By Sarah Dumas
In 2017, Bishop Farr challenged Next Generation Ministries to host 10,000 campers in its three camping ministries: Ignite Mobile Camp, Infuse Core Camp and Impact Service Camp. Although that goal hasn’t been reached yet, camping ministries are steadily growing, with 4,562 campers during the summer of 2018. Instead of simply focusing on the quantity of campers, NextGen has been intentionally developing strategies in which the quality of camp will be the main priority.
In order to make camping ministry an increasingly successful tool for the Missouri Conference to grow and develop its students, NextGen is utilizing three strategies. First, intentional programs will be put in place to pour into campers, so they will take true ownership of their faith. Second, increasing the emphasis and support of local churches and volunteers during camp will lead to year-round mentorships for students. Finally, NextGen is developing strategies to host their own mobile camp track to provide leadership opportunities for college students.
Finding ways to empower students to individually pursue their faith and develop leadership skills to be utilized both in and out of the church requires stepping into the shoes of children, youth and college-age students to discover their personalized views, needs and desires. To accomplish this, NextGen has utilized Orange Strategy (http://www.thinkorange.com) to better understand how kids work, grow and think about God in different stages of life. Using this with other resources, like “A New Kind of Leader” by Reggie Joiner, the future of camp will be strategic, intentional, Christ-centered and still full of fun.
A camper at Senior High Leadership Camp said, “This is my first year at the Senior High Camp, and really this is the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. The best part about being at this camp is making new friends, getting out of my comfort zone, and playing and helping the little kids; really just working on my relationship with God.”
Camp is a tool to spark a passion to follow Christ in students, but it is not the stopping point. At the 2018 Annual Conference one of the essential priorities identified was to develop 400 missional leaders by the end of next June. These missional leaders are intentionally growing in Christ, are able to identify others, who identify others, who actively practice their faith, and are freed to lead in their community, local church, and beyond. In just three months of camp, 71 potential missional leaders have been identified by staff, directors and counselors.
Although potential missional leaders have been identified at camp they don’t have to wait until next summer to pursue this; students are encouraged to begin their journey to becoming a missional leader now back at their local church. Development of a missional leader can occur through mentor partnerships, specialized learning opportunities and providing leadership opportunities to utilize their gifts.
In the continual development of camp, the local church will play an increasingly important role as they are the true home for these students to explore their faith. NextGen plans to provide resources such as NextGen Academy, which will equip students with new skills and then encourage them to go back to their local church to practically apply these skills. By collaborating with the local church, NextGen is able to better support students in their journey to become missional leaders.
“My child gets nervous doing new things but felt comfortable at camp since it was at our church, a place where she already feels loved and comfortable. At this age I do not think she would go to a camp if it was somewhere she has never been,” said a parent of a mobile camper at New McKendree UMC.
Growing the camping ministry wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers who have continued to support these camps throughout the years. This year 485 adult volunteers and 277 crew and youth volunteers were part of mobile and overnight camps. These volunteers are an essential part of the success of camp because they have the unique opportunity to serve during and after camp as mentors, which can cause a ripple effect, a leader creating a leader who can create a leader. They are the first examples of missional leaders these campers will see, inspiring them to continue to impact others as they grow up.
A volunteer counselor at Quest Camp said, “Children and youth deserve a lot of respect that they don’t always get. The emotions, thoughts and feelings they have are very sincere. For me, opportunities like this are really great chances to work with kids and allow them to express those things and talk about them freely.”
Playing an integral role in a student’s faith journey can take many forms. Before mentors can walk alongside campers as they learn how to trust God, they first have to have the opportunity to get there. Local churches that host mobile camps and send campers to overnight camps continue to support this ministry by fundraising and donating scholarships for students to attend camp. When campers are able to see they have a community behind them supporting their faith journey, they can begin to expand their interest from one week at camp to a year-round venture.
Finally, in addition to supporting and developing the current models of mobile and overnight camps, NextGen is developing strategies to host its own mobile camp track. This will strengthen relationships and increase involvement with the Conference Office and local churches as well as fill the unique needs of Missouri United Methodist churches. By hosting a mobile camp track there will be opportunities for college-age students to serve in leadership and staff positions (https://www.nextgencamps.org/apply) and for high school students to facilitate camp at their home church.
Next Generation Ministries is committed to exploring new opportunities, ideas and strategies on its way to hosting 10,000 campers. It is NextGen’s priority to intentionally provide opportunities and resources to children, youth and college-age students, so that as they grow in their faith they are surrounded by their peers in an environment that is safe, comfortable and most importantly fun.