Everyone talks about it. Every church and ministry is aware of the problem. Kids grow up in our churches, but they don’t stay there. All throughout their childhood and even teen years, they might come to church alongside their parents on Sundays and show up at youth group pretty consistently, but once they graduate from high school, 40-50% of them will walk away from church. Everyone is seeking the answer for why, and everyone has their own opinions.
Recently, Jon Nielson, the pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, published a blog called “3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church.” His second reason: They have been equipped, not entertained. We here at Camp Wyoming have been exploring this idea as well, which is the reason why we are hosting the Join In retreat in a little less than a month from now. All too often, church committees and boards think of young people as a mission of the church, a lost people group reached through youth group pizza parties and game nights. Teenagers come, have a good time, hear about God’s love for them, and then go home again. This isn’t a bad thing, except that there is a vital message they are missing: Young people are also part of the church’s mission. They have a role to play. They, too, can make a difference, serve others, and actively live out the faith that is preached to them week after week.
Jake has been coming to camp since he was a little kid. “My first summer I really didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what we were going to do that week. I didn’t know who I would meet. I didn’t know that my life was about to change. I was welcomed instantly by the staff and other campers, and the craziness began.” Jake continued coming, year after year, because he loved the community, the activities, and the way his faith grew every year. “The place instantly became a second home for me. […] I will never forget the Christwalks that I experienced as a camper, and how much those stories affected my faith, being able to experience the Bible in a completely different way. I will never forget what it meant for me the first time I saw the staff up on the cross, to get a realistic picture of what Jesus did for us.”
Jake experienced faith formation at camp and at church, but the important turning point for Jake was when he got to make his faith real. Instead of being a passive participant, he became an active teacher and leader, sharing the faith he had learned with others. “During middle school, I was able to really let God start using the lessons I learned. I was able to go with my youth group to serve others, whether it was helping the elderly, ringing bells for Salvation Army, or serving food in a soup kitchen. I was able to find ways that I could serve those less fortunate than me, and got a huge joy from doing it. Since then, I have been given the chance to go on nine mission trips across the Midwest. I have served in a variety of ways, from soup kitchens, to construction, to thrift shops, to disaster relief. I have learned that everyone, no matter what skills they have, is able to serve God and serve others. God will use each and every one of us as long as we are willing. This previous summer I was given the chance to lead mission work in Steubenville, Ohio, for middle and high school aged youth groups going on mission trips. I was blessed with seeing God transform lives right in front of me. I was able to see God do incredible work from all sorts of people who never believed they could.”
The Join In retreat aims to help churches equip our young people just like Jake was equipped without having to spend lots of money or travel around the world. Join In seeks to take the faith they’ve been hearing about and help them put it into action. Youth are part of the church’s mission, not a mission of the church. They are just as capable of taking the Bible passages they hear and applying them, just as capable of digging their hands in and getting dirty. Perhaps, what they need most from their churches and ministries is not more entertainment-pizza parties, game nights, and loud music-but more opportunities to live out their faith in the communities and neighborhoods around them. They need more opportunities to see how their faith can change their lives, the lives of others, and the world itself.
The camp environment is uniquely situated to help churches equip their young people. Jake described the impact that camp can have. “During your time at camp, no matter how short, you learn a lot about yourself. You learn what you excel at, what you struggle with. You learn who you are, and who God wants you to be. You learn about what it means to truly be loved, what it means to serve others.” Join In is a chance for our young people, across denominations, to come together and learn what faith can do. So, will you join us?