I read on Facebook the other day of a youth pastor sharing why he didn’t like their camp speaker this year. This YP had a good case as he described the speaker as unengaged, boring, and disconnected from the kids. It broke my heart. I’m sure these kids still have a good time at camp but how much better could it have been if the camp speaker had been on point? Now, the camp speaker’s name was not mentioned and I am not here to judge him but I have been speaking at the same camp for the past 15 years and, to be honest you don’t get to do that if you suck.
Now, that being said, I do not claim to be the best camp speaker in the world, I’m just a guy whose made a ton of mistakes that I’ve learned from. Like most speakers I have my niche and I may do better at some camps than others but these are principles I think work at any camp or retreat.
These are my 11 essentials for a camp speaking. They’re not laws to follow, just good sense when speaking to any audience but especially to a youth camp audience.
Eat and Play With The Campers
Hanging with campers is essential. If you don’t know your audience the Holy Spirit can’t knit your hearts together or form a bond of trust. I try to get out and play paintball with the kids at the camp I speak at if not I at least walk around the camp visiting with kids at the various activities.
Stay Within The Allotted Time
After 13 years I am given a lot of latitude concerning time. For camp I usually speak anywhere from 30-40 minutes plus altar time. After speaking all these years I know when I need to cut it short or take the time to flesh something out. I don’t abuse my time because I have a limited time before campers check out on me.
Make The Messages Visual and Relevant
You don’t have to play the newest Nicki Minaj song or make Walking Dead references to be relevant. When I say relevant I am talking about not only being relevant to the teens but to the camps theme and culture. Some speakers will try to play the “God told me to preach this” card but the fruit of the message will bear that out. I try to use content from multiple sources knowing hat kids are not all locked into one thing. In the past I have used stories from ESPN’s 30 for 30, news stories that a kid would find interesting like the time Paris Hilton went to jail. I happen to be preaching about Jonah getting locked up and that story worked well that week. How far will I go to be visual? I think these videos will tell you
I am not saying you have to drive a car into a chapel but why not move beyond the screen to something physical that the kids can see?
Include Kids In Message
Every year I ask kids to help me with illustrations, read scripture, and pray the closing prayer. Why? Why not? IMHO I am not at camp to glorify myself. I try my best to get our of the way, glorify God and, in the process, give kids leadership/serving opportunities. Kids who are engaged with the message are far more likely to stay tuned in an appreciate the service even more.
Fun does not mean 10 minutes of stand up comedy, at least not for me. That’s not my style. I prefer to show funny pics or a funny video to get kids warmed up. But the humor should not stop 10 minutes in. Sometimes I can get heavy and I have to lighten the mood with a joke so kids can breath. Sometimes I play a game with them at the beginning of service. This works at some camp but not certainly not all of them. Gauging the Fun-O-Meter is an important part of camp speaking because you want to go far enough without going to far. On the last night of camp I like to have testimonies and a Victory Night. Here is what fun looks like on the last night of one of our camps
Have A Servants Heart
You are the camp speaker. A kid drops his tray in the middle of the floor and all the other kitchen staff are busy. Do you continue to yuck it up at the table with your host or grab a broom and a mop to help out. The camp I speak at is the camp I received Christ at 35 years ago so I am super invested, but I think servanthood works everywhere. I have bought prizes for the counselors, rode around and handed out water, and taken counselors out to dinner on their break. I know, this all sounds overboard for a camp speaker but this camps style affords me these opportunities. If I were speaking at another camp I would have to come up with some new ways to serve.
Messages Should Set Up The Counselors/Youth Pastors For Deeper Cabin Discussions
Preaching, in a camp setting is a catalyst for deeper discussion. My district denom camp in Alabama does not emphasize cabin devotions and that’s o.k. it works at the camp I usually speak at. Other camps do encourage counselors, hired or otherwise, to dig a little deeper with discussion after the service. I write the devotions for the camp I speak at so I know what they are getting afterwards. The counselors have the choice to use it or not but at least they have something to use. I make sure I set up the counselors to pray with their kids at the altar time and, on some nights, have kids pray for their counselors.
Hang Around After Service
I never disappear from service. I hang around to chat, pray with kids, answer their questions, if they have any, and be friendly. There are some diva speakers who are so exhausted after they speak they have to go “chill’ in some green room. That is not me. I think hanging around gives me a chance to connect and hear stories from campers that may lead to including them in the next service or something they might say may be a part of my next message.
Say Something Interesting
If kids are disengaged I blame me not them. I am the camp speaker they are the camper. It is my role to preach the word in an engaging way so kids will at least have a chance at understanding and receive the truth. I tell kids on the first night that since God is not boring church should not be boring either. I do my best to build expectations as to what they might receive that week or weekend. I use the rest of the week to deliver on the things I just promised.
Keep it Fresh
I have heard with my own ears, a camp speaker who use the same message from last year thinking no one would remember. I, and my kids, felt cheated. I can honestly say, I have not preached the same message twice in 15 years. Kids deserve a fresh word from God right out of the oven and through prayer and patience I try my best to serve up that bread with some jam on the side.
Respect The Audience
I tell the teenagers that I will not talk down them or baby them. I tell my audience that I may occasionally use a word they do not understand, so take notes and look it up later. I also tell teens that the world sells them short but I won’t because I believe teenagers are smarter and deeper thinkers than anyone gives them credit for. Some might see this as pandering to the crowd, but I believe it and I have seen my trust in them rewarded.
These are my standards every time I have the privilege of standing in front of an audience of teenagers. If you are looking for a camp/retreat speaker that will give your kids and your youth ministry the best week of camp they have ever had, let talk about it. E-mail me for an appointment so we can talk about what you need and if I’d be a good fit for your event.