A View from the Pew: Camp Worship

Pew_smMy social media feeds are full of photos of kids and teenagers at camp, and I’m currently filling such a feed for my church with the same kinds of images.

Camp is a nearly universal component of churches’ ministry among children and youth, and it’s a primary way spiritual formation happens outside the church walls. As I chaperone my sixth consecutive year of PASSPORTkids! Camp for my church, I’m focusing on worship.

What is it about worship at camp that engages campers in profound ways while their weekly worship experiences in their home churches often fail to connect? Allow me to offer five ideas from camp that could help worship leaders and pastors reach children and youth without compromising tradition, theology, or liturgy:

Camp_worship_candle_sm1. Involvement. Worship services at camp draw on the campers to fulfill a variety of meaningful roles in the service, including singing, reading scripture, voicing prayers, sharing testimonies, dramatizing the texts, and responding. When a child, no matter what age, takes on a role in worship at camp, he or she better understands the purpose of that role in worship and can relate to it in a more meaningful way. Get your kids and youth involved in your church services on a regular basis and notice what it does for attendance, participation, and growth of the entire congregation.

2. Movement. Camp, by definition, is active. Children and teenagers are always in motion, by design, to keep them from unproductive down time that leads to trouble. It’s often a pragmatic self-defense to keep campers busy. The same is true for worship. Yes, it’s vital to give them moments to pause, listen, and reflect during a service, but there’s no reason you can’t have them up, moving their hands in motion to the music, processing and recessing, and moving about the worship space for different prayer experiences. Volumes have been written about the dwindling attention spans of our children today. Requiring them to move around in worship helps drive home the central message of the service and keeps their attention.

3. Relevance. Since my first year as a chaperone, I have been impressed by the sermons the camp pastors have brought at PASSPORTkids! The messages consistently draw on illustrations, both personal and general, that kids can relate to. Multiple forms of media are used to drive home the point, but a proclaimer in the pulpit sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ powerfully connects with the young people at an age-appropriate level. Preachers, it’s OK to mix up some illustrations, stories, and texts of primary relevance for your young people. I’m talking about the sermon, not just the children’s sermon. You will be surprised at how much the adults will get out of those messages and what it will do for the kids’ ability to listen to all of your sermons, no matter the topic.

Camp_worship_c_sm4. Emotion. I confess that I struggle with displaying emotion, particularly in worship. I prefer a more traditional approach where I can reach out to God with my thoughts. Camp worship draws me out of my intellectual comfort zone and causes me to confront the reality of my feelings. Some faith groups recognize the importance of emotion while others are overly dependent on feelings during worship. I would recommend you work at striking more of a balance. Young people sometimes need to be prodded to respond. Breaking through the information overload in their lives requires connecting with their emotions in a responsible, not manipulative, way. When a genuine connection occurs, God’s message for them is more clearly transmitted and received.

5. Undistracted. The underlying point of sending our children and youth away to camp is the sending away. By getting kids off of screens and out of the house and out of routines and away from all other influences, we are giving God a chance to speak to them in a powerful way. Among the most meaningful spiritual disciplines is fasting. This under-appreciated and seldom-practiced staple of the early church can have particular impact if it is applied to technology. Challenge your congregation to try a monthly or quarterly fast from technology, including wonderful blogs and social media, for just 24 hours on a Saturday before Sunday worship. Then see if this type of fast doesn’t have a similar impact on their ability to focus on worship when they are at church. It definitely works at camp.

So there you have it: if you want to do a better job of connecting with the children and teens in your church during worship, consider what the pros who plan camp do. I’d be interested to hear back from anyone who tries it

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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