When our camps first started, they were an outgrowth of the Christian education in our congregations. During the school year, children would go to Sunday School and in the summer they would be encouraged, or would all go together to “their” church camp. Over the years, more and more opportunities have encroached on summer and many of our camping ministries have become an option among many for the children in our congregations to attend.
We can lament this change and I’d be happy to expound upon the myriad reasons I believe this came to be, but I would rather focus on the part we can control and impact.
Let’s not ask why are congregations not encouraging their children to attend our camp, let’s ask, why are we not encouraging or giving tools for our campers to attend congregations!
If the 2002 Presbyterian Panel showed us that more than ½ of our church leaders who profess to having a singular formative faith experience had it at a camp, conference or retreat – then we are a catalyst of evangelism and church growth! We can be an intentional partner in strengthening congregations.
I often here from those who no longer attend church that their congregation was just not feeding them or relevant in their life anymore. That is a sad commentary and a reality for many – but I’m not willing to accept that as the status quo.
We can learn from sites such as Crestfield outside of Pittsburgh, PA who equips churches to offer day camps, or Hanover outside Richmond, VA who continues to offer traveling day camps at churches that we need to engage and become tools of and relevant to our congregations for the sake of the call we have to “create disciples of all nations.” This action is healthy for both the congregations who partner, as well as the sites.
What other ways are we engaging our Presbyteries and congregations? What needs do they have that they are no longer able to, or are no longer the correct venue to fulfill? How can our centers become more intentional centers for mission and ministry as we partner to help fill the needs of our church?
How are you encouraging your campers to attend and become active in a congregation? How are you sharing tools on where to find a congregation when they get home?
If we are just one week mountain-top experiences – we are not serving as a connectional component of the body of Christ but instead as a stand along faith experience. If we have become a commodity, and have become disassociated as a component of the whole church, we need to be active participants in changing that. Our survival as connected and relevant Presbyterian Camp, Conference and Retreat centers depends on this – otherwise we might as well be non-denomination, or perhaps even, non-church camps.