• Living as a Leader,  SpringHill Experiences

    Amazing Records – 28 Years and 1200+ Students

    107As I’ve said before, one of my favorite groups of people in the world are the adults who bring students to our Winter Teen and Juniors Retreats. I love them because they give up an entire weekend, many as volunteers, to spend 40 hours hanging out with students, doing crazy activities, and getting very little sleep.

    Why do they do it? Because these adults know they’ll be a part of helping students hear, see and experience Jesus Christ in a life transforming way.

    And this weekend I spent time with one of my favorite of these favorites, Scott Hazel. Scott is a teacher at Cedar Springs High School, just north of Grand Rapids. Every year he brings busloads of students from his public high school to one of our Winter Retreats.

    Here’s the list of some unofficial, but amazing, SpringHill Winter Retreat records Scott has set.

    1. 28 straight years of bringing students to SpringHill Winter Retreats
    2. Over 30 Winter Retreats – In many of these 28 years Scott has attended 2 weekends, one with his high school students, and one with his church’s youth group.
    3. Over 1200 students – Scott brings 1 to 2 bus loads of students (between 40 to 95 students) every year.

    I have no doubt these records, like Cal Ripkin Jr’s consecutive baseball games played record, will stand forever.

    But more importantly than the records is the accumulative effect of what Scott has done over these 28 years. 1200+ students from a public high school have been given the opportunity to know and grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, and have their lives changed forever.


    Only in eternity will we see the depth of Scott’s impact.

    So now you know why Scott is one of my favorites of my favorites.

    If you’d like to know more about Scott click here, he’s published a book telling his story.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

    How to play your first Game like it’s Mid-Season

    197This weekend I watched our SpringHill Michigan team perform during our second Winter Teen Retreat of 2013. And frankly, it seemed like it was our seventh retreat because it went so smoothly. Yet I know this didn’t just happen, instead it was the result of our team’s good work before the first retreat.

    So what was that good work our team did leading them to perform at a mid-season level in our second weekend? Well our team took four intentional and necessary steps to be ready. First, they created a plan, second they prepared, and then they practiced before they ever played the first Winter Retreat.

    Let’s take a closer look at the four steps our team took look:

    Planning: plans require setting measurable goals and then mapping out in detail how to achieve these goals.

    Preparation: preparation is where the identification and the gathering of all the resources necessary to successfully work a plan takes place. A plan without resources is just a dream.

    Practice: once the necessary resources are in hand then practice and rehearsal provides insight into what needs to be re-planned and what resources are still needed. It also builds the confidence and habits required to win. This step is the one most often skipped, yet as any coach knows, without practice a team will not be ready for the game.

    Play: playing is the outcome of the first three steps. And, as coaches know too well, how the team plays is 100% dependent on the game plan, the preparation, and most importantly, the practice a team’s had before the game.

    And so, because our team worked through the first three steps before taking the fourth, this second retreat went as we’d expect our seventh one to go, which a good for our team, but even better for our campers.

  • Leadership,  Living as a Leader

    “Does Your Dad Work Here for the Money?”

    084One Saturday this fall my son Mitch walked over to the SpringHill gym to shoot some hoops. That weekend, like most weekends, we had a few hundred guests attending retreats. As Mitch was shooting around one of our guests, an older gentleman, came over to Mitch and struck up a conversation.

    The man asked Mitch some pretty straight forward questions like “are you a Christian?” And “do you have a Bible and do you read it?” Though the questions took Mitch back a bit, he answered each question affirmatively.

    Then the gentleman changed directions and asked Mitch about his parents. In answering these questions Mitch told him I was the President of SpringHill.

    To which the man responded “Does your dad work here for the money?”

    Though Mitch thought it was a strange question he answered “no I don’t think so”.

    Now you may be wondering if this question bothered me because it implies my motives for working at SpringHill are less than noble. But truth is, as I explained to Mitch, I wasn’t offended at all, instead I was actually thankful to be asked such an important question.

