There comes a time each year that either fosters excitement or despair in the life of a children’s pastor! As the leaves on the trees begin to appear, so does the thought of summer camp. Being a camp director for over 20 years, I know the peace of having a well-planned program for summer. There’s really no reason to hyperventilate at the thought.
Over the years I have been asked the same question thousands of times: “Do you take your kids to a camp or do you do your own?” The answer is very simple. If you can afford to take your kids somewhere that has everything already in place, do it. All things in place means: accommodations, food, counselor, activities, medical, personnel, security, and most importantly, ministry time just for kids! There are many camps across America that can provide you and your kids a wonderful summer camp experience. These camps will cost more, because they have so much to offer. Before you complain about cost, though, think about what it takes to operate a camp. Accommodations can range from a tent to a fully-equipped bunkhouse. The bunkhouse should be complete with nice comfortable beds, air conditioning, private bath, and rest rooms for campers staying in bunk.
Camp food has a reputation for being bad. This is not always the case. You will find that quite a few camps take great pride in providing healthy meals that kids will eat. There again, accommodations for dining can cover a vast range, from tents to a great big dining area.
Counselors should go through a watched screening process complete with background checks. Summer camp counselors spend more time with your kids than anyone else. This is why you must check out their process for hiring before choosing a camp.
Activities are important to the fun your kids will experience at camp. Go-carts, water slides, horseback riding, and boat rides are some of the most popular. Make sure all activities have been inspected for the safety of your kids. Most camps will have no problem sharing with you their safety process or records. You must be diligent in these details to ensure that your kids are safe at all activities.
A camp that reaches a lot of kids will have a professional medical staff and facilities, because the welfare of campers is important to them. Don’t be surprised to be asked for medical releases and even some medical history on campers. The worst scenario for you and the camp is for you to take a camper, not knowing their medical history, and have a medical situation occur.
Security today at summer camps is a must. If a camp does not provide 24-hour security, do not attend that camp! Confirm with the camp office that not just anyone can come on the property as they wish. There must be security guards and a system in place to allow who comes and who goes on the camp property.
Ministry to your kids is why you take your kids to camp. Through camping experiences, I have seen thousands of kids make life-changing decisions for Jesus, because someone took the time to minister to them with excellence. Today, I know many pastors and children’s workers who were called into ministry while at camp. If a camp has the greatest of everything, but does not know how to minister to the hearts of boys and girls, don’t go! Place great value in the spiritual teaching your kids will receive. We read in Matthew 18 that Jesus cared for what the kids heard as well as how they were treated.
During your camp planning don’t overlook the cost of travel to and from your chosen camp. The added cost of registration and travel make some think a great summer camp is impossible for them and their kids. Don’t give up! There is an answer! Do your own camp. Doing your own camp will take a great deal of planning and work, but it can be done.
Let’s look at some particulars that you need to consider. Location is the first in your planning. Ask members of your church; you will be surprised at the wonderful property that is at your reach if you’ll just bother to ask. Most property owners will be happy to help you if you have done your homework to insure him/her that you have the proper insurance to cover him while using the property. I know you’re thinking, “Where will the kids stay?” You have two choices. Choice #1: do a 3-day camp where the kids are dropped off and picked up at your church the same time each day. By the way, if this is your first camp, I would suggest you do this. Choice #2: rent rooms at a local motel. Make sure they have enough dining room and large enough meeting room for all the kids to attend evening services together.
Now that you’ve decided on the place, there are some other things you must have: bus drivers, cooks for meals, activities (must be fun and include water), counselors who are with kids at all times, medical personnel and security. Don’t faint! All these people are in your church. Just be bold, filled with excitement, and ask for help. If you have taken the time to plan for success, people will notice that and be willing to help. Your excitement is what will make your own camp fly. Don’t be consumed with the amount of planning and work that it will take. Make camp something you would enjoy if you were still a kid. To make camp work, you must look through the eyes of kids who will be coming. What seems cool to you as an adult may not seem so cool to a 10-year-old. I would suggest making a panel of kids from different age ranges and run all the plans by them.
Create a theme for your summer camp. Both children and your staff will absolutely love having a t-shirt and other souvenirs to remember their experience by. Then, build the ministry times around the theme of the camp. A theme song is wonderful also, if you have the ability to produce it. There again, there are many artists that will help you with this project if you are willing to ask. Don’t stop because it seems such a huge amount of work. You and your summer team will realize that anything can be done with God’s help. Victory always encourages a team to keep pressing on!
Now is the time to decide what you are going to do about this summer’s camp. Your decision, whether you send the kids to an established camp or you decide to do your own, will be life changing for boys and girls. Then, in a couple of years, you’ll receive one of the greatest rewards in Christian camping—campers who return as summer staff workers. That is when you realize that all the planning and work is worth it. Have a great summer!!