Earlier this summer, I did something rather crazy. After a 10 day mission trip to Malawi, Africa, I flew directly down to Knoxville, Tennessee to check out a camp. I mean, I flew from Malawi to Johannesburg to New York, ditched my team, flew to Atlanta and then on to Knoxville where my boss Brian picked me up in a rental car. Then, we drove to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. If you’re keeping score, that’s 15+ hours of layovers and 20+ hours of flying. I was beyond exhausted and I’m sure I smelled beautifully. Oh, and I’m pretty sure our team made it home safely. I think.
Normally, after a long mission trip I fly directly home, climb into my bed and sleep for three days but I just had to get down to Tennessee to check something out. What was that, you ask? High School Camp. Starting this summer, reThink started putting on their own high school camp and I just had to see it.
I was impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I’ll definitely be bringing a coach bus or two of high school students with me down to Tennessee next year. Here’s why:
1. reThink gets the power of small groups.
I love reThink as an organization because they are smart and strategic. They are driving next gen. ministry forward. They are helping us all think better about what we do. They understand that small groups are the backbone of student ministry so everything about High School Camp is built around small groups: housing, meals, programs, activities, experiences, etc. It’s the perfect camp to elevate groups and capitalize on existing relationships or, to forge new ones.
2. The Orange Tour for free!
If you’ve never been to the Orange Conference or the Orange Tour, this is your year! The Orange Conference is the best conference out there for student ministry and children’s ministry. Also, if you plan to be at the Orange Tour in Troy, MI, look me up!
My favorite thing about High School Camp is that the Orange Tour is essentially built into the camp schedule. Youth pastors and volunteers get an hour a day with Reggie Joiner. His content in these sessions is fantastic. I’m pumped for my volunteers to receive some of the best training out there as part of the High School Camp package.
3. Zero Prep
We put on our own middle school camp and it is amazing. I can say that without feeling like a bragger McBraggerson because I have very little to do with it. Our team did an incredible job putting on the best camp I’ve ever been a part of. With that said, we’re all in a coma now. I don’t think we have the capacity to pull off another camp for our high school students.
The awesome thing about reThink’s High School Camp is that you show up with your students and volunteers and simply pastor them. No prep required. Beautiful.
4. Ginormous Water Slides
Spoiler alert: The camp isn’t housed at a camp, it’s at a resort with ginormous water slides. The resort also includes a huge arcade, several mini-golf courses, a mini-bowling alley, a rock climbing wall, a for reals grown up golf course, a ropes course and a million other fun elements. Pardon my terrible photography…
Did I mention that Dollywood is right down the road?!? Actually, that’s probably not helpful. My bad.
6. Epic Lights
Maybe it was because I hadn’t slept in 2 days or that I had just returned from Africa but the light show that accompanied the large group programming blew my mind! What I mean is that the stage and production quality was on par with what you would experience at an Arena concert. The students were LOVING it.
7. Professional grade communications
I’ll be honest, at first I wasn’t sure about the teaching quality because I kept falling asleep. I assure you it wasn’t the teacher! It was that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I was sitting down in a dark room.
However, I did listen to a second teaching after a good night’s sleep and it was fantastic. reThink writes the curriculum for High School Camp (think XP3) and it is delivered by a national level speaker. It was great, and of course, it is designed for great small group conversation. I love this because, in the past, it has seemed like any time I take my students to a camp, I either get great music or a great speaker. Here, both were A+.
8. I can worship to that!
Speaking of worship, if you’ve been in church work for a while you can probably relate to how critical I am. It’s hard for me to really engage church services without evaluating the programming or noticing what is wrong or cheesy. It’s one of the curses of working at a church. What I loved about High School Camp is that the quality of music and production was so phenomenal that there was nothing to complain and I could relax and just engage in worship. Maybe now you think I’m a horrible person. Or, if you work at a church, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
9. Limitless Options
Pigeon Forge, the closest town to High School Camp is one of the strangest places I have ever been to. There are literally limitless options for things to do…go carts, music, restaurants, giant dinosaur statues, shopping, a Titanic museum, amusement parks, theater, golf, and weird combos of all the previously listed options–think dinosaurs living on the titanic which is actually a large amusement shopping mall. You really have to see this place to believe it. My point is that if your group gets bored with the ridiculous amount of options at the resort, there are a bazillion things to do in Pigeon Forge. Or, you could plan a fun excursion before or after camp.
10. I thought the Smoky Mountains would be a lot more smoky.
I love mountains, camping, hiking, and natural beauty. Pigeon Forge is situated in the Smoky Mountains. First off, the scenery is amazing and secondly, if you or your group hate touristy things, there is plenty to do in the Smoky Mountains. You could take your group camping after camp for crying out loud!
All this is to say that I’m going to High School Camp this summer. I’m wickedly pumped about the impact the experience will have on our students and volunteers, and how easy the experience will be to plan for. Maybe I’ll see you there.
If you ant to check it out, here’s a link to reThink’s High School Camp page. Fear not, if everything I said about camp in Tennessee sounded terrible, they are holding camps in Florida and Texas as well.