The Importance of Excellent Summer Camp Programming

A couple of months ago, I went the CCI Alberta/BC/Territories Regional Conference. It was a really great time of networking, sharing resources, learning new things and just hanging out with other camp professionals. Isn’t it great to be in a room full of people who are all working towards the same broad goals?

At the conference, I had the pleasure of attending a session with Sid Koop of Truth Matters Ministries, where he talked about the importance of developing a really great summer camp program. As you’re now probably in the thick of things, program-development-wise, I thought now would be a great time to share some of the notes I took away from this session. I hope you’ll find the information helpful as you go forward with your programs this summer!

Why do excellent programming?

Because excellent programming says, “I love you” to the campers, and that’s really why we’re all here in the first place. Details and extra effort are worth it — it creates an environment that says, “we’re so glad you’re here!”

Not only does excellent programming show your campers you’ve worked hard to make their camp experience special, but it creates a culture of excellence among the rest of the staff. When a program is really great, staff want to work harder to showcase it.

Lastly, excellent programming builds a healthy community. Camp is about so much more than just the activities you’ve schemed up for the kids to try. It’s about those moments in between, where kids get to know each other, the camp staff and, hopefully, God. As you consider your program this summer, think to yourself: “will my program encourage growth beyond just the program elements for these kids?” Essentially, how will your program shape the conversations kids have between activities? How will it inspire the kids to ask questions? Will the program make it easy for this community of growth to happen at camp?

How do we build a great community at camp?

Kids probably don’t think of their camp experience using the term “community”, but that’s really what it is. So how do we build a great community (even if it’s only for one week before we have to start all over again)?

Think about shared experiences. Think of events that staff and campers can reminisce about later. These kinds of activities create a bond among those who were there to experience them.

Think about the time spent with campers. At camp, we get 24 hours a day with these kids. Are we using it well? Do our actions during this time say, “I love you”, or “I’m just doing my job”?

Think about fun. Fun is important to kids. Kids should describe their camp experience as “fun”! Fun makes the whole week more memorable, and help kids really engage with the activities and with each other.

Think about creating a safe environment. You camps should feel safe to share their stories. Does your program allow time for the kids to get to put in their two cents, or ask questions? If not, it needs to.

And most importantly, think about creating the space within your program for kids to connect with Christ. This can be done through evening devotionals or morning chapels. But you can also program certain elements that will allow for kids to connect with God as part of their regular activities. For example, a nature walk can have an integrated prayer walk. Try to think critically about the spaces you’re creating for this intimacy with God to happen for your campers.

“There is a real correlation between the excellence of programming and how open the kids will be to receiving the gospel,” Sid says. I couldn’t agree more.

Some key principles for excellent programming:

Your first encounter may be your most important encounter. First impressions are important, so make yours count. When the campers drive onto the property, what do they see? Try to make your registration day a fun event! Blast music, have staff dressed up according to your program’s theme, set the tone that this will be the best week ever! One camp I attended as a kid had a strong horse program, so on registration day, they’d have two horses and riders standing out at the front gate. They were only there to wave at the kids as they drove in. I remember seeing those horses and cowgirls out the window of my parents’ car, and getting so excited to ride horses that week.

Be purposeful and intentional in all areas of programming. Think about what your programming is really for, and work towards that in all of your planning. Make sure that your program facilitates the relationship between staff and campers, and gets whatever message you’re trying to send to the kids across.

You should be putting the most work into what you think are the most important moments. If salvation is most important to your ministry, as it probably is, how are you choosing to plan your chapels and campfires? Are these just boring stretches of time the kids have to sit through in order to get on with the rest of their fun, or are they exciting, engaging, meaningful events that the kids look forward to? And, as I mentioned above, first impressions count: so how great will your first chapel be?

The last thing I’d like to mention, is that not all program budgets were created equal. Some have it in the budget to hire amazing speakers and special bands, and to create expensive activities. Others don’t. Excellence is not a matter of resources — it’s a matter of what you do with the resources you have. One of the best things about camp ministry, is that it is, by very nature, a thing kids are dying to experience. They have no idea whether you have a huge budget, or zero budget. They’re just there to have fun and experience community. Make sure you deliver on those aspects.

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