In a cooped-up world where the Great Outdoors seems forgotten or ignored, why not lead kids and families back to camp?
Playing outside until the streetlights come on. Climbing trees. Jumping off boulders into a lake. Sleeping under the stars with friends.
Do you recall any of these childhood experiences? Pretty amazing, right?
Sadly, what used to be considered child’s play is rare in the weekly life of today’s kids. Not too long ago, I read an article in Atlantic Monthly titled “The Overprotected Kid.” It outlined the lack of independent, creative play for today’s children, and hailed the emergence of “adventure playgrounds.” The article went viral. Likewise, parenting publications and blogs have picked up on Richard Louv’s work on “nature-deficit disorder” that describes how a lack of time outside affects cognitive and emotional development. Kids are spending more and more time in man-made environments—separated from the wonder of God-created nature.
Reports say that the average child today spends only four to seven minutes outside per day. Think about that: Four minutes! Yet, we’ve also learned that even brief time spent in nature makes us more empathetic, more generous, and happier.
The Outdoors are Calling
What if we looked at this dearth of outdoor time as an opportunity to reshape our children’s and youth ministries? What if we gave kids more opportunities to interact with God through his creation? I believe it was strategic that God placed Adam and Eve in the garden. That Jesus went away to quiet places. That when God wanted to get someone’s attention in Scripture, he often took that person to a solitary place in nature. Think of Moses, David, Paul, and John.
What if we did the same with kids and families? Could we intentionally include experiences in nature and the outdoors in our planning? Could our ministries re-embrace a time-honored institution that I know prompts kids to interact with God through his creation? What if we went back to camp?
The Benefits of Camp
At camp, kids escape their routine, decompress, and reassess their lives without distraction. They experience actual adventures in a natural setting. Camp is a chance for you to deeply invest in the spiritual health of young people in a place where you don’t have to compete with the distractions they face back home. The opportunities for experiential learning are nearly endless. Your kids form deeper relationships through shared experiences. They also learn to take healthy risks and, maybe for the first time in their memory, they can think clearly and hear from God.
Some criticize “mountaintop experiences,” but I believe there’s great value in pivot points, or defining moments, where something significant and unusual happens. It’s the mountaintop experience that prepares us for life in the valley.
For many kids, these moments happen at camp. I’ve talked to a lot of Christian leaders (including pastors, speakers, and authors) who say major life-change happened at camp; that they heard the call of God on their lives at camp; that something spiritual happened at camp that hadn’t happened in the children’s or youth ministry room back at church. Camp inspires kids and their leaders to dream with God and to gain the courage and spiritual momentum they may have needed to take their relationship with Jesus deeper.
The Power of Camp
There’s something unusual and wonderful about the camp setting. At the Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA), we call it “The Power of Camp,” because of the many highly successful and thriving adults who tell us their path to success all started there. Many point to camp as the place where their relationship with their Creator began and where they experienced the thrill of adventure and overcame fears.
One of the key benefits of the camp experience for young people is growing confidence in building new friendships. Working through their insecurities and uncertainty in an environment where the staff and the program support safe risks, kids can blossom relationally. For some, that means developing the skills and confidence needed to walk away from unhealthy peer groups when they return home. For others, it means gaining the ability to reach out and befriend kids from their school who might be marginalized.
Taking a Break
Many in Christian camping call the relational setting “temporary community”. Think about it for a minute. If, even as an adult, if you could take a break from your daily routine and all the burdens you carry and enter a place where you are loved and accepted unconditionally, would you take it? A place where you don’t carry expectations to bear but start fresh being the person God created you to be. Somewhere with ample time and space to hear from God about his plan for your life. A time you can reflect upon as your “reset button” that put you on the path you were made for.
That’s what happens for kids, and adults, by the tens of thousands every year at camps all across the U.S. That’s the Power of Camp. And there are camps all over that partner with local churches to help them build programs that’ll serve their kids well. Many camps will even provide the programming for you if you don’t have the team to build your own.
The Power of Camp is available for you, your kids, and your families. It’s at hundreds of locations around the country and world, just in time for summer.
Families Thrive at Camp
I’ve never heard parents say they regretted spending time with their kids. In a fairly recent survey, parents were asked what they’d give up to have more time with their kids. They answered that to have just one more hour a week with their family, they’d give up everything from the Internet to sleep to coffee for a year. Parents clearly value sharing time with their kids.
In this same research, 80 percent of parents said that vacation provided great quality time as a family. Disney—the purveyor of the quintessential family vacation—conducted this survey. A vacation that features long lines, high costs, lots of opportunities to spend buckets of money on branded merchandise and bigger-than-life expectations. By contrast, family camps offer richer experiences at a more affordable cost. And family camps are created to maximize family time together.
Why Families Thrive at Camp
Camp leaders build programming that allows families to have fun while also growing closer to each other and closer to God. Time at family camp is devoid of many of the decisions and pressures that can taint
a bigger vacation and bring added tension. Family camps provide shared experiences, adventures, activities appropriate for every age, meals created especially for families, and activities served up without the hassles of making more decisions. All of this is in an unusually beautiful setting, where the fun is built in and stress is squeezed out.
Children’s ministries can use family camp as a remarkable, memorable tool to support and enrich their families. Camp is also a prime way to build relationships between church members that strengthen the congregation. You can search for a camp at ThePowerofCamp.com.
Gregg Hunter is the President/ CEO of Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA), an organization that serves more than 860 camps across the U.S. who welcome almost 6 million campers and guests per year. Hunter went to summer camp as a 17-year-old because of the kindness of a woman in his hometown who paid his way. CCCA launched thepowerofcamp.com to help send impoverished kids to camp and to provide a way for parents to find a great camp for their kids.
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