As a Children’s Pastor, I’ve gone to summer camp for 9 years. This summer will be my 10th Summer Camp (where I’ve actually taken my own kids to camp). Of the 9 camps, seven of them were what I would call “catalytic experiences.” Two of them were several days of fun. The two “fun” camps were camps that were already planned and I took the kids to, either because we didn’t have enough kids to take on our own or I was new on the job and there wasn’t time to put it together on our own.

First of all, I’m not saying that a camp can only be a “catalytic experience” if you plan it yourself. There are a handful of camps out there that serve up a life-changing experience with relevant and challenging content. However, I’ve seen churches plan their own camps that were anything but catalytic.

What do I mean by “catalytic?”

Essentially a catalyst is a spark or reaction that begins a bigger event or change. I feel that camp is often a catalytic experience for kids… that leads to greater life-change.

Over the years of both leading camps and experiencing camps as a kid, I’ve found a few things to be possible at camp.

  • Camp can be a relationally rich experience where kids go from casual acquaintances to life-long friends in only 4 days. Remember, the kids who attend camp may spend as many hours at camp that they will spend at church all the following year.
  • Camp can be a spiritually rich experience for kids. Too often kids don’t “get” the message from Sunday to Sunday because of distractions, things going on at home or other reasons. With kids being at church one Sunday and not the next, we often don’t get the opportunity to build teaching upon teaching to really get somewhere. Because kids are a captive audience at camp, we can really go somewhere with these kids and as a result, kids make life-long decisions.

I’ve been to camps where this is the case and camp where this hasn’t been the case. My encouragement to you is to consider this when looking for or planning a summer camp.

  • Is there ample time for the kids to develop strong and wholesome relationships?
  • Are there strong leaders in place to help the kids behave and treat each other respectfully so that kids can open up and get to know one another on a deeper level?
  • Are leaders who will be in the lives of these kids all year encouraged to come to camp to kick off these relationships?
  • Are the messages relevant and age-appropriate?
  • Are the communicators skilled at speaking to kids (I’ve seen youth or adult speakers totally miss this connection with the kids)?
  • Are the talks “kum-ba-ya” messages that don’t challenge life-change and call kids to action?
  • Is there a good forum for small-group discussions after sessions for adults to help kids process decisions and make connections from what they heard to putting it into action?

These are all really important things to be on your radar. Camp is expensive and time-consuming, but if you don’t expect HUGE results from camp, then I’d suggest that you’re wasting your time and money. Go in prepared and come home with kids who will never be the same! I’m the testimony of a life-changed at camp. It was actually at camp as a 5th grader that I first became aware that God was calling me to kidmin. How amazing is that? It can be and should be just as amazing for your kids too!