A youth pastor called me a month or so ago and asked me if I'd come speak to his Falls Creek campers. I'm not sure why, but I agreed to go. I think secretly I was intrigued about how Falls Creek had matured in the last eight years. It was developing new infrastructure. It had completed a 35 million dollar tabernacle to house its 7000 weekly attendees. It had changed its programming model...a model it had been using for at least 50 years, and was beginning a new era in its storied history. Well, having now returned from the nations largest youth encampment here are my impressions of the NEW Falls Creek.
1 - The New Tabernacle is nice, very nice. Not to mention freaking huge. I know it was expensive, but to get kids out of 95 degree heat and into a climate controlled environment where they can remain attentive was a good move. The massive screens help the speaker tremendously. This building is unlike any I have ever seen: tons of seats...hug stage...expansive aisles...very state of the art. It's a completely out of place building, considering most of the infrastructure at Falls Creek looks like a third world country.
2 - The worship band was good, but it was interesting that the song that garnered the highest level of participation was a traditionally arranged version of Horatio Spafford's It is Well With My Soul. Last time I was at Falls Creek there was a giant youth choir, an orchestra and an old man who led the students in worship songs and hymns. The new model may be the most significant difference in the programming. Not sure if it was better or worse. We'll call it a wash.
3 - The Youth Evangelist was decent. He didn't say anything bad. He just tried a little too hard to use cool words, catch phrases and the like. Decent message...if you are into evangelistic preaching with a distinctively Arminian bent. They used to use different pastors from churches in the state. I think I preferred the old way. Lower expectations, and fewer uses of the word "dude."
4 - Shorts at night was a huge development. Up until the early 90's campers were not allowed to wear shorts at any time. In the mid nineties they allowed for shorts during the day time, but they maintained that jeans, pants and dresses were the appropriate night time attire. Now it's all shorts, all the time. Probably a good move, but I used to like seeing students dress up to go to the tabernacle. Now they just show up. Not a big deal, but it's ironic that they went lax on the shorts rule after getting an indoor, air conditioned tabernacle. They needed to allow shorts when they met outside in the sweatbox that was the old tabernacle, but they also needed to allow shorts to diminish an already legalistic ethos at the camp.
I pulled my student ministry out of Falls Creek because it provided a truly awful camp experience. That's not to say Falls Creek is awful. It's just not a camp. It's a literal city of teenagers. It need not deceive itself. It's primary attraction to teenagers is other teenagers. If the job of a church camp is to retreat, and to be challenged spiritually, intellectually, relationally and physically then Falls Creek just wasn't going to get it done. It was too big. It was too Arminian. It was too...Southern Baptist. Because of the structure of the camp a kid could go to Falls Creek, attend the sessions, take part in his cabin programming, but basically do nothing for a week. Nothing, besides look for cute girls and take afternoon naps. This and a host of other things didn't work for me, so I stopped taking kids. For a relatively young (and stupid) youth pastor that was a really wise move.
All that to say, I learned several things about myself last night. Primarily, that I am not a Southern Baptist.