This blog post is the fourth installment of a series on church camp. You can find the first post about Kids Camp by clicking this link here, the second post about Junior High Camp by clicking on this link, and the third post about Senior camp can be found by clicking this link.
I should have stated this from the beginning… No one asked me to write this series. I actually had no intention of blogging about church camp at all. Last Thursday, I was working on homeschool planning for this upcoming school year and praying over our family’s direction when I felt that I needed to write this all out. It hit me out of nowhere, I walked in to my laptop, started typing, and what you see is the result. Hopefully I have not upset anyone with my doing this… But what you see is honest and from my heart. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on… shall we?
It’s a TON of work…
Alright, so you’ve heard all about what goes on at each camp. Now let me respond to some concerns you may be having… You know that it is very involved to pack everything necessary for one camper to be prepared while on the campground. The cost seems like just one more expense… And what about the fundraising? School is about to start back up when camp is going on and there are other things that you could be doing with your child’s time. So why bother with church camp?
Well, yeah, it is time consuming to pack for camp. You aren’t just packing a suitcase as though you are going to stay in a hotel. Other than food, you need to pack almost as though you are going full blown camping. But would you do it without complaint to send your child to another camp? Scouts camp, sports camp, science camp…
The cost, well, this depends… What campground are you going to? There are some really big camps out there, all frills and they still offer a spiritual experience for you kids and teens. SoCal Youth church camp is pretty basic in the way of amenities, bringing the costs down to be much lower than most others. Nothing fancy, but still nice. Do the campers complain? Not a peep!
The joys of fundraising…
Not everyone can afford to send their kids to camp… Fundraising, if done properly, does not have to be as daunting. My personal opinion? It should begin the week that camp ends for the following year. There are many creative ways to go about this and they don’t have to be boring. One idea would be a monthly sponsorship… If you have an idea of how much it will cost to send a kid or teen to camp you can break that down in to monthly increments that if a church member felt lead, they could contribute to. Need more ideas? A quick search on Pinterest will bring more than enough options.
One idea that we used at our church this last year was a Bible Read-A Thon. Just like a regular read-a-thon, but with the Bible. (Hmm, maybe I’ll post the forms I made up for this soon…) Another was that our kids had a “concert”. The music from this service was put on a CD with other recorded music of our kids singing and sold for a donation. We had bake sales, sold candy and soda, had penny marches… And we just barely made it. Of course, we didn’t start getting serious with fundraising until April. Imagine if we had started sooner!
But you’re busy. Your kids are busy. Your church is busy. EVERYONE is BUSY!
I know. I’m busy too. This is where you have to decide if it is a time investment that is as important to your child’s development as soccer, a trip to an amusement park, or a few days at home playing video games. Which brings us to the big question…
Is church camp worth it?
You probably knew by now that this was going to be my answer… Right?
There is something about getting this many kids together from different churches… (big emphasis on that last part, not just the kids from one church, but many…) Giving them a safe place to have fun, make new friends, and experience the outdoors… And then standing back and watching God bless them in a life changing way that will impact the rest of their lives. With no where to be the next day and no responsibilities to go home to each night, kids let all their worship out in chapel. Yes. Church camp is definitely worth it.
But… but… but you said that you had honest opinions on what would make church camp better.
How can that be? How can I have suggestions to make it better and still say it is worth it?
Well, sit down and take a deep breath before you read this… My opinions of what would make it better have a whole lot more to do with those of us sending our kids up there, not those running the camp.
I know. Ouch. It is our fault that our kids are not getting more out of camp…
Let me explain:
- First and foremost: Camp is NOT a reward and churches need to stop treating it as such. Camp is a REVERSED MISSION FIELD! Instead of us sending out missionaries, we are sending our kids to the missionaries. They are meeting Jesus, learning about God’s love, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. The main focus of camp, even with all the fun stuff, is that these kids have a personal relationship with all 3 members of the God head. Would you say to someone, “If you do this, that, and the other, you can get to know Jesus. But you have to prove to us that you’ve earned it… and you just don’t seem like you deserve it.” No way! While sports and other activities make an impact on our kids, so does camp. If it seems to you that church camp would benefit your child, and for most it would, then it should be held to the same regard.
- You need to follow up with the kids in your church that attended camp. Don’t just send them home and forget them. Check in with them and see how they are doing. If they don’t always attend your church, reach out and invite them to services and events. Ask those that are regular attendees about camp throughout the year. Don’t let that fire die!
- More PASTORS need to attend camp with their churches! Not every pastor can physically handle it, and that I completely understand. But hey, what about associate pastors? Elders? Kids and teens need to have a connection with their church leadership before they graduate high school and this is a great way to build that! Another great reason would be so that the shepherd can tend to their flock… Just because you send grown ups to camp, it does not mean that they behave as grown ups or that they are able to reign in everyone they have been given charge over. (Remember that pranking issue?) If you were a kid or teen, would you want to embarrass your pastor and church right in front of them? Most wouldn’t. Can’t go? Give those that are going (kids, teens, and older volunteers) a good pep talk, encourage them to have a great time and draw closer to God, tell them you can’t wait to hear all about it when they return and maybe have a youth night where everyone tells Pastor what they liked best… and ask them nicely before they leave to remember that they are representatives of your church.
