"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!