When High Schoolers Lead at Junior High Camp

Youth Specialties
September 23rd, 2016

Last August, the city of Los Angeles did something crazy.

They turned their main water reservoir into a giant ball pit.[1] What would inspire city officials to invest over 30 million dollars into dumping nearly 96 million plastic balls into their main water source? Creativity. They thought outside the lines and came up with a solution that not only was unexpected, but sounds downright insane. Their goal was to cut down on water evaporation, and harmful algae growth. It’s estimated the balls will last between 10-25 years and prevent 300 million gallons of water from evaporating each year. The opinions online are many and quite diverse, but you have to give the city staff an A for effort and innovation.

We all have areas of our ministry that we know pose a risk to our hopes and goals. One of those areas that many of our programs have in common is the slow fade that occurs in High School. Students grow in their freedom and also in their responsibilities and quite often that means we see them less and less. Our environments and programs are structured to try and help them stick around, and stay involved. It’s an uphill battle and many youth ministers feel like they are pretty low on students’ list of priorities. I’d argue that one of my biggest pains in ministry comes from watching students go from being passionate about their faith, to sporadic in their involvement, and finally apathetic in their spiritual lives.

Our team hasn’t cracked the code or found the vaccine, but we did stumble onto an idea that would have seemed downright crazy if we hadn’t seen it working for ourselves.

We started sending our High School students to Junior High Camp. I’ve had the honor of serving with a team of local youth ministers as deans for a week of Junior High Camp at Woodland Lakes Christian Camp. That week of camp is one of the highlights of my year. One of the things that make it special is that it is filled with High School students.  Every summer nearly 75% of our Camp Leadership is High School students.

The spots for Group Leaders and Co-Leaders for our week fill up so fast that, quite often, we close Leader Registration in less than a month after opening it up to people. Our High School students rush to sign up knowing that they are going to have to attend several training and planning meetings. In fact, most of them end up putting their own money towards decorating their Group Meeting Areas for the week. This past summer some of our leaders ended up serving for other weeks of camp because they just couldn’t get enough.

So what in the world would make High School students so desperate to go to Junior High camp?

I don’t think it is because of anything cool or trendy that happens during our week of camp. In fact, I’d say it is probably pretty standard in several ways. I’d suggest that it’s something very different that has our HS kids clamoring to hang out with Junior Highers. They feel like they own it. That week of camp is a giant part of their piece of God’s Kingdom. They desire to be the difference in someone else’s life in the same way that they experienced just a few years earlier. They are passionate and committed because they’ve discovered a part of their church that they can own.

Who knows whether the city of LA has uncovered a great idea in covering their water reservoirs in millions of balls?  What I do know is this: Inviting a High School student is more meaningful when you are inviting them to be challenged. Don’t be surprised when they rise to that challenge and you find them inviting others to do the same.

mattMatt Robinson serves on staff at Parkside Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. His wife Alicia, and 3 boys love going to Red’s games and finding new parks to explore.

[1] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150812-shade-balls-los-angeles-California-drought-water-environment/

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.