Plan now to make your kids’ summer camp experience life-changing — before and after the fun.
Every summer churches everywhere send kids off to camp for life-altering experiences. Kids meet friends, mentors, and most important, God. But when camp is just one more thing in a long list of summer programming events, its potential as an awe-inspiring God experience may dwindle like the dying embers of a campfire.
My team and I were curious about how to improve kids’ camp experiences and maximize the potential for life-change. So we sponsored a survey of churches participating in camp and asked them to identify best practices for making camp a truly unforgettable, faith-filled experience for kids.
What we learned is that by planning far ahead and being intentional in how you approach camp before and after, your kids will get an experience far more valuable than the cost of a camp reservation. Let’s unpack these great ideas and our timeline.
Prepare Resources for Summer Camp
Camp creeps up on you exactly when a million other things are vying for your attention. Before you realize it, dates aren’t on the calendar and money isn’t saved. Plan and prepare today to build support and foster a focus on experiences-not logistics.
People are relationship resources.
Plan to attend camp with your kids, and recruit enough people from your church who’ll go so the connections kids make and confidences they gain don’t get lost when they come back home. Our survey found that one of the most effective ways to keep the camp experience alive is for campers to bring a piece of it home-in the form of their counselors!
Money makes it happen.
Finances should never prevent a child from attending summer camp. Camp is something that can change kids’ lives-so promote it and do whatever’s necessary to get kids there. Here’s how some churches do it.
Offer savings options. One children’s pastor encourages parents to open a “savings account” through the church in January. Parents put $5 (or another small amount) per week in the account, so by the time kids sign up for camp, the financial burden is gone or greatly lessened. This option is especially helpful for families with multiple campers and those facing financial hardship.
Award scholarships. If people in your church are willing to send kids to camp, ask them to consider funding a camp scholarship account. Offer the option to donate in a lump sum or on a weekly basis. Estimate the number of kids who’ll need financial help using the number of kids needing help the previous year and multiplying it by 20 percent. You may wish to pad this amount to purchase needed camp supplies for kids who are financially challenged as well. Then create a poster to chart the total donations weekly and hang it in a central location.
Time: Keep it on your side.
Communicate early with your church families. Give them as much information up front as possible-camp details, schedules, cost, special requirements, and so on. Emphasize the dates so parents can arrange vacations and schedules accordingly.
Prepare Campers Before Summer Camp
Experienced camp counselors know most kids aren’t freely willing to jump into camp services or programs on the first day of camp. Most kids need to warm up to the idea of camp itself and the array of new faces. But you can prepare kids’ hearts by gradually “warming them up”-long before they arrive at camp.
Awaken kids’ desire for God.
Intentionally prepare kids spiritually for their camp experience, say leaders who are committed to camp. Build kids’ anticipation by training them to think about what God has planned for their lives. Pump them up for the camp’s theme. Encourage kids to talk about their hopes and dreams. Use lessons that focus on God’s plan for us and on unforgettable Bible heroes who did amazing things and that tie into the camp’s theme. Invite guest speakers whose lives have been changed because of camp experiences.
Prep kids’ suitcases.
Before you meet kids’ spiritual needs, it may be necessary to meet their physical needs. Practically speaking, if kids aren’t prepared with the appropriate supplies for summer camp, they’ll be miserable, embarrassed, frustrated, and inhibited in their openness when it comes to God experiences. Don’t stop at providing a recommended supplies list, check with all parents-especially those struggling with the financial costs of camp-to ensure their kids will have everything they need. Help those who need it.
Many camps have a theme and are team-oriented. Stoke your campers’ excitement about the fun to come by encouraging them to dress in their team colors on certain days and by advertising the camp’s theme in your ministry. Play team-oriented games and encourage kids to cheer for each other.
Prepare kids for worship.
Kids will most likely have many hands-on experiences, which lead to experiential learning and worship. If the camp your kids attend has prolonged times of worship and prayer, prepare your kids to engage in worship and prayer so they won’t be disoriented or disengaged.
Participation-Gradually lengthen and emphasize worship and prayer times in your children’s services as camp approaches. Talk to kids in sermons or small group lessons about what worship looks, sounds, and feels like.
P.B.J.S.-One pastor says he did a series on “P.B.J.S.” to help his kids prepare for camp. The spiritual focus was to remind kids to have daily “Prayer, Bible reading, Journaling, and Solitude with God.” He used this approach to stir kids’ hearts for what God would do at camp. During each installment of the series, the pastor had kids eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich as a physical reminder of what they committed to do spiritually.
