I get asked a lot of questions about student ministry, but there is one in particular that always confuses me. Every now and then someone will ask me this:
“Do you require Small Group Leaders to go to camp with your students?”
I try not to look at them funny when they ask because to me, camps are just as much for Small Group Leaders as they are for students. In fact, the main reason that we even do camps is to create opportunities for Small Group Leaders to spend extended time with their students.
Think about it.
Students don’t need camp in order to spend time with other students. They do that every day at school. Students don’t need camp to have fun. Most of their weekends are already filled with entertainment and fun right where they are.
But what students do need is time and fun with their Small Group Leaders. Leaders usually get to spend about an hour with their students during your weekly program, but camps give them around 40 hours of togetherness, fun, memories, nicknames, inside jokes, spiritual moments and honest conversations. That’s almost a year’s worth of Sundays in one long weekend. That’s why camps are as much for your Leaders as they are for your students.Camps are as much for your leaders as they are for your students. Click To Tweet
Students also need camps to get away from the busyness of their daily lives and focus on spiritual things. That’s precisely why we want every one of our Small Group Leaders to be there. When students take a step spiritually, whether that is to make Jesus their Lord and Savior, to be baptized, to begin serving, or to open up about some deep pain in their lives, we want their Leaders to be right there with them to navigate that decision or to process that pain.
After years and years of taking thousands of students to camp, I’ve found that most of the big decisions for salvation and baptism happen at camp in the context a conversation with a trusted Small Group Leader. Most of the heavy conversations about things like abuse, or sexual immorality, or suicidal thoughts happen at camp in the context of a conversation with a trusted Small Group Leader. For that reason, I think Small Group Leaders have the most important role at camp.
They’re not just glorified chaperones that wouldn’t be missed if they weren’t there. They’re key to the success of camp for your students.
You see, the problem with camps is that they work. There is something magical about getting away (especially overnight) and making memories that are tied to spiritual truth. Your students will bond to the adults that are at camp, so you might as well do everything that you can to make sure that the adults they’re bonding with are their trusted Small Group Leaders with whom they already have a relationship.
So once I’ve convinced people that they need their Small Group Leaders at camp, the next question is usually a good one: “How?”
How do you get such a high percentage of your Leaders to attend your camps every year?
Well, let me give you just nine quick tips that have helped increase Leader participation for us over the years.
1. Settle on a consistent annual camp calendar
One of the things that contributes to Leaders missing camps is constantly changing how many camps you do a year and how many there are. When you keep it consistent, they can mark their calendars and save the dates.
2. Communicate dates early and often.
Getting the next year’s camp dates to your leaders asap helps them block off those dates. They can work around their job schedules and family calendars to make room.
3. Set expectations during recruitment.
Letting people know that they are expected to be at two to three camps a year for the duration of leading a Small Group up front will help them decide if this is the right fit for them.
4. Pay for your leaders to go.
Build the cost of taking all of your Small Group Leaders to camp into your student camp fee. Budget for their costs so that you don’t have to ask them for anything other than their time.
5. Give them a gift.
Build the cost of a small gift like a t-shirt, mug, or hoodie into the student camp fee. It’s a simple way to show your appreciation to your Leaders for their time and sacrifice to make it to camp.
6.Give them a co-leader.
Everything is more fun when you have a friend. Leaders won’t feel so overwhelmed at camp when they can lead as a team and not have to shoulder the burden alone. Try to pair every Leader with a partner for the week of camp.
7. Give them space.
Camp is exhausting so provide a space where Leaders can break away for some downtime and refreshments from time to time.
8. Give them a coach.
Provide them with a mentor or coach who has led before. Give them access to someone who can cheer them on, answer their questions, and help them navigate any issues they face during camp.
9. Give them the most important job at camp.
Finally, if you want your leaders to feel irreplaceable at camp, give them the most important job there. Who else is going to have all of these important conversations with their students during camp? Let them know they play the biggest role there and give them the space to do it during their week of camp.
Hope this helps! It takes time to change the culture in your student ministry, but it is definitely worth the effort, both for you, your students, and your leaders.
Looking for a great camp option for your high schoolers this summer? Click here to check out High School Camp!