ASCENT 2022 was our second annual national summer camp for high schoolers. With 2021 being overshadowed somewhat by COVID restrictions this year was more in line with the original vision of ASCENT. God blessed us with a great year and we are excited from all the stories we heard from people’s camp experiences. Thank you to everyone who planned, prayed, sang, led, taught, helped, and served at ASCENT.
The Christian Leader (our denomination’s magainze) will be putting out an article all about ASCENT in the September issue but for now, we wanted to run down the numbers.
We all know or at least have seen the spiritual euphoria after returning from summer camp. We call it the “camp high” it’s not a bad thing but a result of what happens to most students who spend a week with their friends, away from most distractions, having fun, being challenged by dynamic speakers, and joining in engaging worship. I mean who wouldn’t feel good and close to God after that. But all-mountain top experiences fade over time. Here are 10 quick tips to help you as a youth worker to follow up with your group and create momentum with the “camp high”.
The first tip is a reminder not to put so much pressure on yourself if your feelings don’t match the feelings of your students. If you’ve gone to camp 10+ years you start hearing the same messages, singing the same songs, playing the same games. Even hearing the same testimonies on “cry night”. You might not be going away with the camp high like some of your students but don’t throw the momentum away just because you aren’t “feeling it” this year. Remember that many of your students are experiencing this for the first time or God moved in a big way in some of your students and follow-up isn’t about you, it’s about them and God. So be okay with talking about camp even if you personally didn’t have a good experience or your expectations were not met because you can now compare it to a decade of camps.
“You should be praying harder after camp than before camp…” That was a challenge to me many years ago that I only recently began to understand. I would ask everyone I know to pray for students leading up to camp and I would be praying hard too. But once camp is over I just moved on to the next event. I didn’t pray for momentum after camp, I never prayed for revival. And in case you don’t know a revival is as simple as “a movement of God.” We should all be praying for a revival, but after camp, we don’t realize that maybe we just experienced one because we’re too busy planning the next event. So keep praying as you did leading up to camp!
This is my go-to event. The next time we meet as a regular youth group we bring in some coffee or Italian sodas (check them out here) and have students who went to camp get on stage to share their stories and have a Q and A with the students who didn’t. We share pictures, show a recap video, and just celebrate camp.
Plan ahead of time (if you know the theme, messages, etc.) and try to send out daily devos on your social media following up with camp. This helps keep the focus on growing their faith in God and studying His word. You can write them yourself or purchase a set from downloadyouthministry.com.
Take some time and ask a few well-spoken, and confident students to share on a Sunday morning to your whole church. Maybe even make a whole service out of it with your student worship band playing some of the camp songs and messages even. Take the time to also thank the church for praying and supporting you and the students at camp. Don’t skip this opportunity if it’s given to you because it benefits everyone involved!
One of the best ways to bridge the years together is by showing a recap video of camp from the year before. We do it every year leading up to camp the next year so students who went to camp can be reminded of a memory and students who didn’t go to camp can see what it’s like. Add testimonies from students in the video or with separate videos as both recaps and promotional tools.
Taken from my fellow youth worker DJ Toelle – Pass out pens and paper with each student’s name on them with an opening question, “I experienced God at camp this year by…” and have them write down all the ways they enjoyed camp and what they learned while there. The key to this tip is to do it while it’s fresh in their minds by giving it to them on their way home from camp and collecting the papers before they leave (like when you stop for a meal). If they have to turn it in like homework you will never get them back.
I always enjoy throwing up goofy pictures and doing a “caption contest” with the best pictures as a team game. I would read off what each team wrote for their caption and then we would vote for the funniest or best one (they cannot vote for themselves). You could also do this on social media if you are feeling brave… but be aware of inappropriate comments if you’re not careful. Some people take humor too far.
In the Old Testament, humans made alters to God when they wanted to remember what God did. I used a physical alter by giving out smooth stones to everyone to write one word that describes their camp experience and then we collected it in a jar. I have had picture collages with everyone. And I even worked at a church once that added a group picture, t-shirt, and other knick-knacks to a wall in their room every year after camp. They would make up cards like description plates for a stick, or pop can that shares the story of why it’s on the wall that year. It was really cool to add to it every year.
Spotify is an amazing youth ministry tool. We have now started creating “camp jams” playlist every year and sharing the playlist with everyone who went to camp. It was full of the worship songs we sang, funny songs we enjoyed on the way to camp, or any other song that created a memory. People kept adding to it and listening to it for the rest of the year. Until the next camp came and we created a new list.
What other tips do you have that could be added to this list?
Even the most exciting group can lose energy over time and with teenagers sometimes routine actually hurts the atmosphere rather than helps. If you notice your group not engaging as much as they did before then here are some suggestions for re-igniting the group relationships and fighting the boredom routine.
