Re-thinking Summer Camps (Part 1):

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.

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3 Responses to Re-thinking Summer Camps (Part 1):

  1. mattarino says:

    Hi Ken,
    Thank you for starting this conversation.
    1. What is camp about? Distance. The same reason Jesus went to a quiet place and took the disciples to the place of the Transfiguration. Mountain tops help us gain perspective for life in the valley.
    2. Who is it for? The individual faith of the student, the community of the youth group, the relationships between adult leaders and students, building leadership skills in your young adult counselors and staff…I think it is the most powerful tool in the toolbox. Many might not come back in your context. In ours, a fantastic camping program is the one thing that keeps students in encouraged in Christ in moribund churches. It gives them a vision for what the church could be. It gives them relationships with others around the diocese that they stay in touch with in order to have a semblance of a Christian peer group.

  2. phlipside says:

    Honestly don’t like any of your choices. When I talk to parents and clergy about camp I talk about:
    A – Sabbath time. Holy time away from their daily routines to spend some time with God. How that time may manifest itself is different for each camper. Could be class time,could be just being in an environment when love dominates.
    B – lifting up leaders to help when they get back to their home parishes. We’re not always as clear on this as I’d like but the clear guidance is to head back into some kind of regular faith community. That’s easier said than done for some and for some THIS is the most vibrant faith life they have right now. If it makes them want it then they’ll find it eventually in their lives because they’ll keep looking for it.

    Who is it for? For the young people on their walk in faith. Everything else is secondary. If we’re doing it right they will hear the call to grow and be more involved. Being worried about the “success rate” of your training program would send up warning flags for me.

    For me right now the question to be asked is not who is it for but what are we trying to accomplish in the first place? Too often we rush past that question. Without a clear idea of why we do anything we are doomed (IMO) to fail no matter what the program is.

    • kjmoser says:

      Thanks for your comments. I agree with both of your points (A and B). This is a topic too big for one blog and my question of who is it for flows out of the idea that we can’t think that the number of warm bodies attending a program is considered a success. I am wanting to discourage the shotgun at a distant target approach and want to aim for strategic thinking and honest evaluation that will advance the kingdom. Too often we congratulate ourselves that ‘we put something on’ and are content to leave it at that – this is something I am trying to discourage.

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