Why Mission Trips Are Better Than Camp

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, right? This is mine. I may not be right, even by a long shot. However, I feel like I’ve done this thing long enough to see the outcomes of both. Hear me out though, I’m not saying that you should only do one or the other, I’m just stating a case for why more effort should be invested in making serving trips for kids a reality.

Recently, I posted about why we stopped taking kids to summer camp. With 20+ summer camp experiences under my belt, few people are bigger summer camp fans than I am. However, I realized that there’s room for something better than camp.

So, here are my reasons:

1. Camp is more “me” motivated where serving trips are more “others” motivated. I’m not saying that taking kids to camp is reinforcing selfish me-centric kids, but there is something special the outward focus of serving trips. At the end of summer camp, many kids come home changed, which is the nature of summer camp. At the end of a serving trip, many kids come home changed and during the week, the kids made a difference in the lives of others as well.

2. Serving trips are more fun. I honestly believe it is true. Don’t get me wrong, summer camp is designed with fun in mind and serving trips are designed around the idea of sacrifice and hard work. However, every time I’ve done a serving trip, kids tell me that it was more fun than camp and I think I know why. Adventure. There’s something about going into the unknown, not knowing what what to expect and doing something you never thought you could do. It’s a kind of fun that’s rewarding and lasting. I honestly think there are more fun things to do at camp, but kids tend to experience more fun on a serving trip.

3. Serving trips cost less than camp. This one’s complicated, so read carefully. When I take 100-150 kids to camp, I usually need to pad the budget by $5-10K. Between scholarships, paying for my leaders to attend and special things we want to do while keeping it at a fair price-point, my budget usually takes a hit. I’m just amazed by how many kids need financial help.

This year with our serving trip, we communicated how much the trip costs (which was about $50 more than camp last summer) and empowered kids to raise their funds. The same kids who needed a 50% scholarship last year for camp raised all or even more of their expenses for the trip. The few kids who didn’t quite raise all their money (and it was only a few) were covered by the kids who raised more than they needed. Oh, and leaders raised money as well. I think this alone could be a reason for more churches to offer serving trips.

4. Serving trips have a more lasting spiritual impact. Because camps are usually so programatic, they don’t necessarily “connect” to something that is ongoing. Kids come back from camp on a spiritual high and within weeks, they find themselves back to where they were before camp. Serving trips are great opportunities to connect kids to regular serving opportunities. For the kids who attended our serving trip this summer, we’ve invited them to begin serving on the weekends in specific areas. What began one week in the summer has turned into something they can continue for years to come.

Again, these are simply my opinions. We recognize that camp is great for inviting friends to, connecting kids to your ministry and all kinds of other things, but if I had to pick between the two, I’d pick serving trips every time. You don’t have to pick though. We’re doing serving trips in the summer and camp in the winter. Win, win, win.

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Kenny Conley
Kenny Conley is the primary author of Childrens Ministry Online and the NextGen Pastor at Gateway Church in Austin, TX. In addition to creating the Illuminate Conference, a high quality kidmin conference designed specifically for volunteers, Kenny is a published author and speaker.