In Defense of Summer Camp

By Jeremy White / Valley Church / Vacaville, California /


NOTE: This is one of the articles about “Camp” to which Youth Leaders Only members have free access. To read the other articles, join YLO

My parents could never afford to send me to summer camp as a kid, but when I was 12 I landed my very first job as a staff member at one. Camp has changed a lot since that time – as have youth workers’ opinions about its long-term effectiveness. I’ve battled with questions about the validity of camps in our annual programming, and I continue to believe in camp wholeheartedly. Here are a few pointers for getting the most out of camp every time.

Define your purpose

In the late 1990’s, Doug Field’s Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry was an important book for youth workers. God used it to give me the hope that I could actually do this youth ministry thing long-term – and do it well. The book taught me how to define the purpose behind the programming that I offered to students, and to not feel bad if every program wasn’t an “all-things-to-all-people” effort.

Is your camp effort primarily evangelistic? Discipleship-focused? Oriented to leadership development? Mostly for fellowship and building relationships? Answering these questions will give you clearer focus on your target audience and much-needed permission to give yourself a break if everyone in your city doesn’t sign up for your camp. Knowing that camp may or may not be for everyone can help shape realistic expectations.

Take advantage of the unique opportunities that camp creates

Some of my friends serve in churches where they are forced to bring their kids to camp because that’s where their church has gone every year dating back to Noah and his three sons. Whether you love or hate the camp you’re locked into, being away from the status quo with your students can be special just about anywhere.

Get all our Camp Articles in upcoming YLO.

If you’ve laughed together, built trust, helped students gain confidence that they’re loved unconditionally, and shared a few blue-flame moments, you haven’t wasted any time. (Why do those blue-flame moments never seem to get old?)

Consider designing and running your own camp

Pulling off your own camp may sound like a lot of work (and it is), but doing so can have some huge benefits. We currently do winter camps at a pre-programmed camp here on the west coast. But in the summer, we run our own camp. This gives us the flexibility to plan summer events, teaching series, and other elements of our programming around our camp theme. It gives us more control over content, scheduling, and activities – and helps us keep the price down. This may or may not be the case for you, but it’s worth considering.

Don’t try to do it all yourself. That would be a disaster. I suggest the following as a basic time line for putting together your own camp. If camp is to be in July 2017…

  • Summer 2016 – Assemble a team to help brainstorm and commit to making camp a success. Come up with the camp’s purpose(s), goals, themes, etc. Make sure your Lead Pastor or supervisor is 100 percent behind you and will support your efforts. Keep him or her in the loop often. The more in touch they are, the better they will be able to defend and promote your efforts. This may sounds cliché, but begin with prayer. Ask God to show you what He wants for your students.
  • September 2016 – Based on your hopes, dreams, and plans for camp, find and secure the host facility. Our church has done camp everywhere you can think of. We’ve reserved a large public campground by a lake. We’ve rented out a small mountain hotel near a lake. For this next year, we’ve rented a government-owned camp facility that is used for public school environmental camps during the school year but sits dormant for most of the summer. Don’t be afraid to start small and limit the number of sign-ups if you have to. This can build momentum for future camps.
  • October/November 2016 – Begin to recruit the camp staff. You’ll need a food service team, a technical team, an energetic and creative recreation crew, counselors, boat/equipment donors/drivers, transportation, etc. If you haven’t done so already, book a speaker and worship band. Consider using resources in your own community such as fellow youth workers or worship bands from other youth groups. Or use your own in-house band if students want to serve in that way.
  • January/February 2017 – Take a trip to the camp facility with the leader of your food service team, tech team, recreation crew and whoever else may need a look. Spend some time dreaming about where to do what – and how the flow of camp will happen. Also, begin to float summer camp dates to your students. You’re way too early to provide promo materials at this point, but ask them to save the date.
  • March/April 2017 – Begin to challenge students to pray about whom they would invite to camp in the coming summer. Design or hire out the design of attractive promo material.
  • May/June 2017 – Utilize every option you have available for promotion – website, MySpace/Facebook, printed materials, etc. Get the word out BIG!
  • July 2017 – A week or two before camp, meet with your entire camp staff to finalize logistics, responsibilities, and expectations. Spend time in prayer for students and get ready for God to do great things.

Evaluate while it’s fresh

Don’t wait for the Fall to remember the lessons learned from your camp experience. I’ve been doing camps for a dozen years and I still write down lessons learned, ideas I don’t want to forget, and observations to make next year even better (by God’s grace).

It’s been a long time since my first job on camp trash patrol, but God has helped me develop a healthy respect for what He can do when we follow Jesus’ example by taking those we disciple out of the normal routines of life and placing them in environments more conducive to hearing God speak to them. Hooray for Summer Camp!

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