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Promoting Summer Camp 2021 – A New Year, A New Challenge - Guest Post by Nick Coenen

16 Dec 2020 6:33 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)

In a “normal” year, most camps have a marketing or promotional timetable that they lean on. That timetable typically starts not in November or December but reaches well back into the previous summer as we take the photos and video clips that will be the raw materials to promote the next summer.

But…what if there wasn’t a summer?

What was likely an odd thought exercise that site directors would process over a cup of coffee or a conference workshop has become reality for many camps. Pulling the thread of that reality reveals even more missing pieces. Not only do we not have the raw materials we are used to having, but the photos we do have don’t show campers and staff using the precautions we are likely to still need in summer 2021, modeling the use of masks and social distancing.

And what about distribution? With many churches not meeting in person, do our materials fit the situation? If you hang a poster in an empty church, does it make a noise?

With all of these questions piling up in addition to all the other questions we are facing about the actual operation of camps in 2021, I did what any overwhelmed Site Director would do…I asked Facebook. My social media following probably looks like a lot of United Methodist camp professionals’. What started with personal family and friends has morphed over time to include my camp family and friends; alumni, summer staff, pastors, and families that have grown close to me as they have grown close to the site I serve. In many ways, they are the perfect focus group.

So I asked them this:

“Pastor Friends: Thinking about camp promotional materials for summer 2021 today. In your current (and near future?) worship situation, what is the best tool I can give you to promote camp?”

The responses were almost immediate and quite helpful:

  • “Social media images and videos”

  • “I share info with our church and could use something I would email directly to families.”

  • “Maybe a bulletin insert/blurb as we still hand those out for drive-in worship as well as email out.”

This feedback wasn’t unexpected and it helped confirm my hunches about how to promote camp in meaningful ways this year. In a typical year, our conference makes a printed camp catalog that is sent to all previous campers as well as a collection of materials that is sent to churches (a poster, bulletin inserts, etc.). What our Facebook feedback told me is that we need to align our promotion strategy with the ways our churches are gathering, and that we need to reach our camp families where they are in this moment.

For us, that means a shift from a printed catalog to a heavier emphasis on our website. The additional benefit of that decision is that it allows flexibility as the pandemic changes through the spring. A printed catalog commits us to programs and schedules that we are hoping to offer when we lay out the pages in December. This year, those ultimately may look different as the summer season approaches.

This shift will require additional communication, though. Just because you update a website does not guarantee that your audience is checking in regularly enough to register. So as we make this shift, what is the flare we launch to let people know when it’s time to register? Email blasts? Do we need to send a physical postcard? How can we integrate camp messaging into virtual church services?

The majority of comments I received to my original question were requesting video. If we can make a concise, 2-4 minute commercial that invites people back to camp and also puts minds at ease about safety, I think it can be easily added to even more churches today than would have likely shown it in previous years. To make it usable for as many as possible, we’ll include a quick note about how to play a video through “share screen” in Zoom. Most churches will have mastered this skill by now, but our goal is to remove any barriers that would keep our message from getting out.

Most camps are already immersed in the world of social media, varying on which platforms they participate in by the audience they serve. If Step 1 of our 2021 promotional plan is to create a better website, and Step 2 is a library of videos to explain changes and improvements we’re making to our site and programs, perhaps Step 3 is our social media plan. In my view, social media success is about frequency even more than content. What information do our camp families need to hear going into this summer camp season that will help them make a decision? What trust will we need to build in new ways to overcome our new challenges? What parts of camp do we need to remind them of, that they may have forgotten?

This year has been difficult, frustrating, and exhausting. However, there is something life-giving for me in doing this planning. For me, as we prepare to send our message out in hopefulness for the 2021 summer season, it reminds me that God continues to walk with us as we do this work. While it still feels uncertain and scary at times, I trust that God will continue to give me the strength and the wisdom to endure, finding the messages that need to be delivered so we can gather around campfires once again.

Summer 2021 likely won’t be exactly like summer 2019, but we will be closer. The faithful steps that bring us closer to gathering once again at camp feel like acts of hope.

Nick Coenen is Site Director at Pine Lake Camp and Retreat Center in the Wisconsin Conference. His 2020 has included creating virtual camp programming, discipling a small cadre of summer staff, raising many thousands of donor dollars to sustain the ministry, fostering stray kittens, helping to lead UMCRM's Bridge Event, and catching and recovering from Covid. 


  • 11 Jan 2021 4:14 PM | Jen Burch (Administrator)
    Share yours!

    If your ministry is creating videos, web pages, postcards, or any other 2021 materials that you're willing to share, we are collecting those in a shared UMCRM GoogleDrive folder: https://forms.gle/RoTnWFyZKqdTxaYf8
    Link  •  Reply

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