How One Church’s Weekly Camp Is Effectively Reaching Kids for Jesus
Published: January 18, 2019
Doing children’s ministry the way it’s always been done will never work to reach this generation. Discover real ways to minister to today’s kids through this weekly camp idea!
You’re running out of time with children! And if you don’t learn new ways to communicate with them, your ministry is fast becoming irrelevant!
Interested in making the most of the time you have? Read on!
Communication With Children Today
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.
What Makes Camp Crossroads Special?
“Camp Crossroads is a magical place for children because the staff and volunteers have created an incredible experience for children,” says Barry McMurtrie, former 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.
There’s 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!
Get the Counselors Involved
We encourage all our adult volunteers (camp counselors) to roam around the room and give high-fives to the kids during the first song. Counselors are encouraged 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.
We usually write the memory verse on a 3X5-foot board held up and moved around in front of the kids. The kids are seated in teams, and after reviewing the verse several times, they compete to see who can recall the verse and yell it louder than the other teams. The winning team is showered with something enjoyable such as candy, toys, water, confetti, or feathers.
We noticed an increase in the kids’ interest in the verse when we allowed them to scream. What surprised me the most was the fact that they could see the verse for a couple of seconds on a board and know it immediately! Kids snap up the Scripture so fast that they have plenty of time to learn a Bible life application, eat a snack, discuss the message, fellowship, compete, and make something to take home. Kids’ ability to retain information is so impressive that we’re able to take them way beyond the memorization phase.
This activity varies with the lesson topic, but it always involves team competition. Challenges may include such activities as rolling in syrup and feathers; passing a dead fish from the back to the front; or passing ice cream, nuts, and chocolate to the front and making a human sundae on the stage. The goal of the challenge is to create community and build relationships while laughing and connecting this high energy interaction to the verse and lesson topic. This is probably one of the kids’ favorite times. They love to compete with each other.
At times, we’ve laughed so hard that we’re unable to speak! Usually, a popular song plays loudly during the challenge. When the song stops, the team who made the most progress wins. The prize goes along with the theme, and we always try to involve the entire team in the giving of the prize. For example, if the kids were making human sundaes, the team who wins may get cherries thrown on them. A side effect of the challenges is a connection to the parents. They want to share in these fun experiences alongside their kids.
These are lesson-related activities located in and out of the building. Based on the size of the total group of kids, we’ll vary the number of rotations for the night, but we usually have three rotations. The kids rotate to the different locations in teams, and each rotation may last up to 15 minutes. The rotation activities include guests, food, physical activity, crafts, or prayer. The lesson topic and Bible learning are advanced at each rotation by incorporating current trends, object lessons, music, or video clips into each lesson rotation. Our goal is to make the lesson fun, real, and usable!
Variety is the critical factor in the rotations. The kids sometimes have one outdoor recreational rotation; one indoor craft or snack rotation; and one live person, interactive lesson or guest rotation. All three rotation experiences echo the same lesson theme. Some of the highlights this year have been Hershey’s syrup tug of wars, real campfires, horseback riding, food fights, real snow, live animals, a fire juggler, and fishing. We make sure the rotations include something that the kids take home with them. If we’re fishing, kids take home real fish. If we have a campfire, every kid gets to make a S’more. The goal is to involve and excite the kids.
Children who experience God’s presence in worship and God’s care through prayer will never be the same! A humble, sacrificial character is developed through times of prayer. We encourage touching others during prayer and listening for God’s answers. We always have kids repeat the prayer as we pray and we ask for volunteers to pray, especially teen volunteers because they seem to relate better to the kids. We’re very open and pray boldly. The kids just love it.
We try to offer children experiences they can’t get anywhere else; this includes meeting interesting people they’ve never met before. When we connect these significant guests to the lesson, we create a powerful, memorable encounter. We like to include all organizations that focus on children as well as our local police, fire, and other helping organizations that reside in our neighborhood. We’ve welcomed local karate studios, firefighters, the FBI, gymnasts, dance groups, Girl Scouts, sports teams, cheerleaders, and many more. Our main focus, apart from letting the kids experience great people, is to create a bridge to our community.
