Leading a Young Life Cabin Time: Cabin Time Problems

Cabin time is such a crucial time at Young Life camp; it’s where kids get to process the talks they’re hearing and ultimately process their response to the gospel. Sadly, some of our cabin times can get a bit derailed. Here are some issues that you might want to be aware of. Keep these in mind as you lead cabin times this summer.

Problem 1: I’m not safe here. A student might not verbalize this but you might figure it out based on their body language or even some other things they say. You might just know that they feel that way because of who else is in the cabin! Emphasize that this is a safe place to share. How can you do that? One suggestion: Clearly state the “Vegas rule” of cabin time: What’s said here, stays here.” (Aside from mandated reporter type situations, so keep that in mind.) Students don’t have to share their deepest things with the entire group, but as a small group leader, encourage them to talk with someone with whom they feel safe.

Problem 2: No Time to Think. Our tendency is to answer the questions we ask. Two seconds of silence can seem like an eternity. A good practice is to ask a question and then mentally count to five. It will seem awkward at first, but it will allow for people to think and answer when they are ready.

Problem 3: You don’t go with the flow. If discussion is going great on some question, don’t force the cabin to move on to the next question just for the sake of the agenda. Go with your kids and dig deeper into the areas with which they connect. That’s what processing is all about. You can only know where your kids are at and understand the direction of the conversation if you are giving full attention to the group. As the cabin time leader, do not plan your next question or your next announcement while students are sharing. Let your students’ responses shape the movement of the discussion. Be a good and compassionate listener, and be ready to care for students who express hurt, uncertainty or strong emotion related to their own journey.

Problem 4: (I don’t get what you’re asking) Confusing Questions. If you wait several seconds and it seems no one understands the question, then you can rephrase it, but do so carefully. Keep the small group discussion questions open-ended. Do not answer it or change it to a “yes or no” question. Questions with one-word answers do not promote processing. For example:

If the question is, “After what you saw today, how do you feel?”

Do not rephrase it to “Do you feel sad about what you saw?”

Instead, rephrase it to “What do you think about what you saw today?” (This helps students transfer abstract feelings to concrete thoughts and keeps it open to a wide range of possible answers.)

Problem 5: Derailed Conversations. Abandoning your plan when kids are engaged in great group discussion is fine, but be aware of the tone of the conversation and redirect if your small group wanders into unhelpful territory. As the cabin time leader you should pull the conversation back by gently jumping in (trying not to interrupt but waiting for a break) and refocusing the conversation.

Discussions have a tendency to go off the rails. As the leader you have to take responsibility and ownership for guiding the conversation. You don’t want to be too rigid, but you can’t hesitate to speak up and provide direction, bringing the group back to the topic at hand.

What are some reasons that cabin times get derailed?


Long answers

Disagreement between two people

Bad theology


Unrelated tangents

Phrases for bringing the conversation back…

  • Let’s hold on that for the moment, but I want to hear more about that from you after our meeting.
  • I’d love to hear more about that when we’re done, but I want to make sure we have time for others to share on this topic right now.
  • Thanks for sharing! Many people feel the same way. On the other hand, many Scriptures point to . . .
  • Thanks for sharing! Many people have the same question. There are many scholars who interpret that Scripture to mean . . .
  • Thanks for sharing! I have a few more thoughts I’d like to share with you about that after we’re done tonight. In the meantime, does anyone else want to chime in?

Problem 6: Forced Answers. There’s a time to teach and a time to listen. Before you or your fellow leaders jump in with the right answer, let students grapple with hard questions on their own. Injecting your answers into discussion will silence productive conversation.

Problem 7: I’m not respected by my leader. I’ve seen small groups where someone shares and the leader moves on to the next person or question with little to no acknowledgement of what was just said. After you’ve listened to what they have to say, let them know you heard them. Engage with each member’s contribution, and affirm what they’ve shared. Here are some ways to do that:

  • “Thanks for sharing that!”
  • “That’s really good!”
  • “What I hear you saying is . . .”
  • “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Thank you for your honesty.”

This is a small way that you can reward the people in your group for their participation. It makes them feel heard, valued, safe, and encouraged to share again.

What are some other ways that a kid might feel disrespected by a leader?

I wasn’t followed up on. After the discussion is over, don’t miss your opportunity to follow up with students about what they said. Ask a student if he still has questions. Invite further conversation. Tell a student that you appreciated what she said. Small group discussions can lead to incredible one-on-one conversations.


Of course there are other things that can go wrong in cabin time but these are just a few examples of things that you might want to keep in mind as you get ready to lead cabin time at camp this summer.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: