How to Recruit Volunteers for Camp

It may still be freezing cold where you are right now, but as student pastors, we already have summer on the brain. Why? Because camp may be in the summer, but signups happen now! And that’s true for students and volunteering adults alike. In fact, pretty soon you may find yourself asking your volunteers the dreaded question:

“So, are you coming to summer camp?”

We’ve all been there. You make the ask. Their response? Usually an awkward half-nod, a sheepish half-smile, total eye contact avoidance, and a quick, “Oh, I’m going to have to check my schedule.”

As ministry leaders, we all know the value of having our regular volunteers and small group leaders available to invest in the lives of their students during a retreat. The benefits are enormous! It gives leaders the chance to build a year of relational equity with your students in only five days. Plus, big decisions are made at events like these, and you don’t want your leaders to miss those moments with their students. And on a practical level, most camps have a legal minimum of adult chaperones. So…. There’s that!

But at the same time, you as a student pastor know how much it is to ask of your leaders. You’re well aware that volunteers are already… well, volunteering their time. So asking them to use some of their well-deserved vacation time to spend a week away from their families, possibly pay for additional childcare, and keep volunteering with a group of crazy teenagers? It’s a lot. And when you look at it that way, it’s understandable why we might receive our fair share of “No’s” during this season.

Related Reading: Is Student Camp Worth It?

Thankfully, my time serving at both my church and on staff with High School Camp has given me a front-row seat to watch some really smart ministry leaders find ways to work around the potential hurdles of getting their volunteers to join them for summer camp. So when it comes to recruiting leaders for your summer experience, here are just a few tips I’ve learned to make getting that, “Yes!” a little easier.

1. Find a way to pay for them.

One of the biggest pain points you can alleviate for a leader to join you for camp is the cost. Now that doesn’t mean you need to have a huge budget to cover every single leader. It just means that when you’re thinking ahead and planning fundraisers, reserve just one to pay for the costs of your leaders. Another option is to ask each student’s family to pay an extra $10 to cover the cost of their leader’s attendance. Or maybe you have some empty nesters in your congregation—people who know what camp did for their own kids—who might be willing to sponsor leaders to attend camp. No matter how you approach it, you have to make a big ask. So this year, consider making the ask of others to support your leaders rather than asking your leaders to pay their own way.

2. Treat adults like adults.

There are some things we can ask students to do at camp that aren’t always comfortable (or even appropriate!) for leaders. Think things like sharing a bed, drinking only Kool-aid, riding a charter bus for 10 hours, or leaving their phones at home. While all that’s well and good for your students, your leaders are adults so your standards for them should be different. If at all possible, find ways to treat your adults like adults. For example, at our church, leaders get their own rooms, period. That may mean that three students have to sleep on air mattresses to make it work, but hey, that’s okay! I can’t tell you the number of leaders who come back from camp ready to return the next summer simply because they were given their own space during the week. I’ve also seen churches do things like go on coffee runs for their leaders, give them a quiet space to work or check email, or simply provide them a late night treat. The truth is, summer camp is fun for students, but it has the potential to be miserable for adults. That’s why anything you can do to make camp a little more enjoyable for them will increase the likelihood your volunteers will want to join in.

3. Become a great storyteller.

We all know that what happens during camp is special. But sometimes, those mountain top moments at summer camp can be hard to remember in the cold of February. So it your goal to remind your leaders of what they have the potential to be a part of during the week. Make storytelling a part of your ask. Remind your leaders of great stories they shared with you about their students’ experience at summer camp. Or share new stories of life-change with them that they may not even know to encourage them to join you. When you’re asking them to join you for a week of summer camp, you’re really inviting them to be a part of the story that God is writing in the lives of their students. Don’t miss the opportunity to share some of those stories to remind them of the reasons why they’d want to make the effort to be there.

4. Offer them support.

If summer camp is an exhausting week for you as a ministry leader, remember that it’s that much more exhausting for your student leaders. After all, they’re the ones up early to make sure your students are ready to go, staying up late to make sure everyone is accounted for, going all day on the beach to keep up with their students, and navigating hard conversations along the way. Physically and emotionally, your leaders are worn! So don’t let them go through the week alone. Make sure you find ways to offer them support throughout the week. Have a designated person (or even more than one person!) on your team for them to check in with if they need help dealing with problems in their group, drama with their students, or difficult conversations. For me, that person is named Kylie. She is a volunteer small-groups coach. And part of her summer camp duties include Starbucks runs, picking up extra sunscreen for my group and praying with me for girls in tough or overwhelming circumstances. Letting your leaders know they have someone, like Kylie, to go to for support throughout the week will make them feel less alone in the process. So tell them that up front to eliminate the fear that it’s all up to them.

5. Show your appreciation.

Listen, we all know how much hard work goes into the summer camp for your student ministry. You could probably come up with a list a mile long of people who deserve your appreciation for making it happen. But remember, your adult volunteers are the ones doing the hard work of helping students navigate heart and spiritual issues in their lives. Make sure they know their time and care is appreciated. And don’t wait until camp is over to start! As soon as your leaders sign up to join you for camp, shoot them a personalized text or email to thank them. Before you hit the road for camp, send them a Starbucks card to fuel up on coffee on the way. When they get home, write them a thank you note to show your appreciation for the way they showed up for your students at camp. And, maybe most importantly, find a way for them to take a night off from volunteering in the next few weeks.

Remember, your leaders love your students. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there every single week already! Summer camp is a big ask, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible one if you approach it with the best interest of your leaders in mind.

Looking for a place to take your high schoolers to camp this year? Check out High School Camp!

Orange Conference 2018