One of the challenges every growing church faces is the difficulty of continuing to grow through the summer months. My experience has been that this is definitely true in the northeast. I don’t understand it completely, but it seems like everyone is gone on the weekends. Around here, I think they all go to the shore or something.
Thanks to Kids’ Camp each year, though, the 3rd Sunday in July is one of our highest attended weekends of the year. That’s right. Although we do Kids’ Camp for many reasons, the event helps us to increase attendance and to attract many new families to the church at a time that would otherwise be pretty “ho-hum.”
And, the effort to actually do something this significant naturally creates “momentum.” We start working on Kids’ Camp in January, but the congregation as a whole is really engaged by early May. Volunteer recruiting, fundraising, building props, and field games, and doing the camp itself all involve hundreds and hundreds of people in the church. Something BIG to accomplish that involves this much of the church, creates momentum!
Most churches do Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). Our Kids’ Camp is very different, though. It’s like the rest of our church … over the top with fun and excitement about the love of Jesus. That’s right … the difference between Kids’ Camp and a VBS is a matter of programming. We talk a lot about and are very concerned with “wow factor” at Kids’ Camp. We have to do something that’s “over the top” to make learning about the love of Jesus full of fun and excitement. We’ve driven a motorcycle through the auditorium, fired a person out of a canon, turned the front of the building into a pirate ship, and this year had Darth Vader and a “legion” of Storm Troopers participate in camp!
The kids spend much of their time outside participating in what seems to be an endless amount of activities. Water games, obstacle courses, races, inflatables, sports games, and just about anything else you can think of are available for teams of kids. The other major part of camp is programming what takes place in the auditorium. There’s lots of great music with hand motions for the kids to learn. A series of dramas are written and produced each year that go along with the theme and help to reinforce the teaching. And, let’s not forget the stage games that are over the top as well. A team of kids always plays a team of adult volunteers. Of course, the kids always win! The game always involves something really messy. For example, one year we played “human tacos.” Without going into too much detail, the game involved a tarp to protect the stage, a couple of those plastic baby pools, and lots of chips, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, etc.
It all starts with advertising. We begin in January with a theme for the camp. It’s got to be something interesting to the kids, relevant to what’s popular (or going to be popular), and easy to advertise. From the theme comes a logo. From there, the advertising begins.
Before school lets out for the summer, flyers are distributed to every school in the area. Kids take them home to their parents at a time when they are working to line up summer activities for their kids. On-line registration is up and running very early on to give parents a way to contact the church and register their kids for camp. Newspaper advertising comes next along with a series of HTML e-mails that are sent to everyone in the database. People who attend the church are encouraged to invite their friends by forwarding the e-mail to them. Beginning in May, a series of stage announcements are planned and media (videos, slides, pictures and video from the previous year’s camp, etc.) is produced to help get the word out about camp. The idea here is to create a “buzz” around the church about “the largest outreach event of the year.” Our camp requires about 350 volunteers to pull off, so part of the stage communication strategy is focused on volunteer recruiting.
I mentioned earlier that we do Kids’ Camp for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is to promote “serving” in the church. Many people who step up to volunteer at Kids’ Camp are first-time volunteers who get involved in children’s ministry (or something else) as a result of serving at camp. It has proven to be a great way to compel people to serve on Sunday mornings and at other events throughout the year.
In June we put banners up in a few key locations around the community. We also make and distribute step-stake signs. Press releases are sent to all local newspapers informing them about the event which usually helps to get 1 or 2 to show up at camp to take pictures and publish an article about the event. Of course, this helps to get families to come on Sunday even if they missed the camp itself. It also helps us to create a buzz in the community about the church. The last big advertising push is the distribution of 10,000 door hangers around the target area. That’s right, on the Monday of the 2nd week in July (the week before camp) we recruit drivers and lots of students to fill the vehicles to drive around the community distributing door hangers. Camp registration usually doubles the last week as a result.
Sunday Attendance Push
Once camp is underway, some of the programming is focused on both encouraging the campers to attend on Kids’ Camp Sunday and inviting their friends. During the large group session, the kids are encouraged to go home that day and invite their friends. On the second day of camp, the kid that invites the most friends wins a prize of some sort (bicycle, video game, etc.). The kid that brings the most friends at the end of the camp wins the “grand prize,” which of course is awarded on Kids’ Camp Sunday … “must be present to win!” Attendance on Sunday is also encouraged via a free t-shirt. The kids each get a free t-shirt if they come on Sunday. They’ve seen the t-shirt all during camp as every volunteer wears one. Finally, the kids come into the auditorium during the Sunday service and their parents are treated to a “highlights” video shot and edited just in time to be shown on Kids’ Camp Sunday.
Check out this highlights video from Kids’ Camp Legomania!