Would you like to build better relationships within your youth group? Do you wish they would open up more during discussions? Would you like to see them become leaders? There is an easy way to achieve all of these things and more! All you have to do is take your youth camping!
The biggest reason camping holds so much potential is because it puts everyone in a relaxed and informal environment where fun experiences happen. This is a recipe for building community. Building community is the fast track to accomplishing your goals as a youth leader. Proximity to nature has many benefits that promote engagement such as decreasing anxiety, inspiring a sense of awe, and increasing dependence on others.
Here are a few (and easy) tasks you’ll need to tackle to put a camping event together.
1. Designate a planning team
This team should include two to three people. This is an opportunity to involve someone with camping experience. It’s ok to ask someone to help with planning even if they don’t go. Consider a church member, parent, or a friend. Remember to screen anyone who will work directly with the youth to ensure they are safe. You may also decide to invite families along.
2. Pick a date
You’ll need to decide the length of trip. A one-night trip is great for a first-time experience. You can work up to the campout with day trips to hike, paddle, or visits to the park. When selecting a date, strive to plan three months or more in advance to ensure time to find and reserve a location and to raise funds. Consider the best time of year in your area for good weather. Also, check your church/ministry calendar and the regular calendar to avoid conflicting with other events or major holidays.
3. Pick an activity
This is where you must decide what type of trip to do. Car camping (sometimes called drag-and-drop camping) is great for beginners because you can throw everything in the car and drag-and-drop it to the campsite. If you have the gear and expertise, you may decide to do a backpacking or overnight paddle trip. Your planned activities will influence your location selection.
4. Find a location
A location within 1 ½ hours works best especially when taking multiple vehicles. Be sure to figure in travel time there and back on your schedule. Look for places that offer a variety of recreational opportunities. Finding a location does not have to be difficult. Petition your church/ministry members for ideas. Your local chamber of commerce may be able to recommend locations. A mapping website or app like Google Maps is a great place to start. Other great websites include: www.tripadvisor.com, www.yelp.com, www.recreation.gov, and www.americasparks.com.
5. Fund your trip
Once you have decided on the type of trip that is within your comfort level, establish a budget. I recently led a backpacking trip for my local church and it only cost our church $5! Of course, it is easy to spend much more than that. But you don’t have to. Camping on a church/ministry members property can save reservation fees. Stay close to home to avoid large travel costs. Borrow gear when possible. Have your participants bring their own food and sleeping gear. Food that doesn’t have to be cooked eliminates the need for a stove (although a decent camping stove only costs around $50 and lasts a lifetime). Pick food items like pre-made sandwiches, trail mix, bagels, jerky, and fruit to avoid cooking or instant, just add water meals for simple cooking. Basic camping tents can be purchased new for cheap these days or borrowed for free. You can easily go without tents as I have done many times. On warm, clear nights camping under the stars on a tarp is a memorable experience!
Once you have estimated your cost and established a budget you may need to raise funds. Ask participants to pay a small fee of $5-$25. Ask for donations. Many people recall their own fun camping experiences and will be happy to contribute. You can always do a traditional fundraiser.
6. Start packing!
Before you begin throwing things in, create some lists. A list of needed gear is a necessity so nothing gets left. Send a packing list home with participants. Check you packed everything at least twice, but don’t get too discouraged if you forget something, it happens. Create a menu then build a food list with items that need to be purchased. I often find it helpful to make a schedule for the trip also. It doesn’t have to be detailed but will help the trip flow smoothly. It is also good to leave a schedule with parents or staff who are not attending so they know where you will be and when. This can prove life-saving in an emergency! Here is a link to a packing list.
7. Pick a theme!
This will make the experience extra special and keep the focus on spiritual matters. Here are some great ideas: The wilderness experience (of the Israelites, of Jesus), Discipleship, Witnessing. Try to pick one that will invite conversation. Camping is a great place to have deep discussions!
Camping holds a lot of potential to strengthen your youth ministry. It is an easy and cost-effective way to have fun while building relationships. It is an activity that everyone can participate in and just about everyone enjoys. If you haven’t tried it with your youth group yet or in the recent past, now is the time! For further reading on preparing for a campout, check out this link.
David F. Garner is a youth ministry worker in Nashville, Tennessee and Web Publisher at www.outdoorlessons.com. He loves to use the outdoors as a medium for teaching Bible principles just as Jesus did. He has worked in youth ministry for over nine years and especially enjoys summer camp ministry.