    Why? Because it’s a question we should always ask of ourselves, or be willing to be asked by others. You see, there’s really nothing that can go adrift faster, and with more stealth, than our motives. And it’s only by being asked the straight up question “what’s your (my) motive” that we can begin the healthy process of checking, and if necessary, correcting the reasons behind what we do.

    And, in the best of all worlds, not only would our actions be noble, but our motives behind those actions would be noble as well.

  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership

    Creative Solutions and Heroic Actions

    The Heros – Teri, Joe, Dan, Rose, Dwayne, Chuck, Eric and Josh (missing – Ryan, Allison, Casto, Matt, Jarred, and Jake)

    What do you do when you’re training 100’s of summer staff and, at the same time, hosting multiple retreat groups, all of which require a lot of meeting space, and you happen to be a camp for kids and not a conference center?

    You get creative, and a little sweaty, and sore, and you convert your game room into a meeting room that accommodates over 200 people. And by convert I mean moving pool and ping ball tables, booth seating, chairs, and tables out of the game room and into other locations, and move in and set into place staging, AV equipment, and appropriate meeting room seating.

    The game room before the conversion. Photo by Rose Peever
    The game room after the conversion.

    And that’s exactly what our Michigan overnight camp team did last week. Why? Because we consider it a privilege to ally with other ministries by providing them an outstanding retreat experiences, so we’ll do whatever we can to accommodate their needs, even if it means thinking and do things we’ve never thought of, or tried before.

    As someone once said “necessity is the mother of all inventions”, and it’s when you’re committed to serving others, including fulfilling your commitments to them, that opportunity often becomes necessity. So, for our team, it was out both necessity and their desire to create outstanding experiences for our guests, which led to their novel solution, and more importantly their willingness to see that solution become a reality.

     So you see, such things as problem solving tools and innovation processes are not enough. Real creativity and problem solving begins and ends with willing hearts and open minds, followed by a commitment to action, even at a personal cost. And how do I know this is true? Because of what our Michigan Site and Retreats team did last week to assure our guests had an outstanding SpringHill Experience.

  • Marriage and Family,  SpringHill Experiences

    Women’s Sacred Moments at Their Sacred Place

    This past weekend was SpringHill’s first Women’s Retreat of 2012 and it was a great weekend on many levels. You see, our Women’s Retreat program, alongside Family Camp, is SpringHill’s longest running program. It’s literally a carryover from the early days when SpringHill believed it would become both a Christian conference center and a camp for kids.

    But in the late 80’s and early 90’s SpringHill made the very intentional decision to focus its energy on child, teens and young adults, thus all the facilities have been design and built with young people in mind. As a result, many predicted the end of such programs as Women’s Retreats.

    Well, 25 years later, Women’s Retreats continue to go strong and this past weekend highlights why. As I had lunch in the Dining Hall I listened to, and witness women, sharing with my wife Denise (our Women’s Retreat Coordinator) and Glenna Salsbury (our retreat speaker), how deeply impacted they had been by the weekend. And not just this past weekend, but many shared that SpringHill Women’s Retreat is their annual, sacred moment at their sacred place.

    For example, Lisa approached Denise and I, and told us she just needed to come this retreat, she knew God was going to meet her here, so, although she couldn’t find friends to come with her, she came alone. Lisa said that as soon as she stepped on camp, God affirmed His presence and this theme of God’s nearest to her, was clear throughout the entire weekend, including through Glenna’s messages, in the breakout sessions, and in the women she met. There’s no doubt, by looking into Lisa’s eyes, she encountered Jesus in a life transforming way.

    So Lisa, and so many other women, answered, in a very powerful way, why we still do Women’s Retreats at SpringHill, and why we’ll continue to do so for as long as God uses them to transform the lives of women.

  • Marriage and Family,  Resources,  Summer Camp

    Sacred Places

    There are many places in the world that are grand, many more that could be described as stunning, and of course, the world’s full of historic sites. Yet there is only a hand full of places that one might call sacred.

