Chapter OneCamps and Retreats
Organizing successful camp and retreats is one of the more complex
and time-consuming tasks a youth leader faces. It can also be one of
the most life-changing experiences your students can have during
their adolescence. No matter what kind of camp or retreat you're
planning, you'll find vital information here to help you.
Basic Principles of Running
Camps and Retreats
Most churches have some kind of camping program,
but many churches do not have a consistent,
well-thought-out camping philosophy.
It is obvious that at some point your youth
group ought to formulate a camping philosophy
notebook which can be used indefinitely for whoever
is responsible for the camping program. To
help you with that formulation, we have attempted
to provide you with a summary of the most effective
camping information available.
People-Program-Facility. That is the fundamental
order of priorities for any camping philosophy. For
some, the facilities are most important. But fancy
cabins with carpeting and drapes cannot compensate
for poor leadership and shabby programming.
Many churches meet at campgrounds where the
camp director is also the director of maintenance.
Too often this results in a program that serves the
facility. The kids get lectured for scuffing the floor
or a game gets canceled because it might dirty the
meeting hall, etc. The most important aspect of
any camping program is the leadership personnel.
Poor, even inadequate facilities can be compensated
for if the program and personnel are tops.
Food. Good food does not mean expensive food.
Spaghetti is fine as long as it is not overcooked.
Hot dogs and sloppy joes are great as long as they
are not soggy. If the food is poor, the kids will
never forget it. Not only must you have good quality
food, but you must have plenty of food so that
the kids feel free to go back for seconds and thirds.
Results. Many decisions are made at camps and
conferences. But for many churches the only justification
of the camping program is the number of
decisions made at camp. It is more important to be
concerned with the process of contemplation that
occurs at camp rather than the results, meaning
overt public response to a message or messages.
Camp is a time for self-evaluation away from the
rut of the teenage environment. It is a time for new
thoughts and new experiences. Kids are able to
concentrate their thinking while hearing the message
in concentrated form.
It's not unusual to hear young people talk about
their decision made at a conference and subsequent
failure to live up to it. It is so important to prepare
campers for the inevitable "honeymoon's over"
feeling. Prepare them for the sobering reality of
going home where everything is exactly the way
they left it. Be careful that you do not communicate
to kids that the entire value of their time at
camp is determined by their positive response to
the call for commitment.
Post-Camp. After each conference, consider having
the campers take over one of the church services.
Include a camp choir (made up of all the
campers), testimonies, report on camp, and, if possible,
a short talk by the camp speaker. (Encourage
the speaker to relate his or her remarks to what was
said at camp.) A general report to the church
accomplishes a number of important goals: First of
all, those who did not attend will get a feeling for
the spiritual progress made at camp. Secondly,
those parents who have just heard about the worst
things at camp (kids always tell their parents the
worst) will get a more complete view of the conference
by hearing the positive and constructive side.
Another suggestion is to have a camp reunion
about a month or so after camp, where camp
movies are shown along with refreshments and a
short follow-up message by the camp speaker. This
is an excellent way to keep contact with those who
attended camp but for some reason haven't kept in
touch with the church or youth group.
The survey on page 15 was used at a large high
school camp to feel the pulse of the kids. It was a
great help to the camp leaders and speakers in
determining just what direction to move in.
Personal Goal Setting
Before your group leaves for a retreat, give personal
goals charts on page 16 to group members.
Encourage teens to list their goals for the retreat in
the right-hand column. They may want to include
goals such as making new friends, controlling their
temper, or growing closer to God. They can share
their goals with one other person if they like.
During the retreat, give your teens time each night
to fill in their charts using the symbols found
beneath it. At the end of the week, discuss whether
or not goals were reached and why. Ben Sharpton.
Believe it or not, the schedule of a camp is one of
the prime factors affecting the outcome of the conference.
If the schedule is too structured, the
campers will complain and rebel; but if the schedule
is too unstructured, then the campers will be
bored and complain that there is nothing to do.
