Monday, July 19, 2010


Okay, I admit it. I am NOT a big fan of age-segregated, youth-centered "ministry" that creates a false community defined by peer groups and current youth fads. Schools, sports teams, and even churches conspire relentlessly to remove young people from the broader context of family and community, placing them instead in an artificial world characterized by narrow age groups and the latest teen or preteen or college culture.

I've never been big on the idea of summer camp, either: highschool camp, junior high camp, elementary camp, even senior camp. Do we have so little in common that we can't benefit from spending a little time together?

But here it is, July 19th, and I find myself at church camp. Yes, I've been converted. Sort of. Let me explain....

Last year, Grace Community Church held it's first ever summer camp. Being a young church plant (we were still just getting our feet underneath us, so to speak), we were very excited about working together as a body to create a camp that would be fun for our kids and that would benefit the body of Grace as a whole. We also wanted camp to be an outreach to people in the community. The end product? Not a youth camp, but a family camp....moms and dads, kids and grandparents, teachers and students. Of course, not every child who attended had a parent there. Not every adult had a child. But what we did have was a multi-generational, absolutely phenomenal B-L-A-S-T.

We rented the lodge facility at a nearby state park. Girls and women filled one half of the divided bunk house, boys and men the other. As a mom and older woman in the church, it was a delight and a blessing to me to see junior-high girls help care for and entertain 18-month-old Emily. And high school girls, jamming out with the younger girls who admired them so much. Teenage boys, pushing kindergartners on the swings. Jacob, part of my K-3 study group, teamed up with Art, a college professor, to help guide afternoon hikes down the park's beautiful hiking trails. Before supper, it wasn't unusual for a group of kids and grownups to join in a game of horseshoes or ringtoss. The entire camp was a fun time...spent together.

In fact, we had so much fun that we're doing it again. Right now. Two other churches are joining us for camp, along with a handful of campers from the Boys and Girls Club of Union City, and this year we are at an actual camp facility. The Reelfoot Youth Camp complex includes two bunk houses, a Rec center, swimming pool, disc golf course, soccer field, assembly hall, commercial kitchen....all kinds of cool amenities. Morgan's granddaddy is helping with crafts. Our college students are working with Travis to organize and supervise games and sports in the afternoons. Mornings, I'm teaching K-3rd grade with the help of another mom - Yay! Again, we have mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, teenagers and preschoolers, pastors and elders, all working and worshipping and learning and playing together. Folks, this is summer camp - as good as it gets!

If your church is considering participating some way in summer camps, let me recommend skipping the typical age-segregated camp system. Instead of sending your kids to camp, go with your kids to camp. Start planning now for an amazing family camp experience next summer.

(For a glimpse at how much fun we had at last year's summer camp, click here and scroll down to 2010 Youth Camp.)


J. K. Jones said...

Praying for you all!

tracy said...

Our middle school kids are leaving for the middle school conference in SC on Wednesday. David and I have heard nothing in Sunday School (he's teaching that group, by the way) but this topic for the last month. They are SO excited. They have a wonderful time when they go. They are surrounded by hundreds of kids their own age that have the same problems/likes/dislikes/etc. They get to meet people that they otherwise wouldn't get to meet, and some of them form life-long friendships. They get to participate in worship services that are geared towards *them*, not the old farts that they sit by in church each Sunday.

I can't see how this can be a bad thing for them. They are surrounded by old and young and everyone in between all the time - this is their chance to focus on their relationship with God in a setting designed just for *them*. It is special and I wouldn't dare suggest that they shouldn't go.

I am very pleased that your congregation has found a way for all to participate in a camp that seems to work very well. It is a novel idea, but one that would work for many congregations. I hope that you have a wonderful time.

Anonymous said...

Our congregation has a retreat in October every year that sounds very much like what you are doing this summer. It's not a week long, but there is always plenty of fun and fellowship to be had.
I think the "adults" enjoy the fall retreat more than the kids.


Camille said...

Sounds like what you have planned for your middles is awesome. Our youth usually take one short trip each year, also, particularly for them, and the feedback I've heard from my guys after these trips has been very positive.

I disagree, though, with the comment that kids are surrounded by everyone else - young and old - all the time. From what I've seen, life is way to age-segregated for children these days. Most kids spend most of each day in a classroom with 20 or more people their same age. Then, they participate in sports or band or some other extra-curricular activity, again with people their same age. Weekends, they hang out at the mall or a friend's house with same-aged peers. Then at church, they spend Sunday school in a class with same-aged children, and often attend a worship service "designed" for youth. It seems very few children spend any significant time at all in the company of people younger or older than themselves (I'm not counting the rush to get out the door to school, or the commute to ball practice, or the boob time in front of the TV - those might "up" the time somewhat.)

An informal survey would be interesting, and I'll see if I can work on it for a future blog. Out of a typical 24-hour day, how much time do you, young person, spend in conversation, play, or some other cooperative activity with your parents? with your siblings? with your grandparents? with other people outside your circle of peers/same-aged friends?

Sitting here thinking through the names of many youth I know, I'd bet most kids spend less than an hour a day in meaningful relationship with anyone outside their peer group. In fact, an hour would be a very generous estimate.

Also, I've found that kids, preschoolers to teenagers, really appreciate having adults engage with them - even more than they value being "left alone" to their own little worlds. Based on conversations and interactions w/ kids over the years, I've about decided that "Kids don't want adults hanging around and would rather spend their time with same-aged friends" is a lie adults tell themselves to excuse their own lack of interest in or laziness toward getting involved with kids. Kids are tough work - physically, emotionally, mentally. It seems many adults today just don't want to make the effort to step into the harness and work at building relationships that cross age boundaries.

Camille said...

Oh, and camp was GREAT! I'm exhausted and sore and probably won't be able to walk normally for a week. But I have a bunch of new friends...from a teeny blue-eyed kindergartner (Hi, Katie!) to a gray-headed granddad who can herd little boys like a Drill Sergeant AND dance like a crazy man! (I want to grandparent like you some day, Mr. Larry.)