by Clint Nowery
One of my greatest memories growing up was attending church camp every summer. Living in Florida meant HOT summers, and the camp we went to was right smack in the middle of the state! That meant no beach, no breeze, just lots of sweaty kids running around all week.
One summer that stands out in particular was the year we had to turn the gymnasium into a make-shift clinic because of some bad pizza that was served. Just imagine a couple hundred kids packed into a hot gymnasium. The sights, smells—it was memorable, and gross.
Of all the bad memories of summer camp, there are a few great ones that stick out. For more reasons than I have time to go into, there is something incredible that happens in a student’s life at camp.
I can vividly remember the growth I personally experienced in my relationship with Christ. In fact, it was at camp that I, like so many others, gave my heart to Christ. And that did not just happen back when I was a student. It is still true today. God uses camp events to draw students to Him in an incredible way. Because of this, we decided that we really needed to process through our events, every single one of them, and decide exactly what we wanted to accomplish and why.
Here are three things that we do at every one of our events.
1 – Make sure your small group leaders are there.
We believe that what happens in the small group is more important than what happens at any other point over the course of the weekend. Those relationships are crucial! Our small groups are the most important aspect of our ministry. Because of that, we ask our small group leaders to serve for all three years of middle school and attend every camp or event. One of the things we tell our leaders is that special events are worth three months of small group. For the sake of our students, we won’t do camp or any events without them.
2 – Provide resources before and during camp to enhance the small group experience.
Beforehand: Meetings—two weeks before camp—content, small group questions, creative ideas around small group experiences. We use these meetings to train our leaders on becoming a better leader (lead small), cast vision for the event, and give out swag. During: Meetings where we discuss what is coming up in the day, what are the need-to-know bullet points, that kind of stuff. (Friday night and Saturday morning.) Wrapping up: At events that allow this, we have a quick meeting where leaders get to share wins from the weekend. This usually happens on Sunday morning, and it is absolutely incredible to hear leaders get to share with other leaders that they had students accept Christ, or they had a breakthrough with one of their students. It is one of those moments when there is not a dry eye in the room! The beauty of this is that it allows all the leaders to share in the success of the weekend, not just the ones that had students who made major decisions. Those meetings are some of my favorite days of the whole year!
3 – Value small group leaders during the camp experience.
One thing we have at every camp is a leader lounge. We have a place, room or area at every event where leaders can break away for 15 minutes, sit on a comfortable couch, get a Coke and a bag of chips, or an apple and bottle of water, and just relax. We want to create a place for them to recharge, even for a short time. So, that leader lounge is very important! Our leaders really view this as a huge gift from us but it does not require a ton of work on our end. If they are going to give up their whole weekend, the least we can do is provide a place for them to relax for a few minutes and feel valued and appreciated. While that is great, the best thing you can do to value your leaders is allow them to lead. Give them the reins, set them up for great conversation, put the ball in their hands when it comes to leading the small group. Don’t let your disorganization or poor planning get in the way of the overall camp experience.