Sometimes I stop and wonder, in the twenty-first century, with all our cell phones and streaming media and electronic devices, is camp still relevant? I mean, really? Does playing outside, climbing trees, and toasting marshmallows really matter to young people anymore?
I think so.
For instance, I raise chickens in my backyard… mostly for enjoyment, and a little bit for the eggs. While I’ve never hatched my own chicks, I have seen a lot of cartoons—you know, the ones where the broody hen gets hot and bothered and stands up to find a dozen eggs cracking and hatching all at once?
That’s not really how it happens.
In fact, just like people take about 9 months to “hatch,” most chickens take about 21 days. So, as a hen lays her clutch of eggs—about one a day for a week or so—she is actually creating a scenario where she will likely have one or two chicks hatch a day for several days in a row.
It doesn’t make great TV. But that’s how it works in real life.
And it kind of works that way with kids, too. I’m not talking about a human variation in time-to-birth. I’m thinking more like the apparent variation in time-to-maturity.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the preteen years, when the difference in the rate of physical, emotional, and yes, spiritual maturity becomes hyper obvious.
I saw it pretty clearly at last night’s band concert, where one fifth grader was almost a foot taller than another, the girl in the back playing the bass drum looked like she could have been 18-years-old, and my 11-year-old daughter seems to be growing up faster and faster every day.
I don’t know why we’d expect it to be any other way. They’re all so different.
But one thing I’ve seen, is that the regular rhythms and out-of-the-ordinary routines of summer camps and weekend retreats, provide a safe place for preteens to encounter spiritual milestones, to break out of their shells, and hatch (spiritually).
At SpringHill, we see thousands of preteens every year come through day and overnight camps, and experience weekend retreats alongside their peers. And it’s definitely the age where we see the most students making significant spiritual decisions.
Right around 80% of preteens make a first-time or renewed commitment to Christ while they’re at camp.
They don’t all do it at the same time or in the same year, but camp becomes an incubator, so to speak, where they can… when they’re ready.
And while camp may not always level the playing field for preteens at their various stages of maturity, it does provide an incredible environment for maturation and spiritual growth.
- It takes their gadgets out of play.
- It makes makeup and hair-dos irrelevant.
- It has everyone doing activities (not traditional sports) that no one is very good at, and everyone enjoys.
- It makes every conversation one where it’s ok—or really expected—to talk about Jesus. And they do.
I’ll never forget leading my first retreat for preteens. I stood by the parking lot here at camp watching them pile out of their vans and buses. Most of them seemed genuinely excited to be at camp, but a few boys… well, they were hiding behind a tough shell of coolness.
Just a few hours into the weekend, though, I was already seeing a change… as were their pastors and small group leaders. They were starting to change on the inside, and that hard outer shell? It was beginning to crack.
And by the end of the weekend, this group had totally hatched. The camp environment had created a safe space for them to do some maturing, and each one of them accepted Christ into their lives that weekend.
So, is camp really still worth it? Are the experiences really still relevant? Absolutely.
“My kids were absolutely experiencing God this weekend, in ways they don’t normally experience at home,” wrote Allison in an email after bringing her group of students to a weekend retreat. “This is the beauty of camp. Getting away from the routine and focusing on faith in fun, experiential ways. Now, they have brought this excitement home and I believe they will see God around them more, after the experiences they had at camp.”