The October long weekend saw the beginning of something new for Baptist Youth Ministries and our Baptist Churches around NSW and ACT. We piloted our first combined youth camp at the Glenrock Scout Camp in Newcastle.
The aim of our pilot State Youth Camp was to take the next step in exploring the possibility of developing a large combined event to resource our local churches. It was our conviction that a combined camp was one of the most effective ways we could gather our healthy and struggling youth ministries together to be challenged and encouraged.
This initiative has its origin with the current BYM Executive (made up then of the Youth Pastors from Gymea, Narwee, Thornleigh, Cherrybrook, Hawkesbury Valley and Narara Valley) who are seeking to facilitate stronger connections and support between our churches.
In addition to this it has become apparent that our larger churches and/or those who have a paid staff member often have their own youth camp, but this requires considerable resources to accomplish. Furthermore, many of churches do not currently run a youth camp.
In April 2014 Daniel Dalton (BYM Administrative Assistant), two of the Youth Pastors from the BYM Executive and I visited the BYM New Zealand Easter Camp in Hamilton with the aim of understanding the impact of their annual camp as well as the elements and resources required for its success. More than 5000 young people from over 100 churches were in attendance at the camp which included all the typical elements one might experience at a local church camp – the development of relationships, time spent in the Bible, and fun activities.
Churches have long recognised the benefit of spending time together in a camp or retreat context and recent research has reinforced this fact. McCrindle Research, in partnership with Christian Venues Australia, recently conducted a study on the impact of Christian Camping and concluded “…9 in 10 church attenders made the decision to become a Christian before the age of 30…” and that “…there are a number of factors that influence a person’s faith decision, from people who have a significant role in shaping one’s faith to activities that people become involved with.”
Additionally, they found that attendance at a Christian camp “…has an impact on the age at which someone is converted with a strong correlation in the data between young people coming to faith and their attendance at Christian camps…” with “…those who came to faith at 10-19 years, the importance of camp was acknowledged by 44.9%.” Social Change, Spiritual Trends: Christianity in Australia Today, McCrindle Research, 29.
Unfortunately due to factors such as time, cost and venues we are seeing less and less churches able to make use of these settings.
Our pilot camp saw the youth ministries from Coffs Harbour, Parramatta, Wallsend, Gymea, Hawkesbury Valley, Emu Plains, Wagga Wagga, Cherrybrook, Rathmines and Belmont.
We used the Core 5 Values as our guiding framework in developing the program for the weekend which provided not only a healthy decision making tool for what to include but also the space to evaluate the effectiveness of the time beyond attendance.
1. Christ Centred
Our teaching sessions focused on Jesus: His life, His death and His resurrection
2. Mission Shaped
Teenagers engaged with the teaching over the weekend, no matter their current faith convictions and were challenged to make their own decision around the claims of Jesus. We also want young people to be inspired and equipped to participate in God’s mission.
3. People Empowering
Each local church was able to invest into the lives of their young people as well as connecting with others who are like-minded.
4. Relationally Committed
We know that connections between Baptist youth pastors are key in hosting any successful combined camp. It is out of these relationships that we will see stronger local church youth ministries across NSW and ACT. We are therefore asked people to not simply attend the pilot camp but to contribute to the running of the weekend.
5. Partnership Orientated
We engaged with a number of like-minded organisations to provide a safe and fun environment for young people. We trust this will continue to grow over the coming years.
Mitch Forbes from Thornleigh Community Baptist Church was our speaker and he did a tremendous job with at exploring the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and its implications for teenagers. The feedback we received from the weekend was that while the activities and food were great, it this was the talks that were the highlight.
Please join us in thanking God the time away and for all the churches who were involved. One girl commented to her youth pastor that it was the greatest of weekend of her life!
With such a solid start to what we pray will be a regular part of youth ministry calendars in our churches, planning for 2016 is already underway – only this time it will be opened to all of our Baptist churches in NSW and ACT.