I remember the phone call vividly; partly because most conversations with Mark Oestreicher are memorable. But this one was more stimulating than most. Marko was sharing his latest dream, an idea that seemed to be epic. “I wanna create a conference specifically for middle school youth workers, but I want it to be different than a normal conference. I want to hold it at a camp so it feels more like middle school ministry feels. I want a conference, but also a camp…..a campference!” And so it was born.
Marko, and the Youth Cartel, has delivered on his dream. The Middle School Ministry Campference has become my absolute favorite place to talk about all things related to young teen ministry. If you work directly with middle schoolers, or if you oversee the people who do, this short weekend experience will be well worth your time.
Here are 5 reasons I never miss it!
At the Campference, we frame everything into one context: Ministry to young teenagers. Whether we are talking about leadership, surviving the local church culture, writing lessons or team building, it all centers around a middle school ministry context. Most conferences utilize a “shotgun” approach to content and let the attendees sort things out. The Campference uses a laser beam.
Because of its focus, the Campference attracts men and women who all have a sense of calling and passion for middle school ministry. The weekend feels like a family reunion, or a fraternity/sorority gathering. You walk onto the camp grounds, and instantly feel like you are among others who “get it”. What is “it”? If you work with middle schoolers, you know!
Because the campference is small (we typically limit it to about 125 people), and because we all eat camp food and have free time together, lots and lots of fantastic conversation takes place. As a youth worker who takes teenagers to camp you know that the chapel/session times are only a small part of the overall experience of camp. The same is true at the Campference. While the general sessions and workshops are fantastic, the best part of the weekend is what happens the rest of the time.
One of the things I appreciate about my friendship with Marko is that we often approach similar scenarios from completely different perspectives. Over the years, we’ve bantered back and forth on topic after topic; and usually learning something new along the way. The Campference always delivers that same experience. You will think about things differently. You will be challenged. You will be frustrated. You will be forced to defend why you think and do some of the things you think and do! And you’ll love every second of it.
Let’s admit it, fun is the universal language of middle school ministry! A campground full of 100+ middle school youth workers simply can’t be boring. We zip-line, skeet shoot (or trap shoot….I don’t know the difference), play cards, compete in ridiculous games for cheesy prizes (Hmmm….sounds a lot like middle school ministry) and form new friendships. Fun is the best word to describe the weekend.
The Middle School Ministry Campference is just one of many fantastic conferences and training opportunities on the horizon, but if you have a heart for young teens there truly is no comparison.