Every year, dozens of new ideas and activities become popular among youth. Sometimes a television show makes it big and starts a fad (remember the years of Fear Factor and Minute to Win It?); other times a specific activity makes the popular list. (Like when paintball was all the rage ten years ago.) There are even instances of entire fad cultures (the hipster culture). Fads exist for small children (i.e. Minecraft), teens (i.e. One Direction), and even adults (think about the popularity of household blogs among women).

Sometimes, it can be a challenge to discern which new trends fit into the fad category and which ones are changes that will be here to stay. For example, when Starbucks arrived on the scene, many people thought it and other gourmet coffee shops were just a passing fad. But the coffee shop business is still going strong; we just don’t actually know for sure how long it will last — and that’s part of the problem when deciding which new trends to embrace.

When campers enter your site, you want them to see the camp as a fun, relevant place in which to create good memories and learn great lessons. You want your camp to be a place that connects well with people, and following trends can actually help you do that. They can make you seem more relevant, bring in new clientele, and help enhance your mission. But choosing which fads to follow puts camps in a tricky position.

How to Decide

Choosing which trends to embrace doesn’t need to be complicated. Our camps have clear missions and goals. When we take the time to think through it carefully, we will be able to easily discern what is in the best interest of our organizations and clientele. To simplify this process, break it down into four questions. These four questions cover the range of new possibilities your camp encounters each season. They are also simple enough that every board member, staff member, and volunteer can help in answering them.

1. Does It Clearly Fit/Aid Your Mission?

If the answer to this first question is “yes,” welcome the new trend.

Your camp should have a clear mission and goals; if you don’t, you need to get those in order before considering any new concepts or additions to your camp structure. Any camp without clear vision is in a dangerous position.

For camps that have clarified these goals, ask whether the exciting new idea or activity helps you to reach your mission, is neutral in enhancing your mission, or detracts from your mission. If the trend aids you, the next three questions can basically be skipped. Your mission should always be the number one priority, so unless following the trend is impossible for your camp at this time, you need to go for it. Anything that your camp comes across to aid in its mission should be harnessed and used for your benefit. The fact that it is a popular trend is simply a happy bonus.

For most camps, cultural movements related to environmentalism, justice, and green living fit into this category. These deeply rooted trends may be helpful ways to express love and concern for the world, and after critically evaluating your organization’s goals, you will likely decide that these ideas should be embraced. How these are embraced will look different for each camp, but the general concept will likely look fairly similar.

Embracing other new cultural elements, like increasing dependence on technology, could negatively affect your goals, depending on the mission of your camp. Wilderness camps, for example, could be negatively impacted if they began allowing cell phones on trips into the wilderness. Activities like paintball are often mission neutral, unless your camp is connected to a pacifist religious denomination, in which case encouraging the use of even toy weapons could have a negative impact. Knowing your camp and its mission will help you in deciding whether an activity will negatively affect your camp.

If you decide that a trend is mission neutral but has enough other benefits to be considered worthwhile, be sure to tie the trend back to your mission whenever possible. Paintball may not advance a camp’s core mission of encouraging social responsibility and care for the environment, but a camp could emphasize its elements of teamwork and strategy. These skills are necessary for creating strong movements and action plans toward camp values such as environmental awareness and community. Sharing those mission connections with campers and their parents will make the trend appear more natural and garner a positive response.

If, after thinking about and discussing this question, you are still unclear about the value of changing your program, ask yourself these three questions:

2. Do You Have an Edge?

Popular trends change often, and it is impossible to keep up with all of them. Get on board with the trends that can be successful at your camp. Consider the paintball trend; hundreds of camps tried to take advantage of its popularity, but not all of them were successful. The most successful were those that had some sort of an edge over other camps. They either had appropriate land to use, were already invested in adventure activities, or found some other way to highlight paintballing and make it more than just another activity. Is your camp well-designed for the new trend, or would it be an awkward fit?

For example, consider the increasing trend of including cafés on camp property. A camp considering adding a café might ask: Where will we put the new café? Do we have guests who would be particularly excited to see one? Do we have enough adult groups to make one worthwhile? Would adding a café make sense to our campers, or would it confuse them?

