Most youth camps I’ve been involved in have had a specific “theme” for the event. A theme can be simple or complex, can apply just to the messages/games, or be integrated across all parts of the event.
There are many advantages to a theme:
A good theme can lead you to new and fun ideas you wouldn’t have thought on of otherwise. Maybe it started as a theme for the sessions/messages, but then naturally lead you to some great games or a fantastic t-shirt design. Maybe it just sounded like a fun idea for the kids to enjoy, but then you were able to pin a series of great messages to it. However you get started, having a firm theme idea can help guide leaders’ discussions and give you new ideas.
A good theme can be used to help kids hang onto the messages presented. Themes give kids a picture to “hang” the content on. If you present three messages over a weekend and all three points can be tied in some way to the camp theme, kids will find it easier to remember the three points and refer back to them later on.
A memorable theme will help kids (and leaders) latch onto memories of the event. If you hold annual events at the same location, having a clear theme for each year helps the experiences stand out, rather than running together into one big camp memory. Themes differentiate one camp from another – one learning experience from another.
It’s just fun!
And you know what? That’s a great thing! It’s wonderful to get together with a bunch of kids and have a blast. Themes can make an already fun weekend even more fun! New in-jokes are created, bonds are created and strengthened – and a theme to connect it all to makes it all the more fun.
When I think back to all the camps I’ve done, I don’t think “Spring of 2006” – although I can work out the timing if I choose. What characterises each camp for me is its theme. So here’s a few great themes we’ve used in Beijing in the past 6 years:
This was planned around the idea of having an outreach camp. We encouraged kids to invite non-Christian friends to camp, knowing that while there would be worship times etc., the messages would be “seeker-friendly”. Kids had a chance to ask anonymous questions about the Christian faith and we planned teaching on apologetics. Clement, a student who designed (or worked with friends to design) all our camp shirts for several years, came up with a great design. The Mythbusters t-shirt said “God does not exist” which then had a “BUSTED” stamp over it. We also planned a big “mythbuster” event for the last day of camp – dropping mentos candy into coke to see if it would fizz/explode. We turned several big bottles of coke into fountains – a fun sight kids still remember!
While the theme of the camp’s content was “identity” the concept we wrapped it around was facebook and avatars. Each team had an “avatar” (a person-sized animal costume – bunny, lion, tiger, elephant, etc) and the team scores were shown as facebook pages with a number of “friends” instead of a number of points.
We talked about life as new territory to explore, and there being no map explaining how our unique lives will play out – but God can guide us. Although our custom at the time was to keep camp themes a secret until the first session, we previewed this theme by showing a clip from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and invited kids to dress up as pirates for the first night of camp. We gave away prizes like eye-patches and plastic hand-hooks during the first session games, and the big outdoor game involved searching for and actually digging up buried treasure. We even kept a big “treasure chest” on the stage throughout the retreat.
This was my first camp in Beijing. As I said above, our custom was to keep the theme a secret til the first session of camp, at which point there’d be a big hype up and reveal – painting a vision for the weekend. At the “nothing” camp, we finished worship during the first session and the two youth pastors came up to the front to do the intro message. They hyped the kids up “do you want to know what the theme is??” for a minute or so, then said “Okay! The theme for this year’s camp IS…” – then stood there in silence for a minute or so. In the end they explained – we studied three “nothings” of faith, for example, nothing is impossible with God. The camp logo was just a circle with a line through it (like a street sign).
This was the theme of the first Beijing Youth Conference. The whole weekend was styled as a “flight”. As kids arrived and lined up for registration, several leaders used metal-detector style wands to “frisk” them, occasionally making certain kids do silly things before letting them through. Kids got water bottles we’d put our own “Go” labels on them, and stickers. During the first session the youth pastors got up and apologised that the flight had been delayed, but that we had some entertainment planned. When the session finished, they explained that the flight was delayed until tomorrow, so the “airline” had reserved places for them to stay (before bussing kids to host homes for the night). We provided leaders with DVDs which contained video devos and some other fun things – including a track of camp “rules”, set up like an airline safety video – complete with voiceover and a lovely “hostess” (youth leader) showing the “passenger” (another youth leader) what NOT to do. Another highlight was the “Deep Vein Thrombosis” video included for the morning – it was a crazy video with three guys in suits/ties doing insane exercises. It became a youth group cult classic! Kids were doing the DVT dance all day and it was an in-joke that kept up for over a year.
That’s just 5 examples from MANY camp themes.
What was the best themed event you’ve participated in?