Children like to be messy! But adults are afraid of being messy. We prove our dedication to making our church a kid-friendly place by designing messy experiences that also advance, or apply, the lesson. A lot of our ideas from watching Nickelodeon’s Slime Time Live or Double Dare 2000. We want to let kids experience food fights or other things they see in movies or on cartoons that they may never get to do at home. Our hope is to create the “I can’t believe it” factor that’s so effective at attracting hundreds of kids.
When we first hosted Slime Time Live, we had an incredible lesson and the kids were so amazed that they really got to be slimed and slime their counselors, too!
They were so excited about the fact that we wanted to have that much fun with them. The parents were excited too, as we handed each of them a trash bag for their child to sit on to protect the car seats on the way home. They didn’t care how messy their kids were. They were more interested in seeing their kids happy and hearing them excitedly talk about the whole night’s experience. Kids walked out the door talking so fast the parents couldn’t even understand what they were saying. They’ll never forget that day and the point that night. “Keeping watch” was taken to a whole new level; they now know what being on guard means and especially how it feels to be taken by surprise!
Plenty of Wow
We push ourselves to create learning environments that are new, different, strange, enjoyable, awe-inspiring, or “never-been-done-before.” If children say, “Wow!” we’ve achieved our goal. We don’t repeat anything in our yearly programming, not even a snack. We believe any idea is fair game, as long as the message is strong and the focus is pointed in one direction. Believe me, if you bring an alligator in the room, the kids are ready to listen to whatever you have to say!
We help the kids practice being loud and quiet. They’re allowed to scream, get messy, and be kids, but they’re also inspired to be reverent, respectful, and responsible in church. They’re learning that there’s a time for everything and also how to discern when that time is. There are times in camp when you can hear a pin drop among hundreds of children and other times you can’t hear the fire alarm.
The Camp Store
We always feature a store where the kids can buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, candy, or various theme-related toys or gadgets. Wearing a camp T-shirt or sweatshirt is a big thing to the kids. They all want to get their sweatshirt and be the first in line. We alternate candy, T-shirt colors, and other items at the store to stimulate the kids’ attention.
The vision for Camp Crossroads was so powerful and clear that we experienced a flood of new volunteers into the program.
We started with eight volunteers and now have more than 50 camp counselors. There are even teenagers on a waiting list to become counselors. We believe this is because camp offers a unique service opportunity. The intense mixture of Bible learning and fun is so attractive that we can’t keep people away.
Camp is a perfect environment for relationship-building. We offer a variety of volunteer positions and very tight security; people feel safe joining our team. We’ve never had such a line of volunteers willing to help. There’s a real sense that we’re accomplishing something significant in the lives of these kids. As Rebecca Wise, one of our counselors, said recently, “What impacts me the most is how excited the kids get and how much they respond to the messages that we present to them!”
The Main Difference
The difference in our ministry today is that kids are hungry and thirsty for more of God. They race to be on the worship team, and they laugh out loud, and they stand in line to meet with God at camp. Kids cry, pray, kneel, and worship. Essentially, it’s kids leading other kids just as Isaiah prophesied, “and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
This generation will remember what we tell them by how we treat them. They can remember church as boring, dead, long, and full of rules and memorization. Or they can remember church as fun, exciting, relevant, alive, and real. We all want to go back to that happy place in childhood, that secure place we knew we could count on, to places and people who changed our lives somehow. For kids today, that place can be the church!
5 Things Kids Want From Your Ministry
Kids today want these things from your ministry.
Kids want to decide what’s important to them, and how and when to access that information.
There’s one thing kids are universally interested in: each other. Kids seek out and need relationships. A relational ministry is the only way kids will ever take notice of God.
We must move from the “push” of simply delivering a lesson plan to the “pull” of involving children in the learning process through active and meaningful interaction. For today’s kids, it’s about having an experience!
Kids today want more information than what they already know! They want new information they can use. Christian education must be applicable to children’s lives today, not just in the future. With each lesson, ask yourself, “What are kids going to do with this lesson this week, and how will it change them to be more like Jesus today?”
Children want to be entertained, informed, and amused. The number one element in reaching kids is humor. It has to be entertainment at a level that’ll keep children interested. Humor opens up kids to our influence by breaking down any barriers. When we laugh together, we share a very personal moment. This is what builds relationships!
Tracy Carpenter is the former director of children’s ministries at Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, California. She now works as the children’s pastor at Centerpoint Church Murrieta in Murrieta, California.
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