I’ve been the full-time youth pastor at the same church for 13 years, and I’ve never taken students to summer camp. Summer camp has long been a staple in youth ministry culture, but years ago we ditched the summer camp plan for something better: student mission trips.
I think camps are awesome, but when it comes to leveraging a summer ministry schedule for maximum spiritual impact while staying within a family’s summer budget, nothing is more effective than sending students out of their comfort zones into mission. So, our “summer camp” is now serving churches from Guadalajara, Mexico to West Jordan, Utah, to Squamish, British Columbia.
Why mission trips? Why not just go with the flow and register for one of the great summer camps in our area? It’s definitely easier than connecting with a church plant hundreds of miles away, navigating passport issues with minors and convincing self-absorbed students that two weeks of hard work and travel has more to offer than maintaining the summer status quo.
Summer mission trips infuse church plants with fresh energy, faith and ministry opportunities. When 45 people show up to work alongside a new church plant in making their church known throughout their community, great things happen. Pastors are encouraged, non-Christians are introduced to a church in their neighborhood that cares about them and churches are blessed.
Twenty-three years ago, Mountain View Community Church was a Pacific District Conference church plant. Since then, resourcing and supporting church plants has been in our DNA. In the summer of 2016, 45 people left Fresno headed to Squamish for a week of sports camps and neighborhood block parties to bless the city of Squamish and make The Rock Church known in its community. As a result, non-Christians in Squamish had a positive experience with a church that loves them, and pastors and church members were encouraged.
Summer mission trips empower students for ministry. When I’m leading a team, students are doing the Bible teaching during sports camp. Students are leading the small groups. Students are praying with local kids to become Christians. Yes, that can, should and does happen back home, but these leadership opportunities are often first experienced on mission trips. Mission trips also expose students to God’s heart for the world. I’ve seen this happen as countless students have graduated high school and stepped into longer seasons of ministry, often in foreign countries.
Summer mission trips immerses pre-Christian students into Christian community, even before they become Christians. We treat our summer mission trip as our summer camp and that means any student who wants to go, can go, regardless of where they stand with Jesus. Tell me a better place for a not-yet Christian to be than away from home, surrounded by Christians their age who are reading their Bibles daily and actively sharing their faith? These students come back impacted by the gospel and changed by Jesus.
Ken Wilkinson serves as the campus pastor at Mountain View Sunnyside in Fresno, California. He and his wife, Anna, have three children, Eden, Elly and Micah.