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Challye Hays laughs with children as they play corn hole in the gym during the Project Transformation Family Fun Night at Antioch United Methodist Church. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

Challye Hays laughs with children as they play corn hole in the gym during the Project Transformation Family Fun Night at Antioch United Methodist Church.

Inspire youth with a summer ‘staycation’

By Darby Jones

Editor’s Note: We compiled our best stories on Vacation Bible School, service projects, and retreats into one easy reference page. Visit our Plan for Summer landing page for more great ideas.

Turn the "staycation" concept on its ear by hosting one for middle and high school students at your church or a nearby recreation area.

Everyone likes to get away from it all. Teens are no different. Create an entertaining, more grown-up vacation Bible school. Give young people a chance to get away, live independently for a few days, have fun and be inspired.

Youth love to hit the road without their parents, enjoying freedom and their friends. Your church can provide that road trip. An opportunity to go away overnight, spend time with friends, play games, listen to music and learn about God shows teens they can have God, friends and fun at the same time.

Be sure to add the alt. text

Promotional artwork for a Summer Youth Musical production at First United Methodist Church Wichita Falls, Texas. Talent shows, plays and skits can showcase young adults' talents and teamwork.

How would we do it?
Ask some of the youth to help organize. Create teams and ask an adult to work with each one. Charge each with a task-food, activities, location arrangements-or with planning for a block of time. Each team will come up with a to-do list.

Consider having a couple of adults willing to stay the entire time and others who could come for shifts (including the night). Share camp details with parents and have them sign permission slips.

Where could we go?
Set up camp in your church building or property, or find a nearby recreation area that could host your group. Make sure you have space for sleeping, eating and activities-it can be the same area or separate depending on your facility. Of course, you will also need access to restroom facilities. Remember, your campsite does not have to be fancy. Most teens think it is fun to sleep on the ground. Dining could be picnic-style indoors or out.

What could we do?
Host a talent show or skits one night for participants to showcase their talents and teamwork. Give campers options. For example, schedule a craft activity and a basketball game at the same time. Include a service project that involves making something or going out into the community. Include free time each day. Close the staycation with a worship service organized by the campers.

Project Transformation

Project Transformation is a national program with sites in Oklahoma City, Dallas and Nashville, Tennessee. The program connects college-aged young adults with children and churches in underserved communities, with the objectives of providing children with an enriching experience that improves literacy skills and revitalizes the churches. The program is community-oriented and Christ-centered. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Other ideas include:

  • Camp Service - Have youth spend their time helping others by volunteering for several local groups in the same day. When they return to camp, they can share their experiences and talk about what they liked and disliked. The next day, have them go to different groups to volunteer. Diverse experiences are important.
  • Camp Lemonade - Lemonade stands teach entrepreneurial skills. Whether it's a lemonade stand at the church or a food stand at a local festival, have the youth work the business from concept to sale–and determine how the proceeds will be used.
  • Camp Reading - Pick a book or two. Let participants know the title a couple weeks before camp in case they want to get a jumpstart. Leave plenty of time at the beginning of camp to finish reading; then have discussion groups or activities tied to the book.
  • Video Game Tournament - Grab the Wiis and PS2s and stay up night and day to play. Youth can organize the event and plan non-tournament activities for those who might leave the game in the first round or two. Have a championship round where most of the players become the cheerleaders, rooting their favorite player onto victory.

Ask youth volunteers which big events already are scheduled for the summer and when school resumes. Know what big activities happen in your community. For example, you probably do not want to plan anything July 4 weekend.

Not just for students
The staycation camp concept can also work well with adults. Many people never outgrow the fun of camp. Take this model and use it for small groups within your church. Tailor activities to their goals. Perhaps your music group wants to bond over a couple days of trying new music and discussing how their musical role in church fits into their spiritual life. Maybe one of the service ministries wants a camp atmosphere to work on projects that may take more time than their usual meetings allow. Some other ideas include:

  • "Feel Like a Kid" Camp - Have adults bring their sleeping bags, make some s'mores, do crafts and play sports.
  • "Silence Is Golden" - All adults must give up their cell phones and other electronic devices, and forego movies, television and recorded music. They create a getaway where they can reflect, converse, meditate and pray.
  • "Plug into Life" - On the opposite end of the spectrum, create an "electronics" camp. Have youth teach adults the ins and outs of their favorite social Web sites and video games. Share sites and best practices for downloading tunes from the Internet. Take time to maximize their smart phones.

The goal of any staycation camp is to give people the opportunity to get away from their hectic daily lives and to focus, relax and return to the world refreshed and inspired.