This week I am preaching at a wonderful Bible camp in northern Michigan. It is obvious that the leadership and staff have worked hard and saturated the week with prayer. I love summer camp.

For many years summer camp was an institution for young people across the country. In recent years the proliferation of so many other events have often substituted for a week of camp, but I still believe it is one of the best means of communicating God’s truth in a concentrated way to children and teens. 

It was at a youth camp where God called me to be a preacher. In the many years since that first camp experience I have met thousands of other young people who had the direction of their life changed at camp. An older preacher friend who I respect told me on the phone yesterday that most of the early spiritual decisions in his life were made at camp. 

Why is it so beneficial?

  • Camp removes normal distractions and the bombardment of social media and entertainment.
  • Camp exposes campers to physical exercise and to God’s beautiful creation. It gets them out of their room, off of their devices, and into nature. 
  • Camp introduces young people to young people from other places who are following Christ. Lifelong friendships can be developed through the camp experience.
  • Camp exposes kids to other voices who are preaching the same Word. They are often already receiving good instruction in their churches and homes, but there is something about hearing it again, from another messenger, that drives it home.
  • Camp teaches young people by experience that you can have clean, wholesome fun. Yes, you can be a follower of Jesus and have a good time!
  • Camp stretches young people – it gets them out of their comfort zone.
  • Camp allows us to place an emphasis. It encourages saturation with specific things, such as Scripture memory, prayer, and Bible study. The principles are the same that parents and pastors teach every day but there is an intensity at camp that is good for young people.

One of my favorite things about camp is watching God work. A few days saturated with Scripture gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to do a deep work in the hearts of every person.

It was my joy to direct a camp for several summers and now I am in a number of camps each year. They are all different and each week of camp is unique. Yet I have noticed a handful of common denominators in every effective youth camp. These are the keys to a great summer camp:

  1. Preparation. This is more than the camp preparing the facilities, leaders preparing the transportation, or parents packing their kids up. The greatest preparation is always spiritual. Definite instruction and expectation coming into the week makes a world of difference.
  2. Prayer. Parents, leaders, young people, camp workers – everyone involved must remember that all is vain if God does not work. A fun week is not the same as a fruitful week.
  3. Participation. The best way to have a great week of camp is to get involved immediately. Camp is not a spectator sport. This is why my favorite night is the first night. If you can get campers involved and responsive early the entire week will be better.
  4. Preaching. The most important part of a Christian camp is the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. God uses a variety of messengers but their message must always come from the Bible. Spirit-filled, passionate, specific Bible preaching that calls for action is the great need. 
  5. Program. A camp does not have to be elaborate or the facilities expansive to be effective. But the camp program must be designed to engage the campers physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Remember the goal is to develop well rounded young people (Luke 2:52).
  6. Personnel. Camp staff workers must be in tune with God, sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Anything that grieves the Lord will limit the fruitfulness of the week. (Hint: It is not just about having a good time!)
  7. Purpose. The purpose of camp is not to simply have camp! The week is not an end in itself – it is a means to the end. The goal of camp should be to help families and churches as they guide their young people to a personal walk with God. Camp should be designed with the weeks after camp in mind. What will they take away?

Yesterday it rained. Monsoon rains! Through the soggy, muddy mess I was reminded that you do not have to work too hard to help young people have fun. They will figure that out on their own. But you do have to work to place the emphasis where God wants it placed, and camp is one of the best places to do so.

Pray for camps and campers this summer. Get involved if you can. Send your kids. Let’s all use the tools at our disposal to point young people to Jesus at this crucial time in their lives and in our world.