

    Youth love to experience a labyrinth walk, too, which allows them a kinetic self-directed prayer experience Increasingly available on camp grounds but if not at your particular site, there are readily available guides for laying one out in 30-60 minutes by staff or campers. Warren Lynn at DHM is a good source for help.