Summer Retreats: The Ultimate Youth Pastor Checklist
Summer Retreats: The Ultimate Youth Pastor Checklist
Summer camp is a HUGE deal in most youth groups. Not only is it a great time to escape with your kids and do something fun and exciting, but you also get a chance to worship and talk to them about God. Head to the mountains or beaches and fill the week with pillow fights, silly pranks, campfires, and games. Oh and no sleep (there won’t be much time for that!). Don’t forget team competitions – they build camaraderie and create the best memories!
So whether you’re joining forces with other churches or doing this solo, make sure you have a game plan set for the BEST summer retreat ever. Here is a foolproof checklist to help you when planning your summer camp!
PRE-PLANNING (6 months out)
- Decide on the goals. What is the end result you hope for? Do you want to focus on fun and games? Community building? Spiritual encounter? Deep biblical teaching? What do you want to see planted in your youth group during summer camp this year? For us, our deepest desire is that our teens would taste and see that the Lord is good. This means we want them to have fun, but more than that, we want them to encounter the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. God is real! And for many of our kids, camp is the first place they realize that for themselves.
- Decide on a theme. Having a theme is important because it gives your entire camp a cohesive element throughout the week. It will set the tone for all the games, messages, and worship. So make sure you approach it with prayer and Bible study. Once your team (volunteers, staff, and parents, etc) decides on a theme, you will have amazing “buy-in” and a greater success rate.
- Decide where you will have the camp. This is important as well because the location determines the atmosphere for worship, the activities you’ll do with your kids, and the overall “camp experience.” Not to mention that it’ll also be a large factor of your cost per student. Once you find a place that works for you, BOOK IT!
- Start making promotional material. Awareness is one of the keys to success in a youth ministry. Start communicating often and early. Do some sort of “Save the Date!” campaign as early as January to let your kids know the basics of what they need to know. It can be a simple flier with the dates, location, and theme. And you can also bring up the same info (plus the vision for the event) at the parent meetings.
- Start making a checklist. Write down everything you need to do and get it done! Recruit the people you want involved (youth leaders, speakers, worship team, etc) and plan out all the logistics for camp. You’ll have to think of everything from food to transportation to schedules. It’s takes a lot of work to plan a retreat, but you can do it!
- Plan to do some fundraisers. Sometimes camp can be expensive and not all kids can afford to go. Having fundraisers is a great way to build teamwork and a servant’s attitude in your kids even before the event starts. So plan ahead for some sort of fundraising campaign. Any money you make can go to lowering overall costs and/or go towards scholarships for kids that want to go.
PRE-TRIP PLANNING (3 months out)
- Set the cost. Knowing what it will cost to do the camp, and then determining how much each student needs to pay and factoring the cost of your adult leaders (who you shouldn’t make pay to come) is an important step! Do it now.
- Make your promo material. This may require special attention like hiring someone, finding a volunteer, or just getting Microsoft Publisher. In any event, you need to have some good looking material to give kids and parents if you want them to show up. Quality starts EARLY.
- Have a parent (or planning) meeting: At this meeting you need to have the what, where, when and most importantly, the why ready. You need to have permissions slips, informational fliers, and a promo video ready to go.
- Start fundraising. We will be having three fundraisers this year, one that is a 6-week ongoing fundraiser after church, and two special fund raisers, like a pancake breakfast or something. Need some fund raiser ideas? Here at ten that I think are pretty cool: http://www.fundraiser-ideas.net/ideas-for-fundraising/
- Start recruiting staff. Finding people that can take a week off of work is hard. Finding people you WANT to come to camp that can take a week off of works is even harder! So start early. I start with parents of teens first, and then move to the college age. I really want our parents to be involved and summer camp is a GREAT way for them to see what God is doing in our youth group, invest in them, and be with their own kids. Then start working on some maturing college students. Most of them have time and some disposable income, so encourage them to start serving at Summer Camp.
PRE-TRIP PREP (2 months out)
- Start planning the schedule. You already know when camp is, so plan how each day will go. Consider everything – the weather, team meetings, breakout sessions, meals, games or activities, messages, and free time. All are important and must be scheduled! Also start assigning people to each task, that way your team will know what they’re doing too.
- Start planning the games. Playing games and having competitions can be a fun way to get kids to interact and get involved with each other. Plan games that are different from “normal” youth group games. Do something bigger than what you normally do (instead of just Dodgeball, play water Dodgeball or Killerball). Or get creative with it (Dodgeball on a giant Slip n’ Slide covered in chocolate syrup and vegetable oil while adults spray kids with a fire hose!)
- Start preparing messages. If you’re going to be the key speaker, start preparing early for the messages you are planning to give. If not, at least start to ask those people who will be doing breakout sessions if they have started on their messages. One of the enemies of quality and excellence is procrastination.
