Here are seven absolutes needed for a church camp to grow. I believe this list applies to all kinds of summer church camp structures: 1) year round, paid staff camps; 2) volunteer led church camps on denominational church camp grounds; and 3) local churches who host their own camp.
1. Financial support from churches. It takes money to operate a camp and typically that money comes from a variety of sources – registration fees, grants, and funds from denominational headquarters. But if there isn’t a substantial willingness on the part of one or two big giving churches, it’s tough to keep it going. I have noticed that many camps, no matter the style or size, are anchored by one or two churches – either in attendance and/or in giving.
2. A passionate “we have to have this camp” kind of leader. Someone must believe in what God is doing at the camp. Someone must have a vision for what can be done at the camp. One of the key components for a gifted camp leader is a person who has the ability to rally people, other leaders and students to attend.
3. Evangelical at the heart. A growing and worthwhile church camp has for their main purpose a desire for students to know Christ. If a Christian church camp doesn’t have Jesus at the center, there will be trouble in the long run.
4. There must be leadership development. Camp is a perfect place for students to grow in ministry, for young adults to learn to serve with hands on experience and for volunteers to have a big impact on the lives of hundreds of kids. Camp boards, staff and directors, need to invest the time to intentionally structure these volunteer opportunities so getting people involved each week is more than filling gaps, but offering the church a place to grow and develop strong Christian leaders.
5. A small executive leadership team. Camp leadership teams need to be small and efficient. Leadership / planning /core teams are often way too over populated, from way too wide of a geographical area, to really accomplish great things. The executive team must be lean and mean and work together well to creatively plan for next year’s ministry.
6. Many roles for other adults and leaders to play a small, effective part in the ministry. It’s the job of the executive planning team to invite and involve many people in leadership for the camping program. It takes a huge number of people to make a week of camp or a summer of camping happen! Delegate, invite, divide, involve, create, pull in, and pray for more workers in the ripe harvest fields of camping ministry.
7. There must be fruit. How does a church camp grow – by the fruit that comes from it. Memories are made. Lives are changed in the name of Christ. Good programming, good worship, good messages, and a good sense of purpose all help to build momentum for future camping seasons. The fruit of a great camp is students wanting to return, families wanting to send students, students growing up to become leaders and God’s name lifted up and glorified as kingdom work is begin done.