Kenny and I are home after a week of summer camp with some of our little middle school friends!

Photo Jul 09, 2 43 28 PMOur week at camp was amazing. But if we’re Instagram buddies, you probably know that already. Hope you liked all those videos of dance parties and giant sprinklers and boys wearing tutus.

We take students to NTS Camp (short for “Never the Same” Camp) every single summer. And, every single summer, the NTS team consistently blows us away with their vision, their hearts, their creativity, and their execution.

Is NTS Camp the best summer camp in the world? Yeah probably.

Should you take your students next summer? Um yes.

Let me tell you why.



1WE DON’T HAVE TO PLAN IT. I guess we probably could plan and run our own summer camp if we wanted to, but… well, we’ve got this philosophy that we refer to in all areas of ministry, like our curriculum, resources, even church planting. And it’s this: If someone is already doing it, and doing it well, let’s not reinvent it – let’s go partner with them. NTS Camp does summer camp unbelievably well. By partnering with them, our staff and volunteers get to attend summer camp with our students. Instead of spending our week running around, organizing things, and troubleshooting problems, we get to simply hang out with kids and focus on relationships. NTS takes care of the rest.

2THE TEAM COMPETITIONS. You know how we like to have a lot of fun in ministry? Well NTS is great at having fun. Four teams compete all week (gold, red, green, and blue), and the level of team spirit that happens is insane. Students and leaders come to camp decked out in their team colors and craziest outfits (the youth pastors are sometimes the scariest), mysterious men in morph suits run around getting their teams pumped up, and each team gets a giant flag in their team color to carry around all week.

Photo Jul 09, 2 55 35 PMEvery afternoon, we head to The Arena for Team Comps (which always start with a dance party because, well, why not). Then there are gigantic group games, which usually involve some combination of relay races, puzzles, giant sprinklers, exercise balls, hula hoops, and other forms of insanity.

Teams can also score points by participating in tournaments, winning the annual NTS Talent Show on Thursday night (one of our guys killed it with his dance moves this year), and, of course… by creating an incredible Team Cheer, which everyone performs on the final day of camp. And, ok, you seriously have to watch this because our Team Cheer was unbelievable this year.

(Oh and, um, Kenny and I are definitely not responsible for any questionable dancing that may or may not have occurred during our team’s performance.)

We won. Obviously.

8815c1c0cb9511e1aaec22000a1e88af_73THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR NETWORKING AND PARTNERSHIP. So you know we’re big fans of having fun. But Kenny and I are also big fans of networking and partnering with other church leaders. So the third thing we love about NTS is the opportunity it gives us to hang out with other youth pastors from all sorts of places, contexts, and denominations – including youth pastors from our own communities. The last few years, we’ve been planning our summer camp schedule with our Buffalo youth pastor buddies Adam Williams (Kenmore Alliance Church) and Andy Broad (Eastern Hills Church) so our youth groups can all hang out together for the week.

Photo Jul 09, 7 45 08 PM4THEIR WORSHIP & TEACHING ENVIRONMENTS. Every year at NTS Camp, the speakers, the worship bands, and the production of their environments (like epic video highlight reels, hilarious session openers, and really creative video elements) are all incredible. The things that this team produces are engaging, surprising, and incredibly well done. But more importantly, I am so impressed by the ability of the NTS team to create environments that lead to “sticky” moments in kids’ hearts – spiritual milestones they won’t forget. Like when they heard the story of Marilyn Lazlo, told in her own words and captured on video. Or that night student after student made a decision for Jesus and approached the microphone to say, “My life is Yours.” Or when their youth pastors led them in communion and prayer on the final night of camp. Or…

Untitled-15THE FOOT-WASHING CEREMONY. This is an NTS tradition. On the final night of camp, students hear about how Jesus humbled himself and served others by washing the feet of his disciples. Then they’re challenged to go serve someone in their group by washing their feet – maybe a Small Group Leader or Youth Pastor, maybe a friend who had a significant impact in their lives, maybe someone they’d wronged in the past. It’s a powerful moment with lots of hugs and tears and kind words.

Photo Jul 12, 7 54 50 PM6THE WAY THEY ELEVATE SMALL GROUP LEADERS & YOUTH PASTORS. The Foot-Washing Ceremony is just one way NTS champions Small Group Leaders and Youth Pastors as the “heroes” of the week. We all know that summer camp is often a “spiritual high” for our students. So do the folks at NTS. But you know what’s cool? They’re really intentional about taking the power behind that “spiritual high” and, instead of directing it toward themselves, or their speaker, or their cool worship band, they direct it toward us – the Youth Pastors and the Small Group Leaders. They elevate local church leaders, both publicly (to the students) and privately (to the adults). Every day, they pour into Small Group Leaders and Youth Pastors by providing adult leader training sessions, done by some really incredible youth ministry experts. They schedule tons of time for daily “youth group time” and “small group time.” At the end of the week, they celebrate all the Youth Pastors and Small Group Leaders by showing a slideshow of their photos while their students cheer for their leaders. And, once camp comes to an end, they send us home with tools we can use to leverage the “summer camp high” back at home, in our youth groups.

7 THEIR POST-CAMP DISCIPLESHIP RESOURCES. The folks at NTS are very strategic about serving students and the local church all year long – not just at summer camp. In the last year, NTS has developed a brand new resource that Kenny and I are super excited about. It has to be one of the best tools I’ve ever seen for getting teenagers into God’s Word. Seriously. It’s so good. We can’t wait to use it, and I can’t wait to tell you about it. But… more on that on Friday. 🙂

In the meantime, I suggest learning more about Never The Same. Because they’re awesome.

What do you do for summer camp? What do you love about it? What would you change about it?