The following schedules are representative schedules
from some of the most effective camping programs
in the country:
7:30 Evening meeting
9:00 Special activity
11:00 Lights out
7:00 Wake up
11:30 Discussions, small groups, lecture
1:30 Free time
7:30 Evening meeting
11:00 Lights out
7:00 Wake up
11:30 Morning meeting
1:30 Head for home
Junior high may require a slightly earlier lights-out
time. College age can go to bed when they
7:00 Wake up
9:15 Cabin cleanup (for junior high only)
10:00 Morning meeting
11:15 Elective seminars
1:30 Free time
4:30 Optional seminars
7:00 Evening meeting
8:30 Evening activity (some groups reverse the order and
have the evening activity first with the meeting afterward)
11:00 Lights out
Junior high usually requires more structure;
therefore, we recommend the following adaptation
of the preceding morning schedule:
7:00 Wake up
9:00 Cabin cleanup
9:40 Morning meeting
10:30 Organized individual activity (archery, riflery)
11:30 Special team competition
Most teens complain about having to go to bed so
early and get up so early. By establishing camp
time, you can let them go to bed at 2 a.m. and get
up at 9 a.m. Make the first matter of camp business
the establishment of camp time. Have all the
campers move their watches ahead two hours
(maybe more or less). All activities will be held
according to camp time. Even though the teens
know about the time change, they really respond to
the new hours. This works most effectively at a
week-long resident camp. Ron Wells
The First Day
The most important day in camp is the first. Make
sure the first impression is best by providing plenty
of good food, varied and exciting activities, and
quality content. Give the campers enough free
time to explore and get acquainted with the surroundings.
If travel has been long, have very short
meetings and plenty of activity. The first message
should be light, allowing the campers an insight
into the speaker as a person as well as a preview of
what's going to be discussed.
Morning Meeting. The morning meeting should
be designed for maximum participation from the
campers. The following suggestions represent some
of the most effective ways to accomplish this:
-Precede the morning meeting with a personal
or cabin devotional time where the passage for the
morning can be studied and discussed. Then during
the morning meeting the campers can share what
-Have the entire group watch a short role-play
that presents an unresolved dilemma. Then have
the campers meet in cabin groups or discussion
groups and discuss the role-play. Bring the group
back together again and have them share their
conclusions. They could do the role-play again,
changing it however they wanted.
Seminars. Seminars are 1- to 1 1/2-hour sessions on
specialized subjects. There can be open seminars
(no limit to the number that can attend) or closed
seminars (limited attendance). A variety of seminars
should be offered so that the campers have a
good choice of topics. Seminars can be theology
oriented (the Holy Spirit, the justice of God), issue
oriented (materialism, sex), Bible oriented (study
of Romans), or small-group oriented.
Limited seminars should offer class cards on a
first-come-first-serve basis. When a class is full,
campers can then attend their second choice. Total
class cards should equal total number of campers.
Evening Meeting. This meeting is the most important
of the day. It should be looked forward to. A
good evening meeting includes lots of singing, good
fun, quality special music, and a lot of variety. It
should not last longer than an hour and a half.
Lunchtime Fun. Lunchtime can and should be the
focal point of fun and information. It can include
announcements of the afternoon schedule, special
events, point totals, cabin cleanup, birthdays, skits,
stunts, entertainment, and mail call. The following
is typical of the lunchtime humor:
Cabin-Cleanup Fashion Show. All the items
are modeled by the cabin inspector. The clothes
have been found lying around the cabins.
Sometimes the clothing must be helped out of a
suitcase. As the week progresses campers begin to
catch on and leave some of their friends' items out.
The cabin inspector puts on all the clothes at
the same time. There should be a good combination
of bathing suits, pajamas, robes, and nighties.
By careful planning, the clothes can be put on in
such a way that as each piece is taken off and given
to the owner (who must claim it), the next item is
seen for the first time. For example, you would
have a bathing suit covered by a nightie covered by
long john pajamas covered by a robe.
Non-Skilled Competitive Activities. The most effective
recreation program consists of a mixture of
skilled and non-skilled competitive activities.
Skilled competition, such as volleyball, baseball, and
football, should be available on a voluntary basis
during free time. Team competition or required
recreation should be non-skilled, such as broom
hockey, balloon basketball, American Eagle, etc.
Non-skilled activities like those are fun to watch,
fun to participate in, and never depend on ability.
Consider water carnivals, swim meets, water balloon
events, boating events, snow activities, special
events, and much more appropriate for camps and
Teams. In camping situations longer than a weekend,
it is desirable to divide the group into teams.
Teams can benefit the camping program or be
detrimental, depending on your view of competition.
