The good news is that summer is just around the corner. When you look at my backyard and the wall of snow that forbids me from seeing my backyard, you realize that this is good news. With summer comes… summer camps! For many kids this is great news. Summer camp= horses, rope courses, rifles and water sports. Oh yeah, it also includes connecting with Jesus (or, for many, reconnecting with Jesus).
This week I want us to re-think the effectiveness of summer camp— now before you spill your coffee in view of my last comment, there are a few things you need to know.
1. I became a Christian on a camp.
2. Summer camp had a profound impact on me and my development as a person.
3. I love camps—I’ve run a lot of them (I stopped counting at 300). With these things in mind though… please allow me to probe just a bit.
I have now been in Canada for almost nine years, and am surrounded by summer camp ministries. While I love them, I must ask, “Are summer camps really that effective in reaching youth for Jesus?” I know many of you will say, “Yes, of course!” but let’s just look at the facts. When I was in Vancouver, the local youth leaders I knew may have picked up one or two youth every now and then from all the various summer camps held around British Columbia (and there are a lot of them!). But the number of converted who joined youth groups and stayed was far from staggering. Sure, one or two youth is better than no youth. However, a lot of effort goes into these camps. And, a lot of hands go up in the “Who wants to turn to Jesus” slot. The feet attached to these hands just don’t seem to make it into a local church.
Following on from this, I spoke to the former head of one camping program and she told me that, “we surveyed each and every student we could find who did our training program attached to the summer camp in the past twenty years. Only 3% of them continues to be actively involved in church.” You probably know these training programs under various names (LIT, CIT, SIT etc. It is basically “in Training” with a consonant attached.) Now I realize that this is a slightly different category to nonChristians who go to camp but it still begs the question, “Are we being effective in our summer camp ministry?”
We know that summer is a long time and can be boring, so a week away can be a great opportunity to connect with nonChristians. Therefore, we use this program to attract and (hopefully) lead nonChristians to Christ. However, as with many of our adopted youth ministry strategies, is it effective? Is it the best way to reach youth over the summer? Are they worth all the effort we put into them?
In the next few posts I want to ask two simple questions, “What is summer camp about?” And “Who is it for?” I’m striving for clarity here… Is summer camp a time for Christians to gather together and enjoy a week of summer fun? (Which is a concept fine by me.) Or is it a time to charge the Christians up during the long spiritually dry season of summer? (A good thing!) Or, is it a time to reach the nonbeliever through an active, “fun” program?
Let’s explore these questions over the next few posts.