I have worked as a speaker and leader at camps for over 30 years. Most of my summers have been spent training student pastors and small group leaders. After years of wrestling with what makes a camp experience work, I have become more determined than ever to help leaders rethink how they do camps. The optimal camp experience happens when the leaders who produce the camp and the churches who bring students both have a shared value related to small groups. Too many camps function more like a random events than a strategic experience. Every camp should be designed to have lasting value for the church beyond the week of camp.

A few years ago I sat down with a host of student pastors, including Ben Crawshaw and Kevin Ragsdale to analyze camp experiences. We dreamed about creating a unique student camp that was built around the value of small groups. We came up with 10 characteristics that make a student camp small group friendly.

  • small group leaders, not random adult chaperones, attend with students
  • main sessions limit production and length of time to compliment group
  • resources are provided during camp to enhance small group experience
  • SGLs are valued, and trained during camp experience
  • each camp is built around age group focus for relevance
  • speakers are coached so messages set up small group time
  • activities or missional opportunities are organized around small groups
  • churches are provided with a follow-up curriculum for small groups after camp
  • targeted social media experience is designed to engage parents with camp
  • organize logistics so small group leaders can stay focused on relationships

Too many camps focus their energy on creating a wow factor for the main stage sessions to the neglect of making small groups a priority. Both can happen, but unless the camp leadership authentically values small groups, the production will be the priority. There is a trend at many camps to over-produce and wear kids out physically and emotionally so there is not a lot of energy left to connect in the context of a group.

Those who create camp experiences should take a fresh approach. They should act like what happens in the small group, is more important than what happens on the stage.

Think about it this way.
Camp typically lasts a week.
Speakers and worship leaders leave.
Students go back to their church with their small group leaders.

So… which relationships do you think are most important?

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