Over the last several months I have spoken at about 10 different Christian Camps, couple that with many years of being a Youth Pastor and experiencing a myriad of other camps, I feel qualified to write this email on behalf of the Youth Leaders (and churches) you serve.
The reality is, most camps have many great qualities, every single one of these recent camps I have visited and almost every camp I have used in the past (church and Youthmark) certainly aspires to be Christ-honoring in what they do! Thank you for that!
This list is simply a list of some things I think camps can and should do to possibly improve your overall approach. Note: Some of these are listed because they are glaring weaknesses, whereas others are listed because I saw it done at a camp and I think all others should jump on this train):
- SIGNAGE! It should be obvious where a group should go the second they pull in to camp. Furthermore, I think you should have a greeter specifically assigned to meet the group leader in the parking lot and give them the arrival instruction (this means consistent communication before the trip and even in commute so they know when they’ll arrive). Every Group leader needs to know: Where do we go from here? where is the closest bathroom ? And where is my team meeting after we get them to cabins?
- LANDING ZONE! I think camps should have a covered area to unload busses, vans, etc. There’s nothing worse than unloading in the rain in the dark. Your “Landing Zone” can be well lit, covered and perhaps with good signs, can be the obvious place for your greeter!
- LANDSCAPING. Seriously, first impressions are lasting impressions. Camps who care about their grounds communicate that they care about their clients. I understand students may “mess up” the field with their crazy games, but you can have some flower gardens, walkways and sitting areas that aren’t play areas and the beauty will speak loudly about the camp.
- CHEAP BUT QUIRKY CONSTANTS. This may seem weird, but your cafeteria being stocked with a cereal station, toaster w/ bread and a lunch & dinner salad bar may make a world-of-difference for your clients. Even if the prepared food isn’t to my liking a bowl of cereal or a good green salad is a welcomed alternative.
- NO MORE NICKLE AND DIMING! I love it when I get to a hotel and read in the bathroom that if I forgot my toothpaste the hotel will be happy to supply me with that or virtually ANY toiletry I forgot. This is not what I am advocating for the camp (though it’s a nice touch), but several times this summer I was told that the camps charged extra ($5 a night) to supply linens (sheets and towels) for the speaker. Seriously? Help the group leader treat his/her speakers, pastors and speakers well by having some of those things as standard with the contract.
- WiFi. Yes, you should have it. Yes it should be free. Leave it to the user group to police how they want to use it (perhaps even give them the option of turning off routers in meeting areas).
- THINNER ISN’T A WINNER! Ultra-thin toilet paper is not the best cost saving move. If you can see through it, don’t buy it. Enough said.
- GREEN “REFUGE” ROOM. A room for “leadership” to grab a 5-10 minute break, an ice-water or hot coffee goes a long way toward making a lasting impression. Think “cafe” feel with no/low cost. Free brewed coffee or tea is great but don’t feel it is a must, sometimes just a quiet room with a “living room” feel for a Youth leader to grab a few minutes of rest is a big deal. I have seen it where the “Green Room” had a stocked fridge and a simple “donation box” on top of the fridge-great idea!
- IMPRESS THE LEADER, SPEAKER AND BAND. This one can sound extremely selfish, but honestly, if you impress me as the speaker or if you impress the Group Leader we are likely going to be the ones who become your spokespeople when we leave the camp. I tell people ALL THE TIME about great coffee shops and restaurants, don’t think that it is any different when it comes to camps! Go out of your way to make sure the leader is happy, the band is taken care of and the speaker is comfortable! I was so impressed this summer when one of the camps gave my wife a Golf Cart for her and my kids to get around! Believe me we let people know about this!
- PRAY TOGETHER & CELEBRATE SPIRITUAL VICTORIES! I wish all of the camps I have ever used took a greater interest in the actual ministry they were helping to facilitate. I’ve gotten “we’re praying for you” messages before and after camps, but never once have I been asked “how can we pray for you this weekend?” I think a spiritual partnership and interest in the agenda and ministries planned will go a long way for future partnerships! Have your guest services person pop in to the back of the service, worship with the group from time to time or even interact with campers… partnership is impressive!