Last year, we took our high school students to Generate Camp (YM360), and they had a great time. This year, we had planned to take both our middle schoolers and high schoolers, but like many things this year, we realized we needed to pivot. Since I know a lot of you are still trying to figure out how to do ministry during this current pandemic, I thought I’d share a bit from our summer camp 2020 experience.
I knew that we did not want to do a fully digital/online camp. While it is always important to study the Bible, doing so online for eight hours a day, all week long would probably be really boring for teenagers. And someone told me long ago that one of the greatest sins a youth worker can commit is boring a teenager with the Bible. So what would we do instead?
Our high school students were already planning to attend the “Serve” version of Generate Camp, where they would spend the middle part of each day serving in the local community. So I thought, “What if we did something like this for all students right here in town?”
I quickly got connected with workcampNE, an organization that leads local mission trips (usually in the northeastern US). [Full disclosure: I’m also on their board of directors.] Due to the pandemic, they were also pivoting to run an online-based camp this summer. After many discussions, we decided to partner up with them and a few other churches across the country for summer camp.
We decided to kick off the week on Sunday night with an in-person event, a bonfire at the church. It was the first time most of our students had gotten together in about four months, and it was awesome! There was no real agenda except to give a few announcements and ground rules before spending a few hours together around the fire and playing in the church yard and parking lot.
Throughout the week, we gathered in the morning and afternoon for worship/teaching times via Zoom. This were fully run by workcampNE, but they did use a few leaders from each church. Each morning, a couple students from one of the attending churches led the music, while one of the youth leaders led in a devotional thought (written by workcampNE). In the afternoon, games were led by the workcampNE director, music was led by a band from workcampNE, and they had a guest speaker, who shared thoughts from the Scriptures based on the week’s theme.
During the middle portion of the day, after our morning Zoom session, we served in our local communities. The participating churches had the ability to do this as they wanted. We chose to give students the option to be a part of a small group of students (with adult leaders) or to work in their local neighborhood. Most of our students chose to be in a group. So once they signed off of Zoom each morning, they headed off to their assigned worksite, which were all local nonprofit organizations connected to our church. Throuhgout the week, we served six local organizations and one family. During our lunch breaks, adults led their groups through a devotional thought and discussion questions. These guides were also all written by workcampNE.
In the evening, we also had optional online game nights via Zoom for those who wanted to participate. Many students chose not to participate, but the ones who did really enjoyed it. We played charades, pictionary, and battleship.
We also had an extra gathering on Wednesday evening that the students organized at a local park, since they wanted to be together even more.
We ended the week on Friday night with another bonfire, this time at one of the student’s houses. It was a fantastic ending to the week with games, musical worship, a closing message, food, and a lot of fun and story telling from the week.
Even though it wasn’t a “normal” week of summer camp, we still had countless stories of life transformation:
- We had one student bring a couple friends to camp, who were not a part of our church. By the end of the week, one of them was ready to join the youth group. His mom even offered to host us sometime.
- We had one student who was so excited about where he served that after camp, he took his parents by the facility to show off his work and to meet the head of the organization.
- We had another group that was inspired by the work they did, and now they are talking about plans to serve there on a regular basis throughout the year.
- We had one student, who came to be at the end of the week, ready to really step up in leadership, based a lot on her experience in serving and leading during camp.
- We had several parents step up to lead groups. Prior to that week, these parents were trying to find a place to serve. They loved helping at camp.
- We had students stepping up to plan and lead additional activities throughout the week of camp to add to their experience.
- Speaking of the work we did: We helped many organizations with projects they have been putting off for months and years. Many of those projects were finished within a few hours by our hard working students. In fact, there were a couple groups that needed more work assignments because they worked so hard and finished early one or two days. Not only did the students get to see what happens behind the scenes of our local partners, they were able to contribute in a huge way by serving them all week.
I really hope we can go away to camp in the future, as there is nothing that can really replace a week of dedicated time with God and His people. Camp will always be one of my favorite parts of youth ministry. If we are not able to go away again, for whatever reason, I know something like this can work. In fact, I’ve talked to many of our students about doing something like this on a regular basis, but in addition to camp, as they absolutely loved serving in their own community!
I’d also like to thank workcampNE for this partnership. It was so helpful to have them take care of a lot of the administration, especially the content and online components, so our team could focus on our students and the service projects. If you’re interested in partnering with them for camp or even something for just your group, check out their website at workcampne.com.