Summer Camp. These words both excite and exasperate untold numbers of student pastors across the USA. It’s likely a top mandate in your job description, and it’s often THE defining event in your planning for the year. However, the last few years have taught us that, as with anything, we can never be 100% about our future plans. After all of these changes, many are creating their own camp experience. Many, though, find themselves overwhelmed at that prospect and outvoted when the idea is placed alongside other camp offerings. Let’s look at the process of creating a personalized camp for your students.
No, not where you’re going to camp. I’m pointing more towards the WHY behind doing camp. Camps often cater themselves to fun, missions, or team-building in their orientation. Have you prayerfully considered what God would have your students learn? What is your vision when you imagine your students encountering Jesus and being radically changed? Is there something your students struggle with or are interested in? Have you found a particular study or theme in Scripture you want to emphasize? Are you just beginning your ministry with this group, or do you have a new batch of students and volunteers? All of these factors could impact your early camp decisions. Creating your own camp offers flexibility and interpersonal opportunities that you may not find at some big camps. Pulling away to a secluded location may help focus your students. Do you have students with disabilities or disorders that may cause them to feel unwelcome at a large camp? A camp with only your students will likely let you learn more about them and your volunteers than a large camp where everyone may be split up. Pray over how God would have you shepherd those under your care.
Most camps are in such demand that deposits and reservations are made up to a year in advance. Planning your own camp offers a bit more flexibility with a timeline, but you still have to begin planning early. Volunteers, parents, and students are more likely to be excited if they see a clear picture of where they’re going and what they’re doing. Cost, lodging, activities, schedules, and personnel are all details you can sketch out early on. Lodging can be found in state parks, denominational resources, and even Airbnb. Many of them offer discounts to student groups. Some locations also provide full refunds up to a week before your reservation which protects your budget. Certain locations (mountains, beaches, state parks, etc.) may have built-in activities that make your schedule easier and cheaper to build. If you’re interested in building missions into the camp, contact non-profits and local congregations, and you’ll be astounded at the opportunities.
When it comes to food, calculate $2-$3 per person (per meal) for a food budget. Reach out to fellow student pastors or trusted believers for worship leaders and speakers. You will often be surprised at the versatility and availability of choices at your disposal. You may be surprised at the lower cost as well! This frees up more resources for ministry throughout the entire year. If you plan on using particular materials or printing shirts, give at least a 2-3 month lead time before camp. Writing your own material and making shirts is also a possibility but does cost a significant amount of time as well. YM360 also provides shirts and solid materials for camp.
One of the greatest surprises I’ve had in student ministry was the effect of a personalized camp on our parents and volunteers. Like many, I’ve struggled to find chaperones for a 5-day camp that runs from Monday to Friday. It’s hard to ask parents to pay for their students to go and then take time off from work to come to camp with us. After mentioning a more personalized camp option, I was suddenly bombarded with help! The lower cost (usually $100-$150 less per person) and the flexible schedule (such as a camp that runs from Friday to Monday) allowed more parents to come and help. It also allowed more students to participate. My older students were no longer pulled away by band camps and sports camps that last throughout the week. I also found that my student leadership and parents were more excited and willing than ever before. You also may discover more adults and students ready to jump in and help “run” the camp. Our girls and guys love to “compete” in their cooking during camp. Each side is responsible for managing a small budget for the camp kitchen and cooking a meal. It’s a lot of fun, an excellent team-building opportunity, and leadership development. Look for volunteers and students willing to step up and take ownership. A personalized camp is a great training ground for ministry.
The best thing about a large camp is that after you pay deposits and have all the forms, the student pastor gets to “rest” (sort of). There’s a host of paid summer staff that handle most of the camp experience. If you plan your own camp, though, you must stay on top of everything. There are deposits that must be mailed off and contracts to be signed. Communication with volunteers, speakers, and worship teams will span the entire 6-12 months of planning. If there are activities you plan on participating in at your location, you will likely have to email, call, and re-confirm that the dates and times are correct and still available. This is all doable! Make use of a physical calendar and keep track of emails so that you can see the big picture in front of you. More than anything, though, keep praying for God to bless and direct your path. Proverbs 16:9 says we make plans, but God guides our steps. Remember, this is all done for God’s glory and the discipleship of your students. Make sure everything you plan has a purpose that centers on this.
Who knows what this may lead to? Perhaps a personalized camp is an occasional thing you do to meet financial and situational demands. It may even be something you attempt to meet the needs of multiple rural churches that cannot afford a large camp. Regardless, you may find it a viable avenue for lasting discipleship and impact. Step out to see what God can do!
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Do you have a vision God has given you in student ministry? How could a personalized camp experience help accomplish this?
- Are there any criticisms/issues you run into each year at camp? Would creating a personalized camp help meet these needs or solve these issues?