Start taking sign-ups. Start taking permission slips, money, or at the very least, names, emails or phone numbers. That way you can get a head count and keep parents and students informed and up to date on what is going to happen at summer camp.
PRE-TRIP PREP (1 month out)
- Start preaching messages that lead up to camp. This will start to set the spiritual climate for summer camp. You have goals the Lord has laid on your heart for camp, so start sowing into that and watch the Lord cause some growth! As a side note, it is a great way to get kids excited about camp!
- Continue fundraising.
- Continue taking sign-ups.
- Hold a volunteer/staff meeting. Making sure that camp counselors and volunteers know what they are doing and why they are doing it is very important! They are probably taking off work or at the very least rearranging their schedules for this, so make sure they have a place/job at camp. Helping them to participate is a huge part of your job as a youth pastor and will help make your summer camp a huge success!
- Communicate with every student. This may depend on your sign-ups at this point and the kind of communication you have had up to this point, but calling every single student and inviting them to come to camp will go a long way in making them feel wanted and it will increase your camp attendance. At our church we have 125% attendance to camp because kids invite their friends! This is a testament to low cost and great relationships.
PRE-TRIP MEETING (Day of)
- Be Prepared! They day of camp can be confusing and frustrating if you aren’t prepared. This can be broken down into several subcategories:
- Be sure all your adults/volunteers/staff are 30 minutes early for prayer and a quick meeting on where they need to be and what they are doing.
- Have all your transportation prepared (tires filled, gas filled etc.) and inspected BEFORE kids arrive and have them lined up where you will have kids pile in with numbers on each van.
- Have a location and corresponding vehicle for luggage for guys and gals. Make sure it’s marked and highly visible.
- Have a sign in area with a table (or two) and two leaders that can receive money, check off the list, verify permission slips etc. Have extra permission slips in case any are missed, or you have last minute sign ups.
- After kids have signed in and loaded luggage, have a place for them to gather (and something to do) as they wait for the pre-trip meeting.
- Have the kids put in teams, dorms/tents and assigned to vans BEFORE today. This will make sure there is no confusion about which van they are supposed to be in, or which cabin they belong in.
- Prepare to lead. Everyone is looking to the leader; you set the tone for the rest of the trip. Be ready to lead your group from the moment camp starts all the way until the end.
- Have a meeting with kids and adults. Set expectations, rules, consequences and how the day is going to go. Let your teens know what they will be doing! Also, explain the PRIZE for team competitions (if you have them).
- Have FUN! Start the competitions off early by having kids sit BY TEAM in the pre-trip meeting. Maybe start off the day with a game and the donning of the first points.
POST CAMP PREP
- Have NEW staff ready to help unload and clean. Coming back from camp, most adults are exhausted. Cleaning the vans/church/unloading is not a task any of them look forward to, and much of the time things just get left dirty and messy, or the youth pastor ends up cleaning it all. Have some fresh mea… errr, staff there to help unload, clean up, wait for parents, and put away. If you can pull this off, you’ll go a long way with your tired staff, and the pastor/board/church will love you because you left everything clean and in order!
- Do all your paperwork. Making sure that we keep every receipt is only half the battle; we must also turn it in! Make sure you follow through with green sheets, orange sheets, spreadsheets and QuickBooks and you will never have a problem getting money from your church treasurer.
Do a follow up event. Kids will have an amazing time at camp. They will have life changing events and God-encounters. Have a post-camp event that let’s them see pictures, laugh, remember, and revisit the “mountain top experience”. It’s important that they know that the “mountain top” is actually the normal God has for them. Living on the mountain top is the abundant life Jesus talked about. Walking in the Spirit daily is God’s ideal for us.
My name is Nathan Cornett and I live in San Diego, CA. I have lived here all my life and I absolutely love it! San Diego has the perfect (in my opinion) blend of city and rural life with nearly "perfect" weather most of the year. For example, most thanksgiving dinners I am in a pair of board shorts and returning from an afternoon of great surf. During the dead of winter I can be wearing shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt, and barely catch a chill. I love it.
I have been in ministry since I was 18, and felt called to youth ministry when I was 15 years old at a winter camp called Forest Home here in SoCal. My friends made fun of me, but I just always knew that God was calling me into youth ministry, and I am pursuing that call with everything in me.
My heart’s desire is to unite with pastors nationwide and even worldwide, to advance the Kingdom of God and encourage the Church. I believe in a radical Christianity in which every believer is called by God for his purposes, not just the pastor. I believe that God has a unique calling and purpose for every person and I want to see people live out of the calling God has for them.
I have been married for 2 years and I love my wife very much! No kids yet, but stay tuned...
I am looking forward to working with pastors all over the country; I am very open, so feel free to contact me anytime.