- Each camper needs a leader from their church that they can relate to. This is a BIG deal! Boys need a Godly man to relate to and watch over them. Girls need a Godly woman. Someone that will pray with them in the altar… Some kids are okay praying with their parents. Some kids need someone else. Churches need to send more than 1 person per church. At least 2… if not more. Afraid you are sending too many workers? Remember that there will be small churches up there that will not be able to send as many and consider that leaders are always needed in the altar. (All workers are subject to a background check and vetted by their pastor.)
- Another cry for volunteers… Are you a nurse? A short order cook? Are you trained as a lifeguard? Camps need these! Pray about volunteering! Even with a great pool area, our camp did not have swimming this year because we were unable to find a lifeguard that was available.
- Parents: Please send enough money with your kids and teens! Some kids showed up with only $10. That’s enough to get through about 1 day of Junior High or Senior Camp. Send bottled water, as they need to remember to drink more than they do at home if the elevation is different than what is at home. Talk to them about keeping their money safe and not losing it. See if your camp offers a bank. SoCal Youth offered a bank for Kids Camp but not for the Teen Camps. (I heard plenty of complaints about there not being one for the older kids. I don’t know if this is something that will change or not.)
- BRING THE SONGS HOME! When those from your church and family have returned, ask them about the songs that were sung. Which ones were their favorites? Download them and play them often. Worship leaders: Add them to your lineup. Sing them during altar calls. (Yes, altar calls. Bring them back. More on that in another post…) Keep those memories of what God did for them alive! We all know how a song can bring back a memory… Remind them of what God did for them at camp!
- Pray over each and every camper and worker that you are sending to camp: over their hearts, for their safety… PRAY THAT THEY DO NOT GET SICK! Remember how I said in that first post that it seemed like the ones who needed to be there most got sick? They may not even have to go home, but they may miss a chapel service that they need to be in. The girl from our church that went to Senior Camp worked harder than any of the other campers from our church to get there. She LOVED chapel! She became sick on the last day and when I arrived at the campground I asked her if she wanted to go home. Nope, she wanted to stay for chapel because she knew that last service was going to be amazing. Poor thing became so sick right at the beginning of the service and had to spend the next several hours in the nurses station just to be well enough to handle the ride home. She would have greatly benefited from this service and it broke our hearts! Pray hedges of protection around those that are going, and keep praying until they come home!
Now, for some other thoughts:
I know, you’re sick of hearing what I have to say by now… But hear me out. Please.
And ordained visit…
Imagine my excitement when it worked out that Sherry, along with her Mom, daughter, and friend, would be visiting Southern California… I rarely get to see her and she is one of my rocks. I mentioned in the first post that Sherry and I have a history at camp. That her parents were our District Children’s Leaders for most of my childhood… That our Grandparents worked together as pastors in the same district for many years, forging a close friendship, and working hard to build up our campground and attend camp with their churches.
So imagine how much more excited I was when I told Sherry that I wouldn’t be home to see her because I would be at Junior High Camp and she basically said, “Even better! We’ll come up there!” And they did! At the time I didn’t think of the timing being more perfect other than the memories we all shared there. (And believe me, hugging Sherry’s neck in the quad, worshiping with her in morning chapel, and visiting over a Bethel Burger was all fabulous.)
But God had a plan… Their visit wasn’t a fluke. It probably sounds to you as though it worked out almost like a cheesy movie, but in reality it packed a punch! Sherry’s Mom, Debbie, poured in to some of us while there. She reminded me of some of the original vision for the camp and told me some things I did not know. For example: Did you know that 80% of missionaries receive their calling to the mission field while at church camps? That’s a HUGE number!
A Lifelong Impact
Many of us adults that were in attendance at camp then got to talking… Those of us that had attended camps had received part or all of our calling while at camp!
Some of us that had backslid later in our teens or as adults recalled times while away from God that we were in a dire place and remembered a moment from camp. Whether it was time in the altar, a conversation with a counselor, a song sung in chapel, or a sermon, those memories started flooding back and we began to reach out to God and make our way back to Him.
When I was a camper we had a phrase, “Take the mountain home with you.” Take it to school. Take it with you wherever you go. Don’t ever let it go. Never lose what God gave you on the mountain. I promise you, the kids that go to church camp take that mountain home with them.
A Special Calling
Between Sis. Debbie and a few other “camp veterans” in attendance, I realized how important return volunteers are. Many of these workers were people that had been working at camp when I was a camper. Sis. Ross had been there when I was a little girl. I remembered her praying with me in chapel and doing bed checks at lights out. This year, she was still there working hard along with others, showing us “newbies” the ropes. I gleaned so much from their knowledge and experience!
Some people are called to work at church camp every year. Are you one of them? You don’t know until you pray about it and try it one year. You may be hooked! I will say this, I get why my Grandpa loved it so much now. Whenever the Lord allows, I will be at camp working in one way or another.