How to Have Great Small Groups – Summer Camp

small groups girls - blog

A youth director friend of mine is gearing up for Summer Camp for his middle school ministry.  He will have 10 groups that will each have 2 leaders.  His plan for this year is to equip his leaders more than they ever have been.  So, he invited me to come and share my “wisdom” with his leaders.  For the next 3 post, I will post  about how to have great small groups.  All three of them will have the same method but from different applications.  This one, yes I said one, method isn’t anything new or radical but it does change the dynamics of your group.  If those in your group will take hold of this concept your small group will not be small for long.  In fact, this method is the fastest way to form new groups from existing groups.  For this post, I will speak about small groups or family groups or cell groups or D-groups or whatever you call them at camp since that was what originally spurred me to write this post.

Yes, you have to have good leaders, this isn’t a magic pill you take that makes every small group great.  Good, trained leaders are always key in the life of small groups, but even the best trained small group leaders usually have times where it just feels like they are spinning their wheels.  Training leaders in this particular method will make those times disappear.  So what is the key to great small groups?  It doesn’t happen in the small group at all…

If you spend time outside of your small group investing into those in your small group you will have great groups.

So what does this look like at camp?

  • Make Small Special Moments

Not long after camp there isn’t much that students remember about camp except what made them feel special.  This is why small groups are so important, because they build relationships and relationships make people feel special.  So how do you build relationships quickly?  Make sure you are intentionally making those in our group feel special.  I mean have laser focus on making those in your group feel special toward you.  This could be as simple as a secret handshake, high five, a song you sing together, a word you both shout out or shout something back in response.  It takes a little time and work and at times some creativity, but that small thing is just between you and one or a few students makes them feel special.

  • Free Time

Every camp has free time, what as a leader are you doing with yours?  It’s time to invest, invest, invest!  I developed a twist to the saying, “people don’t care what you have to say until they know you care”, it’s for youth and has the same principle, but dives into who youth are.  “Students don’t care what you have to say until they know you’re willing to play.”

Students don’t care what you have to say until they know you’re willing to play.

Playing with students is the gateway into their world.  All kids want to play, that’s why sports, video games and bands are so popular, it’s kids playing.  Story after story of kids responding to others just because   Once was playing football with the stud linebacker in the ocean, as he caught the football I committed to the most insane tackle of my life.  I speared him as he caught the football so hard his feet left the ground and I knocked the breath out of him.  I was fully aware that I might be running for my life when he leaped out of the water, but instead he leaped out of the water and exclaimed, “That was awesome!  That’s the hardest I’ve ever been hit!”  He became one of my biggest allies in reaching his friends.  Play, play, play during camp with your group, you can rest next week.  Or for those that work summer camp, you can rest in 2 months.

  • Eat With Them

Talk about a captive audience, make sure you are eating with at least on of they youth in your small group every time you sit down to eat a meal.  This is such an easy time to get into their life and know them more.  If you are taking the time to understand who they are outside of group time, when you sit down for group, you already know where they stand and how to specifically ask them questions.  There is no better place than the breakfast/lunch/dinner table to listen to there stories and share yours.

  • Make A Big Deal of Small Things

Many kids don’t have fans.  What I mean is, they don’t have someone who supports them.  At every baseball game, soccer game, basketball game, and the first 15 times I preached, my mom and dad were there as my biggest fans.  Making over me like I was the best thing since sliced bread and selfies.  I was told how great I did and how to improve my weaknesses.  A lot of kids don’t have this, this is what I mean by fans.  It’s time they had one and as their small group leader, that’s you.  If a student does something awesome, crazy, cool, makes a great play, go nuts!  Let me make sure you hear me.  IF THERE IS A REASON TO MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF A KID, LOSE YOUR MIND AND GO BANANA SANDWICHES!!!

If there is a reason to make a big deal out of  a student, lose your mind and go banana sandwiches!

Talk about how cool it is, tell them later how funny that was when they said ___________, tell a group later how proud you are of them in front of them, and make sure to make a big deal out of students when they are are reflecting the image of Christ.  Again, make students feel special.

It all really comes down to the closer you are with your group outside of the group, the better your group will be.  Put in the time outside of your group and when you sit down for your group time, it will be great.

Have fun at CAMP!!!

