Rethinking Summer Camp Part III: Getting the most out of it part 1!
I am sitting in one of my favorite places on the planet. In fact, other than Disneyland, this is the ‘happiest place on earth’ for me. It is, in fact, Starbucks in Phoenix, Arizona. The good news is that it is hot outside- without a snowflake in sight! It is warm, after I do some work here I’ll go for a swim in the pool and, to top it off there is a baseball game on tonight. Good times.
So, we were talking last week about summer camps and I was questioning who are these camps for, Christians or nonChristians? I’ve appreciated your responses- thanks.
Now, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your camp. There are three things to focus on: advertising with integrity, a good schedule, good leaders, and solid follow up afterwards.
1. Good advertising is a must
Now I need to be clear; I don’t mean widespread advertising—although this is a good thing (as you know, the best advertising is word of mouth). What I do mean is clear advertising that tells the prospective camper what the camp is about. Here is a simple exercise; go to a few camp websites (or brochures) and see what they offer. Is it fun? An exciting week away? Making new friends in a stunning environment? Is there anything about God, Jesus, new life in Christ or the real reasons that camp is on? You will be surprised how often this is the case. It is as if we are hiding the very thing that we are trying to promote.
I found this out when I worked in BC. Many of the smaller camps (and those clearly tied to denominations) were very clear about what a week at camp was about. However, some of the bigger ones weren’t. In fact, I said to one camp leader, “You can’t find anything that is remotely Christian on this brochure.” He simply shrugged and we both felt awkward.
As I write this there is a local camp that is being heavily promoted. It seems to be based on the Percy Jackson books and helps kids to “act like a demigod”. I think it involves wooden swords and the wearing of body armor. The point is, their promotion is clear and tells you exactly what they want you to experience at camp.
Shouldn’t we do the same?
In fact, in this age of “youth seeking after meaning and all things spiritual”, isn’t that our greatest selling point?
2. A good schedule is a must
This goes without saying really. However, I want to ask you to rethink some of the schedules that you’ve grown up with. Here is a common “old camp schedule”:
Breakfast: morning activities (sailing, rock climbing etc. )
Lunch: afternoon activities
Dinner: activity/ chapel/campfire/ cabin groups
This schedule, which is quite common, is focused in the wrong direction. The focus is clearly on the activities which are fun and ‘exciting’. Now I realize that often there is a ‘God slot’ placed somewhere in the earlier part of the program. But let’s see if there is another schedule that might just accomplish the goals of solid spiritual growth with an enjoyable time.
A new schedule
Breakfast: full morning program of ‘spiritual stuff’ (worship, personal devotions, active learning, Bible teaching, small groups/cabin groups)…
Lunch: afternoon activities (maybe prayer groups just before dinner)
Dinner: evening activity… campfire/chapel/cabin groups
This schedule may at first appear only slightly different. And, in a way it is. However, the focus in the first part of the day is the focus of the whole point of camp—growing Christians. You will maximize your input in the morning when the youth are raring to go. (Btw, it is important that the youth are not up all night talking and pranking each other…this is not helpful at any level). You then move to an afternoon full of fun activities like swimming, archery etc. The day ends with a quiet campfire, chapel or cabin groups. In short, you want to use the mornings when the kid’s minds are alert, for the ‘meat’ of the program. After a long day of activities, youth are tired, and often emotional (ever seen a ‘cryfest’ at the end of a camp day during chapel? You can call me cynical, but sometimes it is more fatigue than the Holy Spirit coming to the surface.)
HOT TIP: think about having your older youth (or junior leaders) running prayer groups late in the afternoon just before dinner. While this is happening you can have your daily leader’s meeting. This keeps you from running it early in the morning or late at night.
One final thing, the morning ‘meaty’ program needs to be run with the joy, and ‘oomph’ that we run the other activities. We must aim to make it enjoyable (not gimmicky) and shine with all the goodness of what it means to follow Christ.
So, here’s the point: Promote you camp with honesty, clarity and integrity. Run your camp with a schedule that doesn’t skimp on spiritual input.
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