    Places become sacred because they have history, they’re beautiful, and most importantly, because something significant happens in the lives of people when they visit.

    This past week I had the opportunity to stay at one of these rare and sacred places – WinShape Retreats, on the property of Berry College in the mountains of northern Georgia. WinShape Retreats occupies the old Normandy Dairy buildings built and used by Berry College students to study dairy sciences.

    Even the bricks used to build all the Normandy Dairy buildings were produced by Berry College students in a brick factory donated by Henry Ford. Each building we toured oozed with history and beauty.

    But it’s what’s now taking place in these buildings that’s moved this place from historic to sacred. You see, when Berry College made the decision to consolidate their dairy sciences program, and move it closer to campus, the Normandy Dairy no longer had a purpose.

    In stepped the WinShape Foundation, led by the Cathy family, the founders and owners of Chick-fil-A restaurants. WinShape renovated all the buildings, turning this old dairy into a retreat center that offers marriage saving conferences, boys and girls camps, women’s and men’s retreats, and leadership summits.

    Yet places become sacred through and because of people. People who’ve dedicated such places for grand and noble purposes, such as helping build strong kids, marriages and families. Our group experienced firsthand such people, the committed and talented staff of WinShape, who’ve made a historic dairy into a sacred place, a place where lives become transformed.

  • SpringHill Experiences,  Summer Camp

    The Power of Camp

    When I was in Indianapolis last week I stayed at the Marriott SpringHill Suites (what other hotel would a SpringHill staffer stay at?).

    Upon arrival two Marriott staff greeted me at the front desk. I happen to be wearing a SpringHill fleece and the staff looked at me inquisitively and asked “are you with SpringHill Suites?” Of course this provided an opportunity to share about the “other” SpringHill. After a brief description, one of the staff had this dreamy look in her eyes which caused me to ask “have you been to camp?”

    She answered “I went to camp when I was young and it was one of the best times in my entire life.” So, of course, I asked “which camp did you go to?” She thought about it for a moment and said “you know I don’t remember, I just remember I loved it.”

    As I went to my room I thought about this woman’s camp experience. It was so powerful that being reminded of it put her in a state of reliving the experience right there in the hotel lobby. It was obvious her camp experience was even more important than the camp itself.

    Later I went back to the lobby so I could ask her a follow-up question. I wanted to know what made an experience so memorable that a person would even forget the name of the place it occurred. When I found her I asked “what made camp one of the best times in your life?”

    She quickly answered “I loved sitting around the camp fire singing, being with people who have become some of my closest friends, and the spiritual impact it had on me and others.”

    This woman experienced the Power of Camp – memorable experiences, lifelong relationships and transformational spiritual moments. It’s these stories that fuel the passion of SpringHill Camp staff and the staff of 100’s of other Christian camps around the country to, every summer, provide “one of the best experiences in life” for literally 100,000’s of kids and families.

    To learn more about the Power of Camp click here.

  • Leadership,  Organizational Leadership,  SpringHill Experiences

    What We do During These Winter Months

    It’s during these winter months that I’m often asked (mind you, rarely in a judgmental manner) “what do you and SpringHill do all winter long?” People know what SpringHill does during the summer – we have summer camp – but it’s the other nine months of the year that seem to be a mystery to people.

    Now I’m not offended by such inquiries because they give me an opportunity to share all that we do during these busy months of winter. So, just in case you’ve also wondered, let me share with you the answer to the question “what do you and SpringHill do all winter long?”

    In no particular order here’s a sampling of our work this winter:

    Visit college campus’ across the Midwest to find, recruit, interview, reference check, do back ground checks and contract a 1000 people to work this summer.

    Then prepare comprehensive and effective training for each of these 1000 new staff.

    Create, plan and prepare 5 major programs and curriculums for campers and summer staff.

