A View from the Pew: Helping Your Kids Avoid Post-Camp Letdown

Preparing to send my two oldest off for a week of church youth camp has me already thinking about their return.

Experiencing the spiritual mountaintop of camp is potentially life-changing, but it also presents unique challenges for our children when they return to the “real world.” Here are five tips for making that transition back home at the end of the week a little easier and the commitments last longer:

  • Listen. Understand that they will most likely be exhausted, but make space to listen to their processing, particularly in the first 24 hours upon their return. If you’re lucky and your kids are external processors, this will not be difficult. Give them your attention to share what they experienced, what they are feeling, and what it all means to them. In order for their experience to be important to them, they must know that it is important to you. You can demonstrate that by listening.
  • Interrogate. I don’t mean this in the suspicious sense. I mean it in the parental sense. Asking good, probing questions about their experience from the week will help them reflect and apply what they learned. It will also help them translate their ecstatic feelings into daily conduct in a practical and sustainable way. A few open ended questions to help you get started are “What did you hear this week that resonated with you?”, “Was there something you learned about yourself that was surprising?”, “What do you think God is calling you to do or to be after this week?”
  • Encourage. Regardless of your experience of camp, try not to put a damper on their enthusiasm. This is about their experience, not yours. If they come home fired up about their faith and service and want to pursue full-time ministry, do not try to discourage them or talk about the downside of Christian vocation. Be supportive and remember, your child is not finished processing their week at camp. Don’t snuff out their excitement because you’re worried they will take a vow of poverty and move to the other side of the world.
  • Plan. Our children have been attending Passport camps for more than 10 years, and one of the greatest benefits they’ve gained is an understanding and passion for missions. You can continue that passion and feed that interest by planning service opportunities either through the youth group or with your family. If they come home talking about their new-found commitment to sharing the love of Christ with the homeless, then make plans to work in a shelter in your community. If they decide they want to pursue medicine as a career so they can go to medically underserved areas and bring the Gospel in word and deed, then plug them into a medical clinic ministry in an underserved area of your community. By building on to what they learned at camp, you will be driving home the point of the week while also allowing the Spirit to continue to work in their lives at a time when they are responsive and impressionable.
  • Remind. To me, camp is one of the most important aspects of our children’s faith formation. Sharing with them what they have told you about previous summers and letting them know what you’ve observed in their lives after previous visits to camp will help them remember that God’s work in their lives is ongoing. Mark on your calendar one month, three months, six months, and a year from now to check in with them about some of the same themes and topics you discussed in the days immediately after they returned home. This is easy to do if they will be returning to camp the next summer. If your child won’t be returning to camp, a good way to continue the experience is to help them find meaningful ways to plug into other ministries, including college ministries on their campus or in a church if they will be graduating high school.

What were your experiences returning from church camp? What helped you? What do you wish your parents would have done for you? What have you done to help your children? Share your ideas and tips so we all can benefit from your experience.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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