My parents sent me to camp in the summers I was 13, 14 and 15; and then there was a seven-year gap before I started serving on senior staff of another camp for another four summers. At the end of the last year, I was invited to speak at yet one more camp and it was there I met my wife who was on paid staff there. We volunteered in subsequent years and our kids spent at least a week there for most of their pre-teen and teen years.
All that to say, I am a great believer in the power of camp ministry; getting people out of the city and away from comfortable, familiar surroundings and experiencing Christian community in a nature setting surrounded by aspects of creation that we miss in an urban environment. I like to feel that I write what I’m about to say with some authority or expertise, and while it applied here to a youth retreat, it also applies to similar winter camps experiences for men or women.
Basically, I was rather upset on the weekend to see a group of people who were doing it all wrong. It wasn’t that they didn’t choose a good facility, or have a good speaker booked, or (hopefully) offered the thing at a reasonable price (with assistance for those who might need it.)
No, my issue is that they went “away to camp” but basically took the church building with them. By that I mean, they brought all this:
Now then, having a great sound and lighting system is part of how this youth group rolls. I’ve actually been able to slip into a couple of their meetings a few years back — they were meeting at an abandoned night club at that point — and they create an environment that high school students and college/career love to attend, long-term hearing damage notwithstanding.
I would also suspect a handful of the kids invited school friends, and it was important to have a decent band creating lots of worship energy, so that those friends might want to attend something back at the church in subsequent weeks.
But this was a retreat, a time away in the outdoors. And most of the worship bands I know are quite capable of doing a very powerful acoustic set.
I think it’s important in a situation like this to play to the surroundings. With the pine trees, the snow, the rustic cabins, etc., you’ve got a hot element to offer so why compete with that with another element?
My suggestion would be that once you’ve contracted for the accommodation (food and lodging) and which outdoor sports facilities you plan to utilize, the next step is to absorb the expertise and wisdom of the camp’s or retreat center’s staff, and ask them questions like, “What have other groups done here?”
Furthermore, I would suggest that you not only leave the building behind, but in terms of the actual spiritual emphasis time leave the format behind. Exploit the natural environment of the place where your group finds itself.