I was born in the eighties. As a result, I grew up playing the original nintendo entertainment system. Shout out to that orange duck hunt zapper. Well, as any good eighties kid knows, there was a secret code that worked on many games that could, if inputed correctly, help you get a leg up on your game completion.

“Up, up, down, down, b, a, b, a, select, start” was known as the “Konami code”. It could grant everything from extra lives to extra energy to extra power ups. But, no matter what this cheat code gave you, there was one thing you always gained: progress.

One of the things that I love so much about taking students to summer camp (or any other kind of extended retreat) is that it allows you to leap ahead in your relationships with students. Lots of time spent together + fun + late night talks = earned trust. Earned trust = relational progress. Relational progress = the ability to speak into a teenager’s life.

I’ve been taking students to camp since 1999. Holy cow! 13 years! I’m old! Here are a few “cheat codes” that I’ve discovered along the way to help you leap forward in your relational progress.

One Hour- As human beings, we naturally gravitate toward certain people. In ministry, this usually works itself out as spending more time with a few select people than with others. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But youth ministry has the deck stacked against this natural behavior. Lots of teenagers are already fighting a battle against a world that wants them to think that nobody likes them. The last thing that we want, is for them to go through camp (or any ministry activity) feeling invisible or unloved. At the beginning of your time together, figure out with each student in your cabin or group a time during the week that you can spend one hour together. Of course this is only appropriate for same gender pairings and in public places. Above reproach! You’d be surprised what one hour of your focused attention can give a student.

Shuffle Meals- This goes along with the same principle as the hour. Students will congregate with the same people all week during meals. Don’t allow yourself to follow that pattern! Mix it up! Sit at a different table of students at each meal! Start conversations with students that you wouldn’t normally. Believe me, they won’t run away while they’re stuffing their faces with corn dogs and tater tots.

Use more question marks than periods- As my former boss used to say, “Camp is for the camper.” This applies to priorities in conversations as well as activities. Ask questions to your students and then listen! Get to know them and show them you care by using your ears!

Create snapshots- I had a volunteer leader who once told me that a certain student would always “talk about the same thing” to her: a time that they had raced against each other at one of our park days. I told her that he just wanted to talk to her, but only had one thing that he could use to relate. That race! Spend your week at camp doing fun things, having late night conversations about the message, racing through the grass, and jumping from the high dive! The more memories you help create, the deeper your relationship with your students will be and the more they’ll allow you to guide them to the cross!

Josh Treece is the associate youth minister at Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce, SC. You can follow him on twitter at @joshtreece or check out his blog at www.joshtreece.com.

Just curious if there is a magic price point for summer camp – I realize it will vary among us as far as how long camp is, etc. But I think just knowing the price of camp across the spectrum will be helpful. Vote in today’s poll!


Weekend Teaching Series:  Summer Camp Kickoff Weekend (1-off)

Sermon in a Sentence: An introduction to the theme for summer camp (When Heaven and Earth Collide) by the summer camp speaker.

Service Length: 68 minutes

Understandable Message: This weekend we brought in the speaker, Mark Moore, who will be our camp speaker this summer. He did a great job of introducing the camp theme and walking students through the Sermon on the Mount – from memory! It was a great talk and the students were definitely into the talk for sure.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This weekend we played the most incredible game since Facebook Hack – it was called Velocicopter and it was invented by one of our team members named Hannah. So awesome! It is basically a game where we duct tape the contestants arms to their chest so they have these tiny little arms. We spilled ping pong balls on the stage and told them they needed to collect as many of their eggs in 1-minute as possible. Then we topped them off with a velociraptor mask and spun hem around as the game began. Hilarious! Here’s a little picture, I’ll see if I can find a video to put online, too. The prize was HUGE: we gave away a full camp registration to the winner!

Music Playlist: Charlie Brown (Coldplay cover), We Are the Free, Go, We Could Change the World, All I Am, Forever Reign, The Earth is Yours

Favorite Moment: I love our band of seniors! They are graduating in just a few short weeks, but they are going to also lead at camp so it was AWESOME to have them leading us this weekend. Love these students, camp will be so great!

Up next: What is Worship? (1-off)

Weekend Teaching Series:  Brainwashed (week 2 of 3)
Sermon in a Sentence: A look at how we are brainwashed about God the Father.

Service Length: 62 minutes

Understandable Message: This weekend I wanted to go into a few final ways we are brainwashed about God and our relationship with Him. I took students through Romans 5 and helped them better understand God’s love for us, His forgiveness and desire to be in a friendship/relationship with us - these things directly contradict how we are brainwashed into thinking we will always be unloved, unforgiven and apart from God. I tried to have the message pull together the themes from the earlier weeks with the Gospel being clearly presented as well. We ended the service with prayer with all of our volunteers scattered around the room. Had some awesome conversations and times with students after the service, love it when I see our team scattered around a room after a service talking with students instead of everyone just filing out of the room.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This weekend we played a “Get to Know You” game where we used polleverywhere + random trivia facts on the screen. Students would use their phones to text in their guess which person on stage the fact was about. Lots of funny bits were built into the game – super easy and fun. We also had a good push for Student Leadership, Summer Camp and had lots of students serving in greeting, lights, camera, sound and cleanup. Oh, and we played the best dodgeball promo video ever, too.