© Jonathan Haley Uhrig 2014

3 Keys That Won’t Make Your Camp…But, Sure Can Break Your Camp

Made Camp 2014

I have spent half my life in ministry now and most of that spent pouring into student ministry.  Though my current path is looking more and more at the adult world, I still have great opportunities to be in the youth world.  During camp and event seasons, I am usually pretty busy speaking and helping others dream, plan and execute their own camps and events.  Recently, I have the chance to help a youth pastor with his first camp of his own.  As walking through this experience with him I was reminded of a few things that won’t make your camp the best thing since slice bread and selfies, but however if they are bad…. man-o-man will they destroy your camp and become the driving force behind complaint after complain and eventually mutiny from the students.  You always want to create memories for students, however, you want those memories to be good.  What you don’t want is students going back and being negative about camp.  Students will talk about bad things more often and longer than they do good things.  It’s not just students, look at our daily news; the majority of news reported is bad news.  Certain things as leaders we are in control of and will delegate because they are

Here are my top 3 keys that won’t make your camp, but sure can break your camp.

1.  Food

School cafeteria food brings back a lot of memories for a lot of people.  However, most of those memories aren’t great.  Remember square pizza and corn?  Not sure how those ever go with each other, but I do remember that pizza wasn’t the really even close to good and being soggy from corn juice didn’t help its cause.  Or how about that “magic meat”, we still aren’t sure if that was suppose to be Salisbury steak, perhaps last weeks meatloaf covered in gravy or if they really didn’t know what it was but they knew it was cheap.  But, I also remember chicken nugget day or little smokie day both served with mac-n-cheese and a roll… So Good!  School lunch never made my day, but on those days it was bad, it really made my day bad.  I was hungry and when I am hungry, I am grumpy and when I am grumpy, my day is bad.

When students are hungry they are grumpy and when they are grumpy, its just a no fun, bad day.

Camp food is so important.  As leaders it is something that the majority of us should delegate, but delegation doesn’t mean forget about it.  we have to be clear on what we expect.  You need to expect good food, not just food.  There is a huge difference in having cheap, cardboard, no taste food and having food that people talk about.  You and your cook must understand expectations are low about camp food to begin with, so to surpass expectations is not that big of an accomplishment, but it is a must.  Feeding students a good meal is a must.  It keeps moral up, it it keeps energy up and most importantly it keep their attention off their bellies and on Jesus.  A good decent meal doesn’t mean that they will go home and talk about how good the food was, but it does mean they won’t go home and talk about how horrible the it was.

Quick rule of thumb, $20-$25 per day isn’t unreasonable to keep your students or adults fed.  Here is my break down for food.  Breakfast: $4-$6, Lunch: $7-$8, Dinner: $9-11.  Don’t forget desert!!!

Bring the good goodies.  Spend the money on good snacks, aka good junk food (starburst, skittles, snickers, etc…)  – it’s okay to make them pay more during camp for the super good stuff.

2.  Speaker

You wouldn’t hire a speaker if you didn’t think they weren’t good, right?  This is very true.  You hire someone you trust to deliver good, solid, Jesus honoring messages to your students.  But, YOU as the leader have a vision for camp.  YOU pour hours of praying into a direction YOU want to take YOUR students spiritually.  YOU spend lots of time developing a theme and skits and games and stage design and small groups and on and on and on.  Yet, you turn over a large chunk of the spiritual time over to someone else.  I love speakers, I am one.  But, here is typically what we give speakers when we hire them;  “I want you to have the freedom to tell my students what God has laid on your heart.” or “The theme is _______, so just where God leads you from there.”  YOU have invested so much time into your students and  have the vision for camp, please, please, PLEASE let your speaker in on that vision and direction.  The name of the camp or theme of the camp does not communicate what you have envisioned.

Giving your speaker clear vision, direction and goals of and event allows them to more effectively use their gifts, talents and insights.

When I hire a speaker for any event I give them a clear cut vision of the whole event and what I want to accomplish.  Then I detailed the direction that I want each talk/sermon to take.  If I give the speaker all of this information then allow them to use their gifts, talents and insights, I have enhanced the vision of my camp or event.  This does not limit your speaker, in fact, as a speaker it is very freeing.  Work with your speaker at length.  This means at very minimum several phone calls, and several emails exchanging information.  If it is me, I do all I can to have an in-person discussion.  If that isn’t possible, there are too many ways to video conference.

If your speaker doesn’t understand the vision and goals of a camp or event they can greatly hinder the message.  This isn’t their fault, it is yours.  Most speakers won’t make your camp great, but they can break it.  Think how much more clear the gospel message is when everybody is on the same page.

