2.42 Community Church is unlike any church I’ve ever seen before. It functions as a community center – there’s a soccer field in the center of the church, a CrossFit room, an art school, a café and a variety of indoor activities available to the community seven days a week. The community center is owned and operated by the church – it is the church – and people use this space day in and day out. On weekends, they hold formal church services. 2.42 has 4 locations, with Brighton, the site of the day camp this week, being the original site. In 2016, 2.42 Brighton was listed as one of the top 10 fastest growing churches in America – at that time it had nearly 6,000 members. The population of Brighton, a city located an hour northwest of downtown Detroit, was not quite 8,000 as of 2017, so it’s clear that the church is pulling members from far beyond city limits. The city and its surrounding townships are predominantly white (96%) and relatively affluent.
SpringHill day camp fits in perfectly here at 2.42 Brighton. It’s a community event that gathers people to do fun things and teach them about Jesus. Although it is one of many things going on that week, it seems to be the primary focus, as they are the primary users of the space. This is one of SpringHill’s larger camps (they have almost 260 kids enrolled), and a shortage of staff is a concern from the get-go. I lived in a host home with the area directors (essentially 2nd in command) for 3 days, and it was a common discussion among them. That said, the staff they have are top-notch. The very first morning, the whole staff gathered in one of the rooms for a morning meeting. I sat in on the meeting and listened to the logistics, but the most important part of the meeting for me was the way it ended. A staff member reminded the group that even the youngest campers need to hear the word of God, and then they joined hands with interlocking fingers, raised their arms, and shouted, “Crowns for Jesus.” This ritual would end up being repeated throughout the week, and I eventually inquired as to its meaning. Here’s what I learned: The arms raised in the air make the crown. The individual faces of everyone in the circle make up the jewels on the crown. Each one is unique, special and important. The fingers are always interlocked, and the gaps in our fingers are like weaknesses, the fingers themselves like strengths. When they interlock fingers, they cover each other’s weaknesses with strengths.
“Crowns for Jesus” can be seen as a summary of the SpringHill day camp. The curriculum for Spring Hill day camps has a salvific focus. It moves them through creation to sin to salvation to life with Jesus, and it is woven throughout all the events of the day. The day begins with a hearty welcome for the kids and their parents. The camp starts at 9 am, but people arrive early and wait inside for the small group rooms to open. Each kid has a backpack, a lunch and a water bottle. At 9 am sharp they open the doors on the lower level and families stream into classrooms. Each child is greeted with a smile, a high five and cheery good morning. By day two, the counselors already know all the kids’ names and they get a personal welcome as well. After gathering in their groups for a bit, they head straight to a large group time of worship, skits and devotionals. They gather in the youth auditorium, which is where the kids Sunday programs are held. The worship time is loud and energetic – counselors and kids bounce up and down, singing along with the music, which always has hand and body motions attached. Then there is a short skit and an introduction of the Bible lesson that the counselors teach in depth in the small group that follows.
There are about 20 kids in each group, led by 2 counselors. For small group time, they further divide into two small groups, so each counselor has 10 kids. Their curriculum books look professionally made and are designed with a child in mind. Each kid has an age-specific devotional guide that the counselors walk them through during the week, but the productivity of this time depends on the age of the kids – older kids seem like they engage a bit more, while younger kids struggle to focus. The counselors have great group facilitation skills, though, and they handle the dynamics of all ages with an admirable amount of patience and energy.
After this small group time, the groups begin their activity rotations. They cycle through a variety of fun activities: rock walls, euro bungees, inflatable water slides, tie dye, archery, paint ball and nerf darts. The counselors of each group have to lead the activity, and it’s a delicate balance of relationship building and activity leading at each station. The nature of the activities they offer is such that there is some down time after an individual child completes an activity, so they have gaga ball and nine-square in the center of the activity area for kids to use, as well. At the end of each activity, the counselors wrangle up their group and if there is time, they debrief it, attempting to connect the activity to their faith. Sometimes the debrief works and sometimes it seems to fall on ears just waiting for the next activity, but they are demonstrating a habit of relating all of life’s events to our faith, and the habit is a lesson in and of itself. At midday, there is a break for lunch, and all the groups gather in a common space to eat. Then there are more activities, another large group session similar to the morning, and a final small group before departing at 4 pm. At the end of the day, everyone is tired – kids, counselors, parents – yet even then there is no lack of energy.
In addition to this daily flow of activities, there’s a whole group of staff members not working with the kids directly that are busy managing logistics, media, and plans for future weeks of camp. There is a tiered staffing structure, with counselors for the counselors, and counselors for the counselors’ counselors. There’s quite a few returning staff, and most of them are local – they go home on the weekends, and some even commute daily, depending on the location of the day camp. This staff team travels together all summer, with some changes week-to-week based on numbers and need. For the most part, it’s a tight knit group, but they have the same staffing concerns that all Christian camps are having – low numbers and lower than normal maturity in the rising generation, so things are always having to change staffing wise. The 4 staff I stayed with were on the upper level – the counselors for the counselors’ counselors. They are all extremely experienced with SpringHill day camps and deeply passionate about its mission. They are hungry for feedback and thirsty for ways to improve.
Returning to the “Crowns for Jesus” image, Spring Hill Day camp at 2.42 Brighton is on a mission to draw kids to Jesus and put them in a position where they can receive a crown from Jesus. Their greatest asset is the staff – campers love them and can’t say enough about them. Many want to be counselors themselves someday. They notice the “crown” the staff wear, and they want it themselves. As part of their mission for every kid to be crowned in the Kingdom of God, staff members are extraordinary at making every kid feel unique, special and important, like the jewels on the crown. I hear counselors share this word with kids throughout the day at all their activities. This is one of the greatest gifts SpringHill gives these kids: affirmation of identity as a crowned child of God. With that many kids, it will be impossible to know the long-term impact, and at the end of the week, it’s not always clear which kids have crowns and which don’t, but one can always be sure that a seed has been planted. Through activities, professional, age-appropriate curriculum and an energetic group of staff counselors, SpringHill day camp at 2.42 is a place where every child gets to experience the love of Christ and hear the hope of the gospel, sending them off into the rest of their year with a seed of faith.