A Camping We Will Go

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Ahhh…the sound of a crackling campfire. Marshmallows on
sticks, puffing up from the heat, ready to drop on a piece of
chocolate sandwiched between two crunchy graham crackers. Even
those who’ve never experienced this camping tradition delight in
the idea of sitting around the fire eating S’mores. But for a child
away from home for the first time at church camp, this is one of
many memories that serves as a reminder of a life-changing
experience.

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When I was 12 years old, I attended church camp for the first
time. Thursday night after singing songs around the campfire, I
decided to follow Jesus. My life was never the same. Years later as
a children’s ministry director, I brought hundreds of kids to
church camp each summer. I’ve spent many evenings around the
campfire, listening to children make that same life-changing
commitment to Jesus that I made as a child.

Taking kids to camp enables you to get kids out of their daily
element and provide an environment that focuses on relationships,
fun, and Christ. Today’s kids are busy and swamped by a fast-paced
schedule that rarely gives them the opportunity to enjoy the beauty
of God’s creation, and today’s parents are looking for positive
opportunities for their children over the summer months. Church
camp is a great way to reach out to your community and provide a
positive experience for children that does more than create a
lasting memory; it opens the door to a personal relationship with
Jesus.

Getting Started

If you’ve never planned a summer camp before, here are a few
easy steps to get you packing on your merry way.

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  • Know your purpose. Before diving into the camp
    planning process, take a look at your children’s ministry’s mission
    and vision. Then determine how a summer camp can complement and
    contribute to your ministry. Develop a mission and vision statement
    for your camp ministry so there’s accountability in the planning
    process. A mission and vision statement acts as a checkpoint to
    ensure that everything you plan has a purpose and the focus stays
    on the ministry.
  • Target your camper audience. Determine which
    age groups you want to invite to camp. Preteens are an easy target
    audience because most are emotionally ready to spend a week away
    from home. If you take younger kids to camp, consider a shorter
    camp week. Three or four days away from home is a good time frame
    for younger elementary kids.
  • Choose a camp. Explore your camp options.
    There are many great camps throughout the United States that have
    programming already in place. An established camp allows you to
    bring kids to camp without the responsibilities of directing the
    camp. Typically, you can bring chaperones who have minimal
    responsibilities, such as leading a small group of kids from your
    church. If you’ve never been to camp before, this may be your best
    introduction to the experience. This is also a great option for
    small churches who may not have enough campers to rent an entire
    facility.

If you have a large group of kids attending camp, developing
your own program and renting facilities allows you to customize
your week to best fit kids’ interests and needs. This option
requires a lot more planning, not only in programming, but also in
the budget process.

Select A Theme

Creating a theme for your week at camp helps throughout the
planning process. Developing a theme that’s fun and catchy will
make it easy to promote your camp week. Choose a theme that you can
carry out in every activity. From advertising to games, and skits
to session topics, a theme can tie the week together and help
create an easy memory for kids. If your budget allows, design
T-shirts with the theme printed on them. A name tag with the theme
printed on it is a simple and inexpensive memento (name tags are
essentials for the week anyway.) Develop your theme early, and
promote camp early with this element already in place.

Get The Word Out

The key to promoting a week at camp is to start as early as
possible. Take early deposits and offer an early-bird discount to
those who put a deposit down before a designated date. Advertise
within your church first, and encourage kids to invite their
unchurched friends to camp. It’s amazing how many unchurched
parents won’t allow their children to attend a weekly church event
but will rejoice at the opportunity to send them away to camp for a
week!

Don’t miss other avenues of advertising your camp in the
community. Alert your local schools and community centers that
you’re offering an overnight camp during the summer. Day-care
centers are also a great place to get the word out. Promoting camp
in the community allows you to use your camp as an outreach
opportunity.