Keep the Fires Burning After Summer Camp
Eric Jensen, author of Teaching With the Brain in Mind, says that for the brain to truly comprehend new information, kids must have “settling time.” This means kids get an opportunity to process what they’ve learned and experienced at camp, without being immediately inundated with new material or lessons upon their return. Settling time is so valuable for kids to absorb camp experiences that churches should optimally plan on giving kids this “space”-at least a one-week period with no new lessons or topics-as a part of the follow-up camp experience. Here are more ways to maximize camp once kids come home.
Bring summer camp home.
While campers are away changing their perspective on life, things at home haven’t changed. Coach campers to keep their zeal for God alive. Remind them that their openness to worship and prayer and their determination to stand up for what’s right doesn’t have to stop just because they’re back home. It’s normal for their initial excitement to wane; what’s important is that they keep the experiences close to their heart.
Share the change.
Have kids share with someone important in their lives the changes they made with God. If the camper kept a journal, challenge the camper to share parts of it with someone trustworthy who’ll be excited about what he or she experienced.
Find a friend.
Have campers find a friend from summer camp who’ll help them be accountable to the choices and commitments they made.
Keep the connection after summer camp.
One counselor got a camper’s address and sent him a card once a month for the following year. The camper couldn’t remember the special speaker at camp, but he did remember the year that his counselor prayed for and believed in him.
Partner with parents.
Inform parents by sharing what kids experienced individually. It’s easier to follow through on what God has done in a child’s life if parents have an idea what happened. Give parents a “talk sheet” with questions to ask their kids to extend faith growth. And don’t forget to post kids’ camp photos on your Web site while they’re at camp so parents can see what their kids are doing.
Have a post-summer-camp party.
Before kids forget the details of camp, have a party where they share stories with their parents-from the funny hairdos to the times of healing. Show raw camp video footage or pictures from the week while everyone snacks on camp-style goodies. Share the basic sermon points or themes of the week to reinforce at home. Give campers time to talk and parents a chance to see the exciting things that happened while their children were away.
Build on what kids learned.
If campers learned of the importance of regularly reading their Bibles and praying, give kids opportunities to do these things in your ministry. Create an accountability program that involves parents.
If kids opened up at worship and learned to linger in God’s presence, they’ll keep that openness if you offer similar opportunities weekly. Services at camp tend to provide extended times of worship and prayer that lead to deeper spiritual experiences, but more than half of the churches surveyed didn’t provide such an opportunity for kids weekly.
Let kids share their stories.
Many churches we talked to said they didn’t place great importance on small group time-even if they slotted time specifically for these relational interactions. Provide opportunities for campers to share stories with others in small groups-this style of growth is beneficial and very important.
Make time to play after summer camp.
What helps the kids bond with their summer camp counselors? A common quote among the children’s pastors I hang with is, “If you play with them, you earn the right to pray with them.” Fun and play breaks down barriers at camp-and it works at home, too. Plan events to keep those connections open. Keep those relationships alive; they do matter.
Integrate new ideas.
If your kids really enjoyed a certain style of teaching or tool for learning at camp, try to fit it into your ministry and incorporate it into weekly services or lessons. Seeing how others do ministry-and learning from kids’ reactions-is a huge part of any children’s minister’s education. Use this experience to your advantage-and as a way to keep kids connected to what they learned at camp.
Partner with your church after summer camp.
If you want your congregation to back camp financially or to support it as a meaningful experience, have campers share stories of how God changed their lives. Show video footage. Share scholarship information (numbers, not names). You’ll highlight the benefits of camp and give campers an opportunity to solidify their experiences.
Churches, parents, children, and your ministry all want the maximum impact of money and time when it comes to summer camp. By planning today, you can help your kids show up to camp ready and eager for life transformation-and equip them for a lifelong walk with God. cm
Stoke the Fires
To prepare kids for camp, take steps to make it an experience—not just an event.
Assemble a team.
The best approach to anything worthwhile in ministry is a team approach. Find trustworthy people to do what you can’t. Recruit “influencers” who can create a marketing timeline and generate growing excitement.
Review summer camp curriculum.
Evaluate your curriculum to determine whether it supports your goals for the skills kids will walk away with from camp. Pay particular attention to the calendar just before and after camp. Look for connections between what kids will experience and everyday life transformation.
Which leaders or parents should you talk to now about going to summer camp, so they can arrange their schedules? Talk to your current leaders to start with, since they already have a relationship with campers and will be engaged in their lives after camp is over. Choose people who are relational rather than task-oriented. Those who are relationally gifted will enhance campers’ relationships with God and others.
Make efforts early on to encourage your pastor, board members, or other known influencers to commit to visiting camp. These individuals can become some of your most vocal advocates for the camp experience.
Rhonda Haslett is a consultant and evangelist to children and family ministries in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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