Monday, May 16, 2011

How to plan camp

Often Youth workers will ask..."How do I put together a Camp for my students"

Unfortunately I have no formula but I do have some experience. Here are 10 first steps to planning camp.

1. Do you want to do this? Seriously, ask yourself: "Is this something I want to do?" is there a benefit of planning your own camp that outweighs buying into a camp that already exists? This is important to establish because I know form experience that if you just like the title "Camp Director" and that's the main reason for your project you will hate your life very quickly! Running your own camp is no walk in the park...even if you are camping in a park (especially if you are camping in a park). Prayerfully write a purpose statement for camp. Without a purpose, you are just taking a very stressful vacation.

2. Consider a realistic numerical goal for attendance. Go through previous event attendance and pray about a number. We'd all love to run the most successful camp in the country and change thousands of students lives during our epic week-long program but that probably isn't what will happen...your visionary thinking may be commendable but your budget will not be. About 50% of your youth group attendance is probably a good starting point.

3. Pick a rough date. We put ours at the start of summer, it kicks everything off and all our other events begin the week after camp.

4. Research venues. No venue is perfect so have an idea in your head about what compromises are acceptable and what are not. Separate dorms for guys and girls is probably a non-negotiable, whether soda is served at dinner is probably not. Most venues will book over 12 months in advance.

5. Visit your prospective venues. It is worth the investment! You can get a feel for the campus or site before you sign contracts, ask every question you can think, don't be shy, you are the client. If your venue is too far to visit, I would suggest you think again. Most sites will require a minimum attendance, try to negotiate a number 10% lower than you expect. Pray about your decision.

6. Using the venue costs and transportation cost as a starting point begin to build a budget (more on this later), pray about your budget. Unfortunately a lot rises and falls on money.

7. Write a proposal. I complete a proposal and meet with my direct report to talk and pray it through, raise questions and share ideas. It helps to get details ironed out (so you have something to present) and helps to get the project out of your own head and into reality. It's painful to share a project that you love but those early meetings will help later on. If you don't have a direct report, then bring in a key volunteer.

8. Begin thinking about promotion. The more information you can give out early on the better...location, price etc.

9. Plan out a timeline. When will planning begin? When will registration be open?

10. Think of the whole. It's easy to let camp consume you...but there is life after camp (and before it for that matter) How will camp fit within your ministry year? or How will the Summer fit around camp?

Critcal vs Negative

I'm naturally critical but some might say negative.

Personally, I think there's a difference. Now I have no idea how Webster defines these words and to be honest I don't need to, it's the concept that I've been thinking about recently. The difference I'm talking about stems from the heart or intention behind the perception or the thought or the comment.

A critical eye (for the purpose of what I'm talking about) looks at something and sees where it isn't as good as it could be. It sees the potential and where the program, or person, or presentation misses the mark.

A negative eye (for the purpose of what I'm talking about) looks for what is wrong, plain and simple.

Does this matter? Well, yes. If you have a comment to say that is the opposite to a positive one ask yourself...."why do I feel like this?" Is it because you can see the potential of what this could be, and it falls shor,t or is it something else.

A critical eye is important, we need to be looking at what could improve what we're doing and how things are perceived. But, this requires action. Simply stating a problem, simply complaining about something or someone is just being negative. If you find yourself unwilling to be a part of the solution then the chances are your opinions are generated from a sinful trait...jealousy, anger, bitterness. If that's the case, you are better off (and so are those around you) if you keep quiet and get out of the way.

This doesn't give you free reign to walk all over people. You can't state your opinion just because you can see potential, of course not. You still need, tact and leadership and discernment. But none of those things will matter if your opinion stems from an insecurity within you.

Challenge negative thinking....don't be quick to discard it, but don't be quick to defend it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Leading can mean getting out of the way

We launched registration for HSM Summer Camp this weekend!

As the Event Coordinator this is not just my responsibility but my passion. I wanted a weekend service that would inspire students to register for camp. I wanted to do more than simply promote an event but really connect with their hearts and inspire something within them. I wanted students to come away from the weekend with a yearning for something more.

I think we achieved it!...By playing to people's strengths.

1. For design I asked Jonathan Witt to come up with a look and feel for Summer Camp 2011. I gave very little direction but described the event and let him create.

2. For stage and promo I asked our newest team member Parker Stech to take the design and make something that would stand out and catch students attention. He built a 3D 8ft version of the graphic - it was epic!

3. For music I asked Taffy (Student Ministry Worship Pastor) "To be awesome"
I didn't micro manage, I fully trust what his students can do and gave them full freedom. The choir and band sounded great but, better than that, they worshiped with genuine passion and infective joy. Taffy and a band of graduating seniors will lead worship for us at Summer Camp

4. For the "element of fun" I asked our weekend coordinator Chris Wohlers to use his personality and humor to simply be funny on stage. He ran a goofy "Let's Make a Deal" game in a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt and gave away a few free tickets to camp. Chris will be programming Chapel at Summer Camp.

5. For the message I brought in our Camp Speaker Ron Merrell. I gave him freedom in the topic and he gave a message that made us laugh, that challenged the way we see ourselves and that gave us a good glimpse into his heart and his journey. He was awesome! The best promotion I could wish for.

