The Ultimate Church Camp

Pool complex at QCCC’s Mapleton site

When it comes to a single event in the life of the church that moves relationships, community, vision, commitment, and many more critical dynamics, nothing beats a good church camp. Sunday services have limited potential for genuine connection and intimacy in community.  Church camps give that potential in plenty.  Crossover got a ‘camp professional’ to give us a run down on how to plan the Ultimate Church Camp:

Living onsite at one of the larger campsites in Queensland means I get to see quite a few church camps come and go on weekends each year. Up front I’ll confess I can always tell if it’s a church coming in because the rows of chairs go up in our main hall. More on that later!

I frequently get asked the question – “what can we do to make a great church camp?” What follows are my thoughts as a practitioner of camp and from having observed the best and worst of them.

Firstly, I think the effort and commitment to organise and follow through with a camp will repay itself tenfold. Last month we held a social day at Mapleton for the staff from the Queensland Baptists Head Office. I sat in on a subsequent staff meeting and was really encouraged to hear how just a few short hours at Mapleton had refreshed them and built into their relationships. It’s a picture replicated all over the country, week-after-week as people access camp sites and step into a place of blessed rest and relationship.

In this day and age I find it’s important to find a careful balance between teaching and relaxation. I know it’s tempting to take people away on a camp and see it as an opportunity to fit in as many teaching and devotional sessions as possible. But one of the long-term gains from a camping program lies in the strengthening of relationships which happens when people have down-time and the opportunity to hang out informally. This opportunity is precious in today’s high paced and internet-driven world where many already complain about information overload.

There are some problems with proposing a one-size-fits-all formula or a definitive template for everyone to follow because every group is unique and will go on a camp with different objectives and aims as well as different mixes of people.

However, here’s a rough timetable and some comments on a weekend program that I reckon would provide a significant and congregation-building weekend for the majority of groups.

Friday Night: Given most campers will have worked or studied a full week and then braved the 5pm rush on Australia’s major metropolitan highways they’ll probably arrive tired. For that reason I’d be reluctant to schedule an evening session. Let participants have time to find their rooms and get settled, let the camp staff bless them with a prepared meal (rather than fast-food on the way up) and leave the evening free for cuppas, chats and informal board games.

Saturday morning: One of the key principles for creating healthy community change is this. “Conversation is the way humans have always thought together – in conversation we discover shared meaning.” As mentioned above I’d encourage a balance between teaching and free time. I have seen some church camps arrive to fit as many as seven content sessions into a weekend (nothing wrong with this though I’d be inclined to brand it a “teaching camp” so participants know its purpose up front). While this provides a lot of information I do wonder how much sinks in for the long term.

I’m personally an advocate for fewer sessions, but for the sessions to set the scene for the weekend, provoking some leading and pro-active questions that can be picked up informally in conversation throughout the weekend. Saturday morning early seems the ideal time to fit one on, while campers are fresh, to set the tone for the weekend and to ask the questions to provoke conversation through the day.

On the topic of corporate gatherings, I now confess a personal bug-bear – chairs in rows. If we have a weekend craft group I can tell because the chairs and tables in our main hall get set up around the perimeter. This provides a much better setting for open interaction and visual site between everyone over the weekend. For similar reasons I reckon this is a far better alternative set-up for corporate meetings in a camp setting – if for no other reason than using camp to change things up.

Rest of Saturday: This may be going out on a limb but I wouldn’t schedule a lot for the rest of the day and into the night. By and large adults and families going away somewhere will naturally gravitate into shared, fun activities, and generally campsites have multiple options, both on and off-site, to pass the day very adequately and memorably. Chill out by a pool, take a canoe for a paddle, walk and enjoy the bush life, stroll through the shops and cafes that are nearby. All this undergirded by prepared meals which bring everyone back together, and generally become languid times of relationship building.

Sunday morning: Normally a time where church happens anyway so it naturally follows the morning is a time for a second corporate gathering.

However, my suggestion for the remainder of Sunday is somewhat counter-intuitive. Conventional wisdom might be to create a crescendo or tie things up neatly before campers make their way home. However we’ve found with our Father-child camps that ending with an hour or two of free time before lunch and no pre-determined departure provides for some very significant times of counsel and relationship.

This slow wind down leaves time for congregation to minister to each other and for campers to leave or stay as they’re ready. It’s a fitting way to end a camp built on pro-active conversation and relationship.

Andrew Grant is the Director of Camping for Queensland Conference and Camping Centres, a ministry of Queensland Baptists. He is publishing the development and growth of the QCCC camping ministry on his blog at www.andrewgrant.me.

He is also a one-eyed Manly supporter which may or may not affect your perception of him…

What are your thoughts?  What is the best structure to a church camp you have found? We welcome your comments.