Let The Registrations Begin

Create an attractive and informational brochure that includes a
registration form. In addition to asking for personal information,
ask for these essentials as part of the registration form:

  • emergency contact and phone number,
  • medical insurance information (including policy and group
    numbers),
  • doctor and dentist contacts and phone numbers,
  • allergies, physical limitations,
  • emergency medical release form, and
  • any medications to be taken at camp. (Have parents turn in
    medications to the camp nurse or director prior to camp with
    detailed directions for distribution. Prescription medication must
    be in its original container with pharmacy instructions printed on
    the label.)

In your brochure include information that parents will need
before and during their child’s week at camp. List the basic
supplies campers will need, and include items that need to be left
at home. Consider asking campers to leave personal CD players and
hand-held video games at home to help create an environment that
encourages relationships. Provide the camp’s address and phone
number as well as an emergency number such as a staff member’s cell
phone or pager.

When parents register a child, provide a receipt of their
deposit and follow up with a letter on their remaining balance with
the date it’s due. It’s a good idea to have all fees due one week
prior to camp.

Set Up Camp

The campers are arriving, excited, and eager to spend a week
away from home; are you completely prepared for their arrival? Here
are pointers to help your camp week run smoothly.

  • Have a schedule. You’re in charge of a group of kids, 24 hours
    a day, for several days. Don’t let too much free time take control
    of camp. Schedule from wake-up to lights-out, accounting for small
    amounts of free time. Offer a variety of activities in addition to
    teaching times to accommodate different interests. Campers will
    become bored quickly if they aren’t left with options to fill their
    day. Stick to your designated lights-out time. The first night may
    be a struggle, but once kids realize how tired they are, the battle
    will be minimal.
  • Staff accordingly. Have safe camper-to-staff ratios, and train
    your staff so they know their responsibilities ahead of time. Meet
    together in the mornings before breakfast for day briefings,
    concerns, and prayer. Let staff know that you expect them to be
    involved with the kids throughout the week, building relationships
    and modeling a Christlike attitude.
  • Prepare for homesickness. It’ll happen! Help children work
    through their loneliness and fear by listening to them. Talk with
    the parents before letting a child call home to ask them how they
    want you to deal with their child’s homesickness. Try to get
    children involved in the program; once they’re having fun
    themselves, the homesickness typically fades. Never belittle
    children’s feelings, and offer praise when they’ve overcome their
    fears or worries.
  • Have a good time! I can honestly say that I believe that at
    every camp I’ve led, I’ve had as much fun (if not more) than the
    kids. Embrace the week to build relationships and minister to kids
    in an uninhibited environment. Take part in crazy skits, play the
    messy games, and share your heart with the kids during the week.
    You’ll come home tired but also rejuvenated for ministry, and the
    kids at camp will return home with a new and special bond with you,
    your staff, and one another.

Keep The Fire Burning

One of the biggest obstacles upon returning from camp is keeping
kids excited about growing in their faith. Often the excitement
looms through the summer, only to fizzle once the routine of school
and extracurricular activities sets in. Try these ideas to keep the
campfire burning throughout the year.

  • Plan a Camp Echo. One or two weeks after camp, invite campers
    and their parents to the church for a Camp Echo. Ask several kids
    to tell something about camp such as a funny story, a new
    friendship, or a new commitment to Jesus. Sing camp songs, perform
    a camp skit, and show any video shot throughout the week. This is a
    great opportunity for parents to get a taste of what their children
    experienced, and it offers a connection between camp and church
    after kids return.
  • Start small groups. Camp is a great trigger for small groups
    with kids. Use the camp connections to bring them together
    throughout the school year. Too often kids get excited about
    spiritual growth at camp, only to let it slide when they return
    home. Providing small groups not only helps them continue to grow
    in their faith, but it also enables them to continue to build
    friendships formed over the summer.
  • Have a winter recharge. Plan an overnight or winter retreat
    that allows kids to recharge their spiritual batteries. Invite
    those who attended camp to come, and encourage them to bring a
    friend who they may want to invite to camp in the coming summer.
    Offering a midyear connection helps kids stay accountable to
    commitments they made and begins to build excitement for another
    terrific summer at camp. This is a great time to start registering
    kids for upcoming summer camps too.