A covenant is a deal you make as a group when starting out. It lists the expectations you have for being part of the group. If you don’t have one make one. If you had one but many of the expectations aren’t being followed time to switch things up. Take one of your weeks and as a group creates a new covenant. You do it as a group because that creates more vital ownership from the students.
Take a night and instead of normally meeting go out for ice cream, or a bar-b-que at a person’s house, or laser tag. Just something fun. It can be a surprise or a planned event. Either way have some guilt-free fun with your group.
Remember a group that parties together, stays together.
Move to a new location even if it’s in the same building. If you’ve been using video, switch to a study guide. Change the topic if you have gone many weeks discussing the same topic. Bring in a guest speaker. Add a game, or activity even. The point is to keep the group on their toes.
Choose the student who seems to be disengaged the most and hand him the night’s questions. You can still give the lesson or share but when it’s time for discussion have a student lead the questions. It can be planned or spur of the moment. But sometimes a student needs to walk in the leader’s shoes to understand how difficult being a small group leader really is.
Instead of the typical format, go serve somewhere for a few weeks. Nothing bonds a group better than a shared experience and sometimes having a group serve reminds them why they meet in the first place. Like getting the attention off themselves and onto the needs of others. Volunteer in the nursery, rake someone’s yard and coordinate with a food bank or other local organization. Even serve one of your fellow group members!
Each week rotate a group member to be in “the hot seat” and focus a big chunk of the whole meeting on getting to know them. Ask the person to come prepared with photos and mementos for a sho-and-tell. You’ll be surprised by what you learn – been from people you think you know well. You can also end the meeting by having everyone go around and give words of encouragement to that person. It really bonds a group.
Promoting events is always a struggle for youth workers. And one of the most important events that happen every year is summer camp. Have you found yourself struggling with keeping up the promotional energy year after year? Here are some tips and tricks to help keep your summer camp promotion excitable and impactful.
It’s never too early to announce at least the date of next year’s summer camp. You might not have all the details set but what parents first want to know is when is it. So think fall of the previous year as the latest to send a “save the date” email or postcard so families know when camp is and don’t forget to put when registration opens as well! This also encourages families to plan around summer camp dates.
Begin promoting camp about 3-4 weeks leading up to when registration opens and again when you have a deadline coming up. Like an early bird or final deadline.
Many parents have a million questions about camp and you can’t always answer all of them personally. Create a website (or at the very least a flyer) with all the information on there. Basic information like date, price, location, deadlines. But also other things like why camp is important, what to bring, what activities are there. Imagine your target audience as a parent of a freshmen boy who has never been to camp and doesn’t pass on any details. This can be used and just updated every year. If it’s a website you can put the ability to register for camp at the bottom. Believe me, having information all in one spot is completely worth it. It also builds trust with parents who are detailed oriented!
Remember, you can never over-communicate with parents when it comes to events like camp!
BONUS: Make sure both deadlines and your scholarship process is clear. If your deadline date is different from the website vs. your flyer or promo it makes things difficult. If students don’t know how to ask or apply for scholarships you might miss out on them even going. Your scholarship process should be clear, fair, and sensitive for families to receive or even ask for some.
If you have pictures and videos of previous years show them right after camp as well as leading up to this year’s camp. Having someone create a recap video is one of the best ways to get students excited about going to camp. If it’s done by a professional it’s worth every penny!
For big events like this, you want to build excitement and the best way to do that is to highlight deadlines and inspire people to sign up early. One of the best ways to do that is to use phrases like “Don’t wait!” “Sign up today!” plus don’t forget how powerful the phrase “space is limited” really is. Another idea is to reward the first few people who sign up with a prize or discount.
Look no matter what camp is expensive for someone. There is a balance between what is worth it and how much it costs for parents. When promoting always keep that in mind that they might not believe or know how good camp is compared to you. So as the youth worker, you might be willing to pay more than them, so there is a level of convincing that you have to do to show that camp is worth the cost.
If there is any way to find some donors or budget money to lower the cost do it! Reward people for signing up early for early bird deadlines. Or maybe pay for travel costs. Anything to keep the camp costs low.
Offer a discount for students who go to camp for the very first time whether that is freshmen or any grade. A student who has a good experience at camp is more likely to come back the next year without many promos needed. So target the ones who have never gone and this makes your promotion even more impactful! It’s better to offer no discount for returning students if you can give a big church or percentage to first-time students. Anything less than 15% is not that impactful.
One final tip is don’t come across as desperate or needy in your promotion (even if you are). If the early bird deadline has passed and few students have signed up… don’t push it back. Make it a bigger discount the next year and push harder.
Don’t publicize the list of who is going to everyone. Keep it private. The last thing you want to do is have students decide if they are going to camp based on who else is going to camp. They will talk on their own you don’t need to help them.
Don’t use boring promo that “we do this every year… so it will be fun”. Keep things fresh and new. How you first promote it sets the tone so keep things exciting even if few students have signed up… yet.
Treat camp like a big deal because it is a big deal!