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People who’ve invested billions of dollars to find out how to communicate with children have found that they have only seconds to capture a child’s attention. We in ministry are no exception. We too have only seconds to capture their attention. This is the difference between kids getting the message or just memorizing it.
We have to be careful that we don’t rely so much on safe approaches to ministry-the things that worked before — that we’re unwilling to try new things. In their book Getting Real (NavPress), Ken Baugh and Rich Hurst say, “The tendency of many churches is to settle in, get comfortable, and create ‘sacred cows’ that over time become ineffective in discipling believers and reaching the unchurched. Many churches have embraced safety, security, and comfort instead of taking risks and stepping out in faith.”
I realized shortly after coming to Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, California, that something needed to change. I saw children in classrooms memorizing Bible verses, and yet not experiencing wholehearted worship. They were in their little age-group worlds, and they weren’t interacting with children of other ages. What struck me the most was a lack of passion for Christ, a lack of hunger and thirst for his Word, and a lack of intimate fellowship, prayer, and worship among the kids.
So I began to search for what kids want so we could attract kids to God and lead them into an intimate relationship with God. We’ve learned new ways to capture the hearts and minds of kids today as we’ve developed Kidsworld—a fresh, new approach in children’s ministry that meets kids where they are and brings them into an intimate relationship with God. One of the programs that emerged from this new vision was called Camp Crossroads.
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“Camp Crossroads is a magical place for children, because the staff and volunteers have created an incredible experience for children,” says Barry McMurtrie, the senior pastor at Crossroads Christian Church. “Our kids are now able to discover God’s kingdom in exciting ways. God’s hand is definitely upon this fresh new approach to ministry.”
Camp Crossroads is a Sunday evening program for multiple age groups that’s taking Corona by storm. This program is a one-of-a-kind ministry experience with action, adventure, and powerful spiritual worship. Prior to Camp Crossroads beginning, our Sunday night kids’ attendance was around 50 kids. In less than three months, attendance at Camp Crossroads peaked at more than 400 kids!
We discovered that incorporating the principles of effective communication with kids could change everything. If we want the kids to listen to us, we must listen to them. To paraphrase Jess Moody in A Drink at Joel’s Place, “You have to take notice of what they take notice of or they won’t take notice of you.” When it comes to effective ways to communicate with kids, we had to face the fact that communication today has changed. Kids today now have an interactive mindset; they’re no longer a passive audience.
With all of this research in mind, we embraced a journey that has brought us exactly where we want to be-for the moment. We discovered that what kids want changes constantly, sometimes daily, but their consistent interests are humor, fresh experiences they can’t get anywhere else, interaction with other kids, competition, fun, high-energy excitement, and unexpected surprises. This is Camp Crossroads.
Camp Crossroads’ theme statement is “go to camp every week without leaving town.” Camp Crossroads is made of four separate camps each year. This four-camp structure is designed to provide the variety that keeps kids interested. We change the camp theme for each camp. With each new theme comes a whole new environment, new staging, team wear, curriculum, activities, sights, and sounds. We want to create a new experience and a sense of anticipation with each new camp opening. Camp Crossroads includes the following standard components.
A LINE Anything worth doing seems to have a line. Attractions at Disney theme parks, popular new movies, and even McDonald’s restaurants have lines. We have a line of parents and children prior to opening our doors each night — a big line! The line moves quickly and has plenty of planned line activities and energy. We wanted a line to increase anticipation for the kids. It worked!
The presence of a line produces many surprising results. One evening we had a huge line of probably 600 or more parents and kids. As I walked the line passing out “not messy” stickers (brightly colored stickers so parents can tell us not to get a child messy) to those who wanted them, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was witnessing people waiting in line to go to church! My husband, who also serves on our team, was stopped by a couple in line who said, “Excuse me, sir. What is this line for?” They were new to the church and saw all the people rushing to stand in the line. They didn’t want to miss whatever was happening, so they got in line without even knowing why!
LIVE WORSHIP ON STAGE We discovered that kids respond powerfully to seeing kids on stage leading them in worship. Each night’s worship team is made up of kids who volunteer to lead worship that night. We find these kids in line. This is a first-come, first-serve opportunity! Our worship kids receive bandannas and a special shirt to set them apart as a team. They enter the building early to get ready. They meet with the worship director to practice the songs, receive basic instructions on worship leading, find out where they’ll stand (on blocks) on stage, and then share a meaningful prayer time together. After this preparation, they’re equipped with wireless headsets and plenty of enthusiasm.
They then become the greeters as the camp opens and the rest of the kids enter the room. They stand in a line, looking incredibly professional, and are the “stars” as they give a high five to their entering peers.
After the entrance, they stand in back waiting for their cue. The worship director opens the program with a lively “Are you ready to worship?” The worship leaders run up, find their places on stage, and lead the other kids in worship. During worship, the words to the songs aren’t displayed. We want the focus to be on the Lord, not the words. We desire an attitude of worship, and kids learn the words quickly. Knowing the words isn’t as important as knowing God!
We encourage all our adult volunteers (camp counselors) to roam around the room and give high fives to the kids during the first song. We also want the counselors to worship along with the kids. We choose adult contemporary worship songs, and we want the kids to see the counselors really worshiping.
We shy away from canned-sounding music or any type of hand motions or choreography. The kids are sharp and know the difference between live people really worshiping or canned music done in a studio.
I’ll never forget seeing one little boy kneel down on the floor during worship. Soon, the whole row of kids also fell to their knees! Now, when we try to high five the kids during the first song, we can’t because their eyes are shut and they’re worshiping! This transformation in our kids’ intimacy with God brings tears to our volunteers’ eyes.