Lesson Learned: Leading sometimes means simply getting out of the way so that others can do what they were made for. It's easy to fall into the trap of "micro-managing" and trying to keep a hand in every element especially with projects that run close to our hearts. It's more effective, however, to "macro-manage" and play to the strengths of the team, to coordinate the big picture and allow individual team members to run each element with the skills they have.

Of course we need to learn new skills, stretch ourselves and each other but I love working in a way that sets others up to win so that together we can achieve our goal.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Number ONE question

The number One question I am asked is "how do you run Blacklight dodgeball"

Here are my thoughts on how we did it...

You need to blackout the room pretty well, so it will be tricky to tell who was hit (even if people are wearing white) so just be aware of that as you go into it - it will be more about the experience than the competition!!

We purchased white dodge balls but they didn’t reflect the UV too well so we sprayed them with neon paint which worked brilliantly - orange and pink seemed to be the best. Then we sprayed some painters overalls for the judges to wear.

I rented the black lights from they are super helpful and can advise how many you'll need, at the time they charged $100 each.

They mail the lights to you a day or so prior to your event and then you mail them back in the same boxes etc. I paid for prepaid shipping labels (around $10 per unit) so the day after all I had to was stick the label on and Fedex them back.

Crank up the music, add a few siren lights or whatever strange lighting effects you have lying around from the last smoothie bar event you ran and that's it.

Super fun game to run in the middle of the night at camp!!

Student Leaders at Summer Camp

Our Summer Camp has traditional only been available to students entering grades 9 through 12 that following Fall.

This year we are using a team made up of some of our current 12th graders to help us plan and execute Summer Camp. This has been offered to students that we feel will respond well to this type of task and training, who love camp and who have remained engaged and active in the ministry through their Senior year.

Not only does this increase number of students that camp is available to, it also provides a unique training opportunity. These Student Leaders will follow a fairly intensive leadership track at camp that balances working to run camp with being spiritually fed and challenged at the same time. They will be stretched in terms of leadership, responsibility and in their relationship with Jesus. In addition to meeting together to plan they will have their own debrief/devotional track that runs parallel to the other students. Plus we get the benefit of their creative input and energy!

It'll be hard work but hugely rewarding and I can't wait to see how it turns out! At the end of camp student leaders will receive a letter of recommendation from HSM (plus an incredible week to finish their time in HSM).

Here's a question...

I received a question regarding rooming in a hotel at a student minsitry event so I thought I'd share....

Q: I'm contacting some of the other bigger churches to ask a question on how you organize rooms on retreats when it comes to hotel rooms. Recently we had a concern from two parents about one of our last trips. One was worried if there was no adult in the room who would keep someone from bullying her son. The other parents concern was she didn't want an adult sleeping in the same room as her middle school son. Do you put only students in a room together or do you put students and one adult? And what is your ultimate reasons behind your decision?

A: I have run events for both Junior High and High School Students using hotels. For Junior High we would always have an adult in each room. I request 2 Queen beds (4 students) and then usually provide an air mattress for the leader. For High School events I have had a leader overseeing 2 rooms, usually with an adjoining door if possible but this isn’t my ideal. Usually the co-leader would look after the additional room.

We have used hotel suites before that have a bedroom with 2 Queens and then a pullout in the living room which separates leaders/students. All our leaders have been cleared and fingerprinted by DoJ and interviewed by our staff before they are approved to be leaders in our ministry.

In my previous church in the UK we wouldn’t put adults and children together but I also wouldn’t have used a hotel unless I could have exclusive use of it (or at least the entire floor). Unfortunately you have to gauge your culture and then defend your decision.

Any other thoughts?

Monday, November 22, 2010

So...Cookies vs Coke

At the start of the year we held a parent reception at the launch of a new year of Student Life Groups.
My brief was fairly simple..."Create an environment to allow parents to connect with ministry staff and each other, hear the vision for the year ahead and pray for their students"

My budget was around <$1 per person and I had about 24hrs to pull it together.

Some of my team were convinced that we need to provide a snack (preferably cookies) for parents. My reluctance was that to make cookies or cupckaes look appealing you need a lot (either quantity or budget) and then you are often left with a ton of excess food.

We had hot weather at the time of this event (thanks SoCal) so I landed on a simple soft-drinks reception outside. Attendance for these type of events are difficult to predict but excess drinks can either be returned or stored for future use.

I borrowed some kiddie pools form childrens' ministry, filled them with ice and added bottled soft drinks. We made centerpieces using balloons left over from another event. I bought all those soft drinks that people love but never buy (people went nuts over an ice cold coke in a glass bottle) which made it a pleasant treat for parents on a warm evening.
Add in lots of cheap bottled water, some up-lighters, chilled music and some grade signs made out of photographs of students (frames borrowed from adult ministries) and you have a reception.

The highlight was parents gathering up in groups based on their students grade and praying for our ministry, for their students relationship with God and for the year ahead. It was super powerful.

Here's a few guidelines I loosely stick to for this kind of event...

1. Keep it simple - you don't need to put on an elaborate song and dance just create something that appears professional and thought through.
2. Keep it short - parents are the busiest people I know, acknowledge that and don't keep them longer than they want to stay.
3. Show you care - make it heartfelt, be ready to work the crowd and be available not just for formal questions but be personal.