3. Can You Capitalize on It?

Will the addition of this new trend be just another activity, just another idea, just another thing to get done? Or is your camp set up to be able to make the trend an important part of your identity?

For example, would adding a big screen for movie nights be something you could turn into a tradition — an exciting and memorable piece of camp? Would it enhance the experience for campers? Would it provide additional opportunities to achieve your goals? Or would it be just another night activity that may or may not be remembered?

Also think about whether the trend will be able to bring in new clients, retreats, or guest groups. Even though many trends may not directly benefit your mission, if they are able to generate additional income, they still may have a place at your camp.

Consider if you will be able to design themes or interesting activities around the trend. Could your camp gain numbers by adding extreme adventure options? Are there ways that your camp could plan weekend retreats focused around the themes of justice or reconciliation?

4. Will You Be Able to Maximize the Trend in Time?

There is no point in wasting your valuable resources on a fad that is coming to an end. If your camp hasn’t already gotten on board with the paintball trend, you might not want to try it; that ship has sailed. Paintball may still be considered a fun activity, but it doesn’t have the kind of power to excite that it did ten years ago. Fear Factor and Minute to Win It are two other trends in youth programs that have lost some of their steam. Concepts from these shows are no longer the excitement-building activities they once were, although they might continue to be helpful as carnival games or creative group activities at some camps.

When deciding which new themes to add, make sure you consider their shelf life. Try to imagine how long they will be popular. While this isn’t always possible, certain trends obviously have more potential to last than others. (Do you remember Beanie Babies, Furbies, and Pokémon? All of these were obviously going to burn out.) Also consider how long it will take for you to implement ideas and whether they will still be in vogue when your camp uses them. If you will need several summer seasons to implement a new change, it may be available too late. The popularity will have faded.

Remember to ask others about trends and not to rely just on your own understanding of popular culture. Ask board members, staff members, summer staff, and potential campers for insights into whether the trend is just beginning and for an idea of how much staying power it will have. These people can probably give a good idea of what trends you can catch in time. If you are already coming in late, you probably won’t be in time.

Make Your Mission First Priority

Though all four of these questions will be helpful in the decision-making process, the first question should always be given the most weight. Always make your mission and goals the first priority when deciding which fads and trends are going to be added to your camp culture. Make absolutely certain you never allow a popular activity or new cultural idea to overshadow your purpose and vision, no matter how exciting and permeating these new ideas may be. Your camp stands for something powerful, and the only fads that should be given immediate space are those that further your vision. All others should be approached with suspicion.

Top Tips for Recognizing the Next Trend

1. Your clients are just starting to talk about it. If you’re hearing about it everywhere, the trend has already begun. But if you are just starting to get bits and pieces from various sources, you are likely at the beginning of this trend. This is where you need to decide whether to take the risk and capitalize on it or wait for further confirmation and chance coming in too late. In January, the move toward British entertainment was just starting to be noticed on a large scale as a rising teen trend. By the time of this publication, it will likely be part of mainstream teen culture (or will have faded completely, as trends can be quite fickle).

2. New avenues of use are popping up. Maybe it’s a new roller skating rink in the next suburb over, or a tea house taking over the same store-front that used to house a local coffee shop. Perhaps you are seeing an increase in organic food aisles at your local market. Is calligraphy now being offered as a community education course? Anytime there is an opportunity to participate in a new activity, behavior, or lifestyle, pay attention. This is a sign that a trend could be developing.

3. It’s related to an existing trend. Most of the time, trends aren’t truly original. They extend from existing movements and simply put a little spin on them, or go at them from a slightly different angle. Roller skates and record players became popular in teen culture around the same time as ‘80s-style clothing returned. As the coffee trend is fading (though still widely utilized and unlikely to completely disappear anytime soon), other hot beverage choices are replacing it. Teas like kombucha and mate are likely to grow in popularity as gourmet coffee sales go down. Though this isn’t always the case, trends tend to be closely linked and feed off each other.

Lanet Hane has served in a variety of ministry settings, including several years in summer camp ministry and higher education. She works fulltime at Green Lake Lutheran Ministries in Spicer, Minnesota, runs the Camp Whisperer Web site, and is working toward her master’s degree in organizational change leadership.