It has been almost 35 years since the Galileans Sunday School Class at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena thought it would be fun to do family campout and landed at Green Oak Ranch.
Today, the annual Green Oak Ranch campout has become an annual churchwide tradition with more than 500 people participating each year. Lake Avenue is a 100+ year old mega church and like so many churches of its size, people can be isolated in the silos of their various ministries groups, often segregated by age, demographics and psychographics. However, once a year, the campout breaks down those walls. Families of all description come to experience a weekend that might have been more typical 100 years ago when the church was founded – old fashioned, hands-on, intergenerational fun.
“We are our own entertainment,” said Jeff Leonard, who directs the camp. Jeff is an original member of the Sunday School class that started the retreat in 1983. “Even from the beginning we’d do our own worship, grill, swim, hike.”
The event has grown significantly over the years, but it has grown very organically. “As people have had ideas we’ve added things . . . crafts, pancake breakfast, country dancing, an annual children’s parade.” The camp is planned and run by about 130 volunteers. “If someone has an idea, we will usually try it out,” Jeff added. “Today we bring archery instructors, bikes, fishing equipment, nature guides. We’ve made and raced boats and pinewood derby cars. We are always looking for new ways to have fun.” One boy, who picked up a bow and arrow for the first time at the campout is now #3 in the state for his age group. Where else would he have ever discovered that passion?
Jeff laughs saying that they do more in one weekend than most camps do in a week.
“What it’s all about is people interacting. Intergenerational fun. Dads get to do projects with their kids. Single moms can give their kids exposure to a real camping experience. Children, even young ones, get to run around together in a safe environment and just be kids without their parents hovering. One of our pastors commented that the kids all become cousins for a weekend.”
In a day when generations are so often segmented, and where activities are highly structured and often done in isolation, for almost 35 years the Lake Avenue Church campout has made this mega church feel like family using fun the old-fashioned way.
People from the church invite their friends and neighbors. Often it is the first step of connection for people to the church community. The campout is a unique opportunity to bring people together across generations, races and from different ministries.
“Each night I sit around and listen to the hum of the camp,” said Jeff. “I hear the voices across the grassy camping area; people laughing, people singing, families connecting. That’s what it’s all about. It makes me feel so good.”