The wonder of church camps

The wonder of church camps

Our church had its annual church camp last weekend. It was, as usual, a really enjoyable and useful time in the life of our church. The majority of the regulars from our church spent Friday evening to Sunday afternoon together at a campsite in the suburbs of our city, hearing three great talks from Luke 16 and having a lot of free time and good food together. While I am very tired while I write this post, I look back at the many good conversations and good times I had and am thinking hard about the best ways to apply what I learnt from Luke 16.

An annual church camp has been part of our church’s DNA for decades now. We even held a camp towards the end of 2020 when we had to socially distance and wipe the chairs down after every talk! It does seem, however, that many churches no longer have church camps. Or they have a camp, but it is seen as a young person’s thing, or perhaps something for the more committed people but not for everyone. I want to commend holding a camp or attending your church’s camp if they have one; it is worth the investment.

Let’s start with the negatives. Church camps are very time consuming and frustrating to organise. You need to get the big pieces in place like a venue and a speaker, but that’s usually the easy part. We always cater ourselves to save money and build community, but this takes organisation, managing people, buying food, and arranging rosters. The camp needs to be promoted and registrations arranged (which always come in late). Money needs to be budgeted and collected. And on top of this, the sleeping arrangements at camp are often inferior to what people have at home, so staying overnight is a sacrifice. All of this is true.

Yet let me point out some of the many advantages:

  1. It is a rare opportunity to get quantity time with our church family members. Most churches have a time of fellowship before or after the service on Sunday, but there is rarely time for deep and meaningful conversations. We can share meals together, but only with a few at a time. At camp we have the opportunity to build relationships in a way we don’t have the time for in much of the year.
  2. Camp is cross-generational. Kids love coming to camp, and sometimes they drag reluctant parents along with them. Yet the fact that all generations are present gives the adults unique opportunities to get to know the kids. As a pastor, I really enjoyed being in discussion groups with teenagers, sharing lunch with primary school aged kids, and playing sport with a mixed group. Families matter to us, and this is a concrete way of showing it.
  3. Camp gives an opportunity to welcome and integrate newer people. We have often seen those who have recently arrived in our church family leave camp with new friends and a stronger sense of belonging.
  4. Camp gives us the opportunity to focus on a Biblical text or topic. This camp we had three talks from Luke 16. While our church does work through Bible books week by week normally, the gap in between means sometimes we don’t see connections we should. Three talks on a weekend reinforce one another, and the connected discussion groups help us process what we have learnt.
  5. Camp gives people the opportunity to serve one another. Camp is a visible expression of one body with many parts. There are many things to do, from cooking to music to dishes to sport to conversations.

Our church values camp so much that we do all we can to get people to come. We budget a significant amount from our general fund towards it so we can keep registration fees very low so everyone can afford to come. We cancel our usual Sunday services so there is no second option. We promote it heavily.

If you have recently been to camp, keep up the momentum afterwards. Spend time considering how to apply the Biblical teaching. Have some new friends over for lunch the following week to continue the conversation. And if you have never gone to your church’s camp because you don’t like camps, consider the opportunities camp gives you that you cannot easily find elsewhere. The church family matters; camps are one great way to build that community.