Now that you’ve got the basics of planning a church camp, grab
your sleeping bag and duffel bag and bring kids along! Church camp
is more than a campfire experience. It has the potential to light a
fire that burns throughout a person’s life — an unquenchable fire
for Jesus.

Avoid The Budget Blackhole

You just returned from an incredible week at camp, only to be
called into your business administrator’s office and scolded for
creating a financial black hole in your camp budget. It’s an easy
hole to dig, so it’s important to develop a budget exclusively for
camp to ensure that all financial obligations can be met without
creating a major deficit. Here’s how.

  • Facility rental — The largest camp expense is typically the
    rental of camp facilities. Investigate the rental fees of various
    camps in your area. If your church has a denominational
    affiliation, ask about the camp associations that usually offer a
    discounted rate. Ask lots of questions to assure that you have a
    complete picture of what your financial obligations will be. Good
    questions to ask the camp before signing a contract are:
  • Is there a general facility rental fee, or is the rental fee
    based on the number of campers?
  • Does the fee include meals? snacks? If we need to provide our
    meals, are there kitchen facilities available?
  • Are there extra fees for use of meeting rooms, recreational
    facilities, or equipment?
  • Is there a discount for camp counselors? Do you require the
    church to use the camp’s staff nurse or lifeguard, and what’s the
    cost?
  • What’s the deposit to reserve the camp? What, if any, portion
    is refundable if I cancel or we’re not able to meet the number of
    spots reserved?
  • Mode of transportation — Another costly component of camp can
    be if you decide to provide transportation to and from camp. The
    most cost-efficient transportation is to have parents drive their
    children to camp. However, this isn’t always an option. Determine
    early if you’ll provide transportation, and look into various
    options. If you use a bus, check to see if you need to provide
    lodging and meals for the driver during your stay. If you rent
    vans, make sure you have enough drivers who are eligible to drive
    under your church’s insurance policy. Factor any transportation
    costs into camper’s registration fees.
  • Camp headliners — If you decide to hire a speaker or band for
    your camp, determine ahead of time how much you want to spend, and
    stay within that budget. Remember you’ll have to pay for your
    featured guest’s lodging and meals as well as a service fee and
    possible transportation costs. To help save dollars in this area,
    use a speaker from your church. If your youth group has a band, ask
    if they’d like to provide music for your camp week.
  • Nurse budget — Many camps have a staff nurse. But if they
    don’t, this isn’t the place to scrimp to save a few bucks. With so
    many kids on medication today, having a camp nurse is a full-time
    responsibility. To help keep costs down, check with your church
    members to see if there’s a nurse looking for a volunteer
    opportunity. If you need to, hire someone from a nursing pool.
    Parents are entrusting you with precious children; don’t leave the
    door open for liability by trying to cut costs in this area.
  • How much to charge — Finally, make sure you factor in any
    counselor fees to your camper’s registration so your chaperones
    have no costs. Estimate the total number of campers you’ll have,
    and determine your camper-to-staff ratio ahead of time. It’s always
    better to overestimate and cut back rather than end up with costs
    that weren’t planned for ahead of time. Use this step-by-step
    guide.
  1. Estimate the number of campers and counselors.
  2. Multiply that number by the camp cost per person.
  3. Add in approximate additional costs per camper.
  4. Divide the total number by the number of campers
    attending.

It’s wise to also add a small amount to each registration for
any extra incidentals or for last-minute supplies. Remember, this
isn’t a money-making venture. Keeping costs as low as possible
enables more children to attend. If you come out ahead financially,
use that money to help keep costs down for the following
summer.


Carmen Kamrath is Web editor for Children’s Ministry
Magazine’s Web site www.childrensministry.com. Please keep in mind
that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to
change.

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