    Make improvements to our property and facilities in time for our first campers to arrive.

    Identify 65 church and ministry partners in 12 plus cities to host our Day Camps as well as identifying dozens of partners for 2013.

    Market, sell, register, collect releases, medical forms, payments and answer the questions of parents for 23,000 summer campers.

    Raise money to make the needed capital improvements and pay for 2500 camper scholarships.

    Work out the logistics of weekly opening and closing days at 9 different SpringHill locations.

    Oh yes, I nearly forgot, we’ll also serve nearly 12,000 retreat campers between now and the arrival of our first summer camper.

    So as you can see, there’s no off-season at SpringHill, just a different season with different work. So as you think of SpringHill in the months to come, please remember this list and then pray for our staff that we’ll do all our work well, so that God might use our efforts to transform the lives of campers and staff we’ll have the privilege to serve in the coming months.


  • SpringHill Experiences

    Calling the Audible

    What do you do when you’re hosting over 900 students and their leaders for a “winter” retreat and winter melts away?  In light of it being Super Bowl weekend, you call an audible. 

    That’s exactly what our Michigan Retreats Team did this weekend after days of warm weather melted much of our snow (except, of course, on our tubing hill) including an anticipated Saturday with temperatures in the mid 40’s.  So the team decided to open up activities we normally offer during the non winter seasons such as riflery and, of course, the zipline.

    As a result, for the first time in SpringHill Winter Retreat history, we have students racing down the New Frontiers zipline.  It was an incredible scene watching 100’s of students speeding down both the tubing hill and zipline at the same time.

    Sarah Gillespie and her team making it happen

    But what made me proud was how our team looked at conditions outside their control (the weather) and instead of bemoaning them, searched for a way to take advantage of them, to create an experience that exceeded our guests’ expectations.  It meant a lot of extra work – opening up activity areas closed for the season and having staff trained and ready to safely operate them.

    Yet the team still called the audible, because the conditions “on the field” warranted it.   And the result was a memorable and life transforming weekend for over 900 students and their leaders.

    What made an audible even possible?  Simple, our team already had a well thought out and fine tuned plan.  I’ve often heard people ask “why plan if we’re just going to change it?”  Well, you can’t change what you don’t have, if you don’t have a game plan you can’t call an audible.

    Former staffer and long time volunteer Nick Deck working the zipline

    And, as our team demonstrated this weekend, when you have a great game plan then you’re in a position to call an audible, and the right audible can change the outcome of the game.

  • SpringHill Experiences

    Winter Retreats – A Little Like Heaven

    Photo by SpringHill staff

    Where, other than life on the new earth, can you find 9000 people from more than 250 different churches and denominations playing, praying and worshipping together? At SpringHill’s Winter Teen Retreats! That’s right, attending a Winter Retreat is a little like Heaven. Because at SpringHill, like eternity, there’s no divisions between God’s people.

    Instead the only competition between churches at SpringHill is the annual broomball tournament. The battle on the ice isn’t about doctrinal and governance issues, but instead about winning the coveted Winter Teen Retreat banner.

    I have to admit, even after being a part of Winter Retreats for 14 seasons, I’m still amazed every time I walk around camp during a winter weekend, to see and talk to students and leaders from so many churches and traditions. It does make me think about and anticipate the coming of Christ’s Kingdom on the new earth.

    What makes such an experience possible? First, every church understands the purpose of the weekend is to help students to know and grow in their relationships with Christ, to assist leaders in developing relationships with their students and to build stronger youth groups. Second, because of this purpose, SpringHill programs around what all Christian churches agree on – Jesus Christ. Finally, we stay away from issues that cause division and encourage the group leaders to do the same, which they’re only too happy to do.

    So, this winter, if you think about SpringHill, say a prayer for the 1000’s of students and their leaders who’ll be attending one of eleven retreats, that their Christ centered focus will continue well beyond the weekend, becoming the focus of their lives and the lives of their churches.




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