3.  Attitude

Nothing breaks up a great experience than a bad attitude.  They cause a scene, they start bad conversations among others, they give things a bad taste and they just put a general downer on things.  Now you can’t control the attitudes of everyone at your camp or event, however there is a group that you can control and is crucial to a good event.  Your attitude must dominate the atmosphere.  If you as the leader are sold, most everyone one else will be sold on the event as well.  If your attitude about something is negative you really have to options: 1.  Change your attitude quick or 2. Get out of the picture.  If your attitude isn’t changing, let someone else take the lead the particular part of the event your sour about.  Things will go much better if you do.

If we are doing it, it’s the best thing ever, even if it isn’t.

The second group you have control over is the leaders under you, who are actually more control of attitude than you do.  My small group leaders and team leaders and event coordinators have always had way more say in the attitude of then event than I do.  If they are sold on what your doing, everyone else will be as well.  However, if they start discouraging conversation, it will spread like wild fire and your will spend all your time putting out those fires.  I have a saying with my leaders, “If we are doing it, it’s the best thing ever, even if it isn’t.”  I give them a lot of say into what we are doing, but when I make the discussion to do something here is what I tell them, “If its picking boogers, picking boogers is the best thing you have ever heard of!”  The attitudes of others won’t make your camp, but they can break it.

In my last 2 post on camp, I have ended with Pray, Pray, Pray!  If you aren’t covering your camp or event in prayer you failed before you started.  Prayer will make your camp great and the lack of prayer will line your camp up to fail.  So, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! and then PRAY some more.

* This is not a reflection on the camp we just did, in fact, the food, the speaker and attitudes were great!  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the horizon for Chip and the youth at The Brook.

** Thanks Natalie

 © Jonathan Haley Uhrig 2014

3 Tips for Doing Your Own Summer Camp

HAU Summer Camp 2001

As a pastor there is a lot that I love about being in ministry.  But what I have the most fun doing is big events.  For youth, that means CAMP!!!  I love every part of it!  The sudden inspiration for a camp theme based on commercial from 10 years ago that your remembered when you hit your head getting into your car; the crazy skits that make no sense, but for 1 week in the summer that super hero with no real powers will mean everything; the creation of games that no one has ever done before and that no one will ever do again (ask me about “The Mousetrap”); the writing of quiet times; the study and writing of small groups and training small group leaders; having great conversations with speakers and bands; sweating so much you don’t know how you can sweat anymore; sweating when you go to sleep and then waking up at 3 in the morning freezing only to wake up at 6:30 in the morning sweating; there is just so much that goes into doing your own camp, but I love every part of it!  We do all of this and more all for those moments that change us and our students forever.

Summer camp means sweating when you go to sleep and then waking up at 3 in the morning freezing only to wake up at 6:30 in the morning sweating!

That student who realizes for the first time who Jesus is; the student who in conversation during small groups gets so excited because the truth of Christ comes alive; the small group leader who God uses to lead a student to Jesus, or uses their shoulder to cry on.  We do it all for those moments.  For those that are just starting out and doing their own camp for the first time or for the vet who has put on so many they can’t even tell you what last years theme was, here are 3 tips to remember when developing camps.

3 Tips for Summer Camp

Go All Out for the Big Things, So Students will Remember the Important Things

The ultimate goal of any church summer camp is to lead students to Christ.  Lost students need Jesus and the christian students need Jesus.  That’s important!  If you fail here the camp is a failure, you haven’t done anything but have a fun camp.  Without life change it’s just another camp.  However, if there is great material but camp isn’t fun, you should have just stayed home because that information isn’t going to stick.  So go all out on your theme!  Go all out on games!  Go all out on training leaders.  These are the big things that will make the important things have greater impact.

Make Memories

5 of us got into a nasty lake and waited until our skin shriveled,  leeches attached to our legs, and we got tired of treading water.  But what happened next, people still talk about.  “Hey, you remember that time you made Jesus walked on water?”  Yeah, we do.  What the 5 of us remember most is that on a perfectly clear night with a full moon, at just the perfect time, God put a cloud over the moon to hide us so that He was glorified.  You want to make moments that students will remember forever.  You want to create memories, so that when life gets in the way a memory sends them right back to camp and Christ.  See, what you want for your students is 20 years from now, you want them to say…

“Remember when?”

“No one has ever done that before!”

“How did we ever get away with that!”

“I’ve never seen anything like that, ever!”

“I can’t believer we did that!”

Pray, Pray, Pray

This seems a bit obvious, however, sometimes it’s so obvious we forget.  So much of camp needs prayer.  There is too much that we want God to do and so much that can go wrong.  Please – DO NOT FORGET TO PRAY!

One more thing.  PRAY!

P.S.  I would love to help you with your events, please contact me, even if it’s just to bounce ideas off someone.