Why We Stopped Going to Summer Camp
Kenny Conley explains why he's no longer taking his children and youth ministries to summer camp and what he's doing instead.
This year we made what would seem like one of the hardest decisions a ministry team would make. After three years of very successful summer camp experiences for kids, middle school and high school, lets not do them any more. When I proposed this to my team back in the fall and explained why I wanted to kill summer camp, it took very little convincing. I was kind of surprised, actually.
Why did we kill summer camp?
Two reasons really.
- To better align with our strategy
- To make room for something better
Actually, I’ll be honest. We didn’t kill summer camp… technically. We moved it. Summer camp is now winter camp. In January we’ll take all of our kids and students on a two night retreat over a weekend in January. So, camp is alive in well, it’s just summer camp that we put an end to. Let me explain what crazy kool aid we were drinking.
This fall I had the opportunity to teach a breakout on creating a small group culture in your ministry at the Orange Tour in Detroit. Funny how sometimes I learn more from the breakouts than the people who attend do. In that breakout, I learned more about the concept Reggie Joiner wrote about in Seven Practices. The principle is “think steps not programs.”
I’m a huge believer in camp. Something powerful happens at camp in the life of a child/teenager. However, camp usually tends to be a stand-alone program. A dead end. In all my years of running camp, only a fraction of my actual small groups leaders come because it requires taking a week off from work. So, the very adults who are most connected to the kids don’t get to be there for the catalytic life change that happens at camp. If I’m trying to build a culture of small group communities, I’d work harder to make sure the small group leaders can help drive that experiences, not be excluded by it. This is the reason for a winter camp. We’re asking leaders to give up a weekend. They don’t even have to take off any work. Chances are, most of our small group leaders can participate. Sure, it’s only have the time, but in the end, I’ll get the people I want at a weekend retreat that I can’t get to a week long summer camp.
Secondly, moving summer camp opened up the summer to something I think is even better than summer camp. Mission trips, or serving trips as we call them at Gateway. The best experience I’ve ever had in ministry was taking 20 4th and 5th graders to Mexico, but it’s hard to do something like that when you have camp and other competing programs in the summer. However, something happens on a serving trip that doesn’t happen at camp. You engage a kid/student with their gifts to serve. This is huge!
This summer we took over 150 students and leaders on 4 trips. We took High School trips to Branson, MO and Haiti, a Middle School trip to Branson and a 3rd-5th grade trip to serve the Austin Community. Even the kids trip was a 5 day, overnight experience. In the end, these kids told me what I had hoped to hear when we started this venture… “This was WAY better than camp!” We took less kids on the serving trip than we took to camp, but we’re paving the way for experiences that provide deeper impact and connect more influential people in the the lives of kids in the moments they need them most.