I’ll never forget going to camp for the first time. I was only 11 years old, but I had sweet-talked our church’s youth leaders into letting me attend junior high camp. We took a bus—with zero air-conditioning—from Denver, Colorado, to Hollywood, Florida, in August. That camp experience changed my life and formed the basis for Dare 2 Share, the ministry I lead today.
The camp did five simple things I’ve rarely seen replicated at other camps. I’m going to share them here as five action steps you can take to make camp or a missions trip exponentially more impactful for your teens this summer.
1. Create a Gospel inviting and a Gospel advancing atmosphere.
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16
A Gospel inviting atmosphere is one that assumes many of the teenagers attending camp—or even your missions trip—are not yet believers. It means making sure your speaker gives the Gospel clearly every night and that there are consistent opportunities for teenagers to respond to the Gospel publicly. This also means adult leaders are equipped to navigate Gospel conversations as they interact with the teens. (If you need help getting your leaders up to speed, have them watch this simple, free training I did for adult leaders.)
A Gospel Advancing atmosphere means that from moment one of camp or your trip, Christian teenagers are challenged to share their faith. This missionizes the experience, making it less about the what’s-in-it-for-me mindset so prevalent in evangelicalism today and more about how God can use teenagers to make a difference for His Kingdom.
2. Pray! Pray! Pray!
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
You probably wouldn’t want Jesus as your camp speaker, because you’d never be able to find Him when it was His time to speak. He’d be out roaming the nearby hills, praying for the teenagers’ souls.
If we want camp or a missions trip to have a deep, lasting impact on our teenagers, we must follow Jesus’s model. We must PRAY! PRAY! PRAY!
PRAY leading up the camp or trip! Pray that God prepares the hearts of both believers and unbelievers. Pray that every teen who should attend will attend.
PRAY all during camp or the trip! Meet as a leadership team early in the day to ask God that souls would be saved and lives would be changed.
PRAY after the camp or trip! Pray that the decisions made would be sealed and steeled, and that the seeds sown would produce 30-, 60-, and 100-fold results (Matthew 13:23).
Get teenagers praying too! Incorporate prayer into their daily camp or trip routine—and not just at meals. Have them pray for the people around them to trust in Christ—both those they encounter that week and their friends and family back home.
3. Equip your teens to share the Gospel, and challenge them to do it that week.
“So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13
My camp experience in Florida was more than 40 years ago, but it still influences me today. During the morning sessions, we received training in how to share the Gospel. In the afternoons, we took to the beach to put what we’d learned into practice, and then in the evenings we shared about our experiences. Adding a put-it-into-action element to your summer experience gives your students a chance to practice what they’re learning while their motivation is high and they have support around them. This can give them the confidence to share their faith when they return home as well.
The Florida camp was held at the old Hollywood Beach Hotel, which meant that anyone could walk on the boardwalk in front of our hotel. Little did they know that 2,000 teenagers were there, ready and eager to share the Good News with them. (As you might expect, there were various levels of enthusiasm when they discovered this fact!)
But even if you’re at a camp deep in the woods, miles from any other humans, the teens can still engage with nonbelievers and share the Gospel from camp through text, social media, or even good, old-fashioned handwritten letters. They can ask questions like “How can I pray for you?” or “Would you mind if I shared with you some life-changing things I’ve learned at camp this week?” Or they could download our free Life in 6 Words app, and post a QuickStarter question on social media. However they do it, it can transform a typical camp experience into a camp with a cause—THE Cause of Christ.
4. Go for the “all-in” decision, but answer “all-in for what?”
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20
Too often we challenge teenagers to go all-in to serve Jesus, but they have no idea what that actually means. The verse above holds the answers:
All-in for Jesus as their KING. “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me.” When believing teenagers commit to go all-in for Christ, they’re committing to submit to His kingship in every area of their lives. This means forsaking areas that dishonor Him and embracing habits that honor Him. It means obeying the King’s decrees, as outlined in Scripture. It means He’s their numero uno!
All-in for making disciples as their CAUSE. “Therefore go and make disciples…” When teens commit to following Jesus as their King, they’re committing to obey their King’s primary directive: to advance the Gospel to everyone they can.
All-in for a group of like-minded friends to be their CREW. “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me.” Jesus spoke to a group of similarly aged disciples and sent them out as a crew. He reminded them that, even after He was physically gone, He would be with them “always, to the very end of the age.” It’s important that we call teenagers to surround themselves with friends who will help them carry out Jesus’s primary Cause.
5. Share the Gospel along the way as you return home.
“Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went.” Acts 8:4
After we left the Florida camp, we had a nearly two-day trip in front of us. At every rest stop, gas station, and restaurant along the way, we shared the Gospel and told stories about it when we piled back on the bus.
Whether your return trip is two days or two hours, challenge students to share the Gospel as they go. It moves camp from theoretical to practical and gets them to put some skin in the game.
Apply these five steps to your summer camp or missions experience, and watch what God will do! Who knows—it might change their lives as profoundly as it did mine.