If every activity in camp is based on team
competition, campers become polarized with the
success or failure of camp resting on whether or not
their team wins the competition. You can overcome
-Limiting competitive activities to one or two
-Allowing the first place team to compete first
in all events. Almost always the teams following
learn from the others' mistakes.
-Announcing competition results only once a
Names of teams can be anything from serious to
ridiculous. Teams can elect captains, cheerleaders,
mascots, and write their own cheers, fight songs,
etc. The ridiculous teams can be anything from
cartoons ("Peanuts") to their own creation (The
Olive Pits). For serious names one group named
their teams Faith, Love, Hope, and Charity. Each
team was given a camcorder and told to make a
short three-minute video (serious or humorous)
that communicated the name of their team.
Points. Points are free, so why give a team three
points when you can give them 300 or 3000?
When a team receives 3000 points, they really feel
like they've won something.
Points can be given for just about anything.
Remember, the important thing is not winning but
having a good time. So don't overdo it. If one team
is running away with the score, you can always
even things out by giving penalty points, bonus
Points can be used to recognize a variety of
interests or skills:
-Polar Bear Swim: A delightful morning swim
around 6 a.m. Those who manage to make it to the
water then must fulfill certain requirements (swim
out to the diving platform, etc.). These brave souls
not only receive points for their team, but they also
receive a membership card in the Polar Bear Club.
-Midnight Swim: Another chilly way to spend
the late evening.
-Mountain Climb: A semi-difficult march
through some rugged terrain for points and membership
The weekly team winner can receive a special
prize, such as an ice cream sundae, but most of the
time winning is enough.
Rules are a necessary part of every camp. Many
church camps suffer from an overabundance of
rules, however. Too many rules and you begin to
create more problems than you prevent. Certainly
we cannot dictate a specific set of rules, but we can
give you some important guidelines for establishing
your own set.
The fewer the better. Many rules do not need to
be mentioned. The kids already know they cannot
bring drugs to camp, for example.
Do not try to establish your authority by a stern
demeanor or an authoritarian lecture. Make the
rules light, firm with a slight touch of humor.
(Instead of saying, "No rocks thrown in the lake,"
say "We have a game that you are not allowed to
play at camp; it's called 'bomb the duck.'")
Never bluff. When you announce certain consequences
for breaking a rule, be sure to carry it out.
It is better to keep quiet about punishment and
deal with each situation individually.
Deal with situations as they arise privately with
those involved. Public flogging happened in the
Middle Ages. Stay away from punishments that
involve the entire camp. Public incidents that
cause the whole camp to suffer can ruin the entire
experience for the campers.
Never deprive a camper of food, sleep, or shelter.
Rules should be stated positively to create the
understanding that they are for the betterment of
the camping experience. Rules are not set to force
people to act like Christians.
The Dean. The dean's responsibilities are to coordinate
the total recreation and entertainment function
of the program. This person is the platform
personality and makes all decisions regarding the
program. The dean is the liaison between the
campground personnel and the program personnel,
and is in charge of all counselor meetings.
Boy's Dean and Girl's Dean. These two handle
most of the discipline (except in serious cases
which require involvement by the dean). Their
main responsibility is to check cabins after lights
out and make periodic checks during meetings.
Speaker. The speaker presents much of the content
of the conference. One meeting per day
should be the maximum expected of this person for
the general meetings. Seminars or electives allow
the campers freedom not to hear the speaker again.
Of course, speakers can teach seminars or electives
to a smaller group, but too much exposure can hurt
their effectiveness. You should always provide the
speaker with the following:
-Private lodging and restroom
-Bedding and linens
-Honorarium (previously agreed upon) before
he or she leaves
Recreation Director. This person is in charge of all
recreation regardless of whether it is competitive or
free time. The director also organizes team competition
that involves judging, point totals, rules, and
Counselors. The counselors' responsibilities
should not be limited to the actual time spent at
camp. Ideally, there should be a relationship begun
before camp and continued long after camp is over.Relationship, leadership, and responsibility are the key
words for the effective counselor. First of all, the
counselor is there to build a close relationship with
the camper that, hopefully, will result in an atmosphere
of openness and trust. It is the counselor's
responsibility, secondly, to discern where leadership
is needed to guide the camper toward growth. Of
course, it is after camp when the counselor can be
of real help by encouraging and making time available
to be together. Counselors should be at least
college age, be from the same church, and be well