Jon Randles, lead of the BGCT Evangelism Team, sent this to me this morning. Given it’s timeliness, I thought I’d post it this morning.
We are in the midst of summer 2008 and youth and children’s camps are in progress throughout the state of Texas. This conventional method of evangelism remains as effective today as it ever has been. Why are camps so critical to evangelism? What can we learn from students about effective evangelism strategy?
A great deal of my summer each year is spent serving as pastor for a variety of youth camps in a plethora of places throughout the nation. Whether in the Bible Belt or beyond it, youth camps are effective tools for evangelism. Teenagers respond to the message of Christ at camp in a way that rarely happens back home on a Sunday. The churches that invest energy, resources, and genuine attention to taking kids to camp almost universally experience a greater degree of success in evangelism throughout the year. Whether a camp is a small, intimate setting with either one church or a few churches attending, or a large camp with many churches participating, the results are almost always the same. Leaders can count on between 8% and 15% of the attendance to receive Christ and another 20% of the group to make other significant decisions. Camp remains one of it’s best returns on the investment that a church can experience. Camp evangelism is alive and well!
What is the reason for the high success rate at camp and what can we learn that may apply to adult evangelism, as well? There are several factors that are important.
1. Students are living in an environment where interaction with the unchurched community is normative. School creates a world where meaningful relationships are forged between individuals regardless of preference and comfort zones. Their universe throws them together on sports teams, bands choirs, and classes where they must forge alliances with individuals diverse from themselves in order to survive and succeed. The result is a relational trust factor that enables students to boldly ask outsiders to “come with me to camp” and receive positive responses that sometimes surprise adults. Adults go to work and seldom seek to build community in the work place. We usually do not even consider socializing with workmates. We are radiating a desire to get home and away ASAP! Change that way of thinking and watch relational trust begin to reappear. Students may not say so, but their body language says they want to be around each other. This is the polar opposite of the body language of most adults and relational evangelism cannot develop in such a negative environment.
2. Students are generally still formulating their concepts of close relationships and are fluid about their personal groups. We hear about the cliquishness of teen agers, but the truth is that most children and youth are open to relationships with new people when removed from their routine for a few days. Camp becomes a neutral “safe zone” where all existing allegiances can be ignored for a period of time. The new friends they are open to making and the new ideas they hear at camp will often remain in place after they return home. Adults seldom put themselves in a position to make new friends and bond to new ideas. Evangelism grinds to a halt if you carefully avoid situations where you escape normal routine and mix with persons outside your accepted group.
3. Camp provides an environment conducive to behavioral change and a length of time conducive to cultural detox. Things happen at camp that simply will not happen on a Sunday morning in the local church. It takes several days to “sweat the world” out of our human system so that we have “ears to hear and eyes to see”. By the last few days of camp, students are thriving without video entertainment, cell phones, and automobiles. They realize that they can exist without addictive relationships back home. With these revelations comes a trust and vulnerability that makes many of them very open to the Holy Spirit’s movement in their lives. It’s akin to fasting. There is no magic in forsaking food for a time, but the physical and cultural detoxing, intense focus on the spiritual, and escape from the routine creates an atmosphere in which we hear God more clearly. How I wish we could get adults and church leaders to camp!
4. Youth and children have not yet attended conferences and seminars that teach them that evangelism does not work. Most church leaders have attended a variety of conferences that claim to teach ways to reach our twenty-first century culture. These conferences are valuable in many ways, but one common thread is that conventional methods of reaching people will not work today. This view is simply not universally true! Students do not know that loving people, forging relationships, and boldly sharing from the heart is ineffective! They just go right on doing it and young people respond. Might it be possible, that the basic needs of human kind have not really changed that much? The few individuals who still practice aggressive relationship adult life still get results.
5. Children and teenagers tend toward believing in a God who loves people and they tend to like people themselves. Youth are looking for a party. They want to be around others. They are effective with their peers when their body language radiates that they believe God cares and they care. The truth is that many of us in church life really do not like people and it shows. Evangelism is effective when it is centered on trust. That trust never develops if unchurched persons clearly read that we do not really like people and are not whole heartedly convinced that our God does either.
The church that fails to invest in camp robs itself of a wonderful opportunity to invest in evangelism and discipleship. Pastors who fail to go to camp rob themselves of a great opportunity to win the trust of their future church leadership. Through Super Summer and YEC, BGCT camp ministry remains a great priority. Use camps and camp ministry to further the kingdom of God. Students will be changed forever!