Music Playlist: Blessed Be Your Name, Take It All, God Above All, Learn to Love, Hosanna, Grace

Favorite Moment: Without a doubt the spoken word at the end of the message was the moment of the weekend. One of our students named Ashley wrote a piece that summed up the whole series – it was super powerful and I’m so proud of her.

Up next: Summer Camp Speaker Weekend (1-off)

This year we’re making a change to our summer camp policy and allowing just-graduated seniors to attend camp. I’m excited about it and think that it will take a while for the culture to change but it could be really neat. From recent conversations I would think that allowing seniors to attend camp is probably the more common policy – seems like a best practice of many youth groups/churches. Of course, it depends on the camp rules as well! Vote in today’s poll and let’s see how it turns out.


Hilarious Hunger Games parody video the team made this week to promote HSM Summer Camp. One of my new favorites!


This year we’re trying to be as intentional as possible when promoting our summer camp. Registration opening is just around the corner – thought I would post the schedule that some of our team came up with and we’re hoping to go by this year. Would love to know best practices/ideas that are working for you getting students to camp, too!

Registration Opens April 14/15

- Posters/signage
- Stage announcement/video
- Text message blast (include parent camp list from last summer)
- Business card as students leave
- Email to parents
- Facebook page / Instagram flood
- Big church bulletin announcement

Postcard Mailer May 1st

- Postcard to current Life Group students

Invitation Mailer May 8th
- Letter to incoming freshman
- Letter to graduating seniors
- Facebook / Instagram flood
- Last year’s Summer Camp promo services

May 12/13
- Announcement/video in services
- Facebook push again
- Text Bomb
- Parent monthly newsletter push

Summer Camp Friend Challenge May 19/20

- Bring a friend to camp challenge (design what that look likes)
- Big Church bulletin tear off card
- Camp video with friend challenge twist played at weekend services

Pull Registration Report June 12th

- How many in each grade are registered?
- Do we need to push one grade over the other?
- Text Bomb
- Facebook blast

All weekends after June 12th:
- Stage announcement
- Facebook blast
- Text messages throughout the week
- Instagram

Registration ends July 8th

July 10th: Parent Meeting & Leader training
· Leader training/dinner 6-7:30- team colors announced, cabin lists handed out
· Parent/student meeting- all payments due, cabins assigned, rules/guidelines given, packing list, general camp info


You wake up exhausted. Was that overnighter a dream? Where did your black eye come from? Why is your arm in a cast? Why are there 13 missed calls from various parents? What speeding ticket?

If you’re like us, after a big event or activity the last thing you want to do is re-live all the details. If nobody died, you probably count your blessings and move on to the next order of business (or should we say the next order of “busyness”?) And it’s the busyness of youth ministry that typically keeps youth workers from taking the time to evaluate our events and activities.

After all, you spent 2 months getting ready for summer camp…why spend one day debriefing it upon your return (that’s a rhetorical, sarcastic question)? So, after a big activity, get some rest and when your head does clear of sleep deprivation, here are a few ways to debrief like a professional event planner:

Gather the troops to celebrate
Have an evening after a big event already marked on the calendar to take time to celebrate what God did at your event. Make a sort of reunion feel to the night, including pictures, video, even a student testimony or screenshots from Facebook™ of people talking about the event. Make it known that debriefing will be part of the celebration. We reserve this type of nights for camps, retreats, mission trips etc. There’s probably no need to plan a special night just to celebrate a successful bowling outing.

Talk about “The Good”
Start with the highlights — this will get everyone centered on why you did the event in the first place and get the discussion going so it’s easier to share the lowlights. What did God do? What were the stories and celebrations from the event? What went flawlessly? What was surprising?

Talk about “The Bad”
Potential improvements are easy for some people to see — so work on creating a list of what wasn’t best and quickly think of how to improve them. Time is best spent creating a list of things that could be improved rather than focusing on solutions — it is much easier to attach someone with a particular skillset to a problem later. Start the debrief asking people to “speak the truth in love”.

Talk about “The Ugly”
Things happen. Stuff gets broken and things bomb. Only the worst offenders get on this list — don’t put things that could be easily fixed here, only stuff you swear you’ll never do again.

Send off apologies/thank yous
In the course of youth ministry events you may be required to apologize for something that happened. You may want to offer to fix a lamp that was broken. Or return something that was stolen. And for sure a quick thank you to everyone involved in the planning, pulling off and follow-through of the event will go a long ways in making sure the next one is even better.

Here’s hoping your next event, and the debrief afterward, go great!

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.