I’ve been speaking at the same camp for 17 years and have been communicating with teens for over 30. I’ve learned a few things about the process of speaking at camp to have maximum results. My process involves, but is not limited to, these twelve core tenets I try to practice when I speak.
Set a pace/tone
As far as speaking goes, this is my job for when I am in the church/sanctuary/chapel with students. I want them to look forward to coming so I have to set the pace for excitement, fun and spiritual depth.
Give students your goals for the week
Before I get into my message, I try to map out the week for them. What is this week in this space going to look like? What am I hoping God will do? What I am hoping you will do?
I and the campers are in this together. At camp I take on the role of guild, not expert, so building trust is really important. I want them to go on the journey so I tell them where we are going and how we’re going to get there. I explain their role and mine and, when I feel like theirs agreement, we take the first step towards the end of the week.
Inform students of the decision you’ll be asking them to make
I’m honest with students. I don’t try to manipulate or switch the price tags. I tell them what I will be asking of them. This is no different than Jesus telling those who wanted to follow him that he had no where to lay his head. I don’t try to scare them or give them any pause for concern in following Jesus, I just want them to make an educated decision, not just an emotional one.
This is about authenticity. Being real means I will make a promise and keep it. It’s my way of saying I won’t do just anything for a laugh or to make you like me. I want the scriptures to speak and God to use them to convict them with little interference from me.
Preach progressively (build on a principle, laying a foundation)
If the camp has a theme I build on it as I did a few weeks ago when I did a series called Start Again. The camp theme was built around retro video games, etc. but I am not a huge video gamer so for me to couch the message in game terms would have felt inauthentic to me and the kids would have picked up on it.
Rather than do a week of cheesy video game lingo messages, I went with Start Again and included only a few references to video games. I talked about people who rage quit their video game, destroying everything instead of just starting again. Starting again with God, requires that believe God desires us to start again rather than quit out of fear, anger and the feelings of disappointing God or ourselves.
Sunday was the trust day/launch day/get to know me/set goals day
Monday was let’s start the journey, remind everyone of the goals day and I’ll ask for the first commitment of four.
Tuesday was let’s take a look at what we committed to yesterday and see how we build on that by looking at starting again from another angle.
Wednesday was a no hold bar commitment day. You know enough by now to make a decision.
Thursday – Victory Day. I told them about this day. I told them that Thursday would be filled with testimonies, singing and that they would be filled with a mindset ready to face the world back home.
Involve students in the message
I refuse to do for a kid what a kid can do for themselves. I work off my slides, not a piece of paper in front of me. If I have to read it off a paper, it’s not in my heart. I spend an enormous amount of time meditating on the scriptures I’ll use and how the Spirt would like to move through them to convict, inform and change hearts.
Because I use slides, I don’t put the full verse on the slides, only the address. At dinner time I walk around the cafeteria holding slips of paper with the scriptures for the night on them asking if anyone would like to read the verses. On Monday, teens are a bit hesitant but by Thursday I run out of slips of paper in about five minutes.
I have students read scripture for several reasons,
- I want them to hear themselves reading the scriptures out loud.
- I want them to read the scriptures publicly, like it’s no big deal.
- I want their peers seeing the read the scriptures isn ask “why not me?”
I often ask for volunteers to help me with an illustration on hard things to understand such as sin and our sins and what do these have to do with our relationship with Christ.
Kids who participate help their friends understand hard spiritual concepts and will remember this moment more than if I just showed them a video or illustrated myself.
Just this year I started using my camera to film. daily camp vlog and ask a question of the day. I walk around the camp and film kids answering the question. You can watch the playlist below.
Intentional relationship building
I don’t hangout with students all day, but I do spend time with them who I am filming (as above) and meal time. These times are critical to getting to know kids names (which I am not great at) and to get a feel of how they are receiving the messages.
Building relationships are important to the trust factor as well las hearing kids stories so I can pivot my message to a concept they might need to hear.
Encourage students to talk with their youth leaders
I am not the answer man. At the camp I speak at down in Florida, they hire counselor and kids come. At my youth camp here in Alabama, we bring the kids and the staff. In either scenario I see my role as instigator. I don’t want kids coming to me, I want them talking with the leaders that brought them or the counselors on hand.
These are adults who will spend the most time with students and have the great influence with them. I want to work with the adults not against them.
Preach publicly, prophesy privately
Part of my time building relationships with campers is coaching kids up. I prophesy postivity over them because teens have enough false prophets in their lives from friends, teachers, and even parents feeding them negativity. I build them up in the faith and tell them they matter to God and to everyone else.
I love telling kids what I see in them. I love telling them that I see leadership, compassion, and joy in them. For some, it’s the first they’ve heard that. That goes a long way when I meet with the for service.
Illustrations that connect
I love using physical illustrations to help students understand scriptural truth. One way I do that is through prayer stations. I use prayer stations for closing the service because it allows student to process what I’ve shared and to pray and talk it out with God.
Here’s a sample of the kind of prayer station I use.
Big picture and practicality
In addition to making Thursday night a Victory night, I slowly pan out and reveal the bigger picture students are invited to participate in. The big picture is leaving camp to live out what God has taught them and what they have received.
My goal, all week, is to move past the hype (some is fine) to help students build a sustainable faith. I tell campers, Jesus is not a camp experience, He’s a life experience.
I think I’m unique, as a speaker. I believe in following up with campers. I don’t call them individually, but I do create a website with all my notes, videos and a song playlist of all the songs. It’s a way to take a bit of camp home with them.
And that’s my process. I change it up according to the kind of camp I’m at and the goals the leaders have, but the process is pretty much the same.
If I can serve you and your camp or retreat, please let me know, [email protected]