Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership,  Summer Camp

The Lesson in Eclipsing 19,000 Summer Campers

“By the summer of 2019, 19,000 kids will attend one of six summer camps.” It was 1997 and the SpringHill board and leadership had just updated and approved the ministry’s strategic plan using Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ book Built to Last as a guide.

Collins and Porras’ research revealed that enduring organizations had a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG). The “19 by 19” goal, as it was soon to be called, was SpringHill’s BHAGG (we added the first G – God – to our definition).

Now understand, in 1997 SpringHill’s board and leaders were people of talent and faith who wanted to do something significant for kids and Christ’s Kingdom. And the “19 by 19” goal reflected both this desire and the best information available to them at the time.

Yet today as I write, here in the summer of 2012, we just eclipsed this “19 by 19” goal. Please know I’m not sharing this with you so you can be impressed or congratulate us for handily beating our goal, but instead to demonstrate a point about goal setting that Collins and Porras doesn’t address.

In goal setting we tend to be overly optimistic about short-term goals and overly pessimistic about long-term goals. The main reason for this phenomenon is that we tend to think of the future only in the context of what we know in the present. For example, our staff and board knew and understood overnight camping but could not possibly have foreseen the dramatic demographic changes that would lead us to begin our Day Camp ministry nearly 10 years later (this ministry has played a significant role in our beating the 19 by 19 goal seven years early).

The lesson we learned, and then implemented in restating our BHAGG back in 2003 was that a visionary goal isn’t based on a “calculation”. It’s  bigger than that, so big that we’d have no any idea how it would be achieved. The goal needed to be big enough “to leave room for God”, as one board member put it. Today our BHAGG is that, by 2025, we’ll have 260,000 people a year experience SpringHill.

Now, to be completely honest, only time will tell if we got this long-term goal setting thing right and whether the next generation of SpringHill leaders will judge us as fool hearted souls or Saturday morning sand baggers.



  • Heather Breedlove Nianouris

    Today, I received a phone call from my former camp counselor, Cathie Nairn. This may not sound remarkable unless you knew that she was my counselor 15 years ago, in the summer of 1997. It’s been years since we’ve talked, but it seemed like no time had passed. Of course, the topics of conversation have changed a bit; we’re both moms now, and teachers.

    Even now, at 30 years old, I count Cathie and many of my other counselors among the most influential people I’ve ever encountered. I look back at my many summers at Spring Hill with such joy. I cant wait until my son is old enough to experience it. Thank you for all you do in the lives of young people.

    • Michael Perry

      Hi Heather, thank you for sharing your story. I just spoke with a group of our TST campers (high school campers) and I asked them what was the best part of their two weeks at camp. The answer I heard from most of the campers – “we love our counselors and each other”. It demonstrates, as your story does, the power of relationships built at camp. I have not doubt 15 years from now some of these campers will still be in contact with each other and with their counselors.

      Thanks again for sharing your story, and let me know when your son is ready to attend camp. God Bless,

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