Monday, March 17, 2008


    As I mentioned in a recent post, I want to begin thinking out loud about a different approach to church camp, one that is less program and activity-driven. But before we begin to consider what it could mean to "rethink" church camp, it might be helpful to consider why there is even a need to look for a new direction. Why fix what isn't broken? Isn't camp supposed to be about games, crafts, sports, campfires, and crazy team activities? Consider the church camp experience shared by the writer of the Messy Christian blog. Near as I can tell, she is talking about a church camp for adults, but everything she shares could equally apply to church camp for youth:

    Frankly, I don’t really enjoy church camps . . . . I find the manufactured togetherness exhausting at best, and the effort of smiling and being cheerful all the time is also taxing. Not that I don’t have fun during church camp, but at the back of my mind is always this question, “Why
    am I doing this?” And there’s always this feeling that building real relationships is still out of my reach despite all the fun we’re having….

    I find church camps to be pressure cookers. I hate participating in the games the most. I’m really anti-social during church camps and go all out to avoid all team sports games and people will probably think I’m some kind of sour puss (which I probably am). What I long for is a church camp that is not so frantic with the need TO DO SOMETHING. I also feel such a pressure to conform at a time when I don’t want to conform so badly. (If you don’t play in the games, people will think you’re not part of the team, when all you want to do is just watch and relax a little.)

    So yeah, people who think too much probably won’t have a swell time at church camps. The best church camp I had was with DUMC, where I basically did some reading at the beach, some mingling with a couple of
    friends, and listening to a talk or two and lots and lots of just sitting around staring at the sea. I refused to participate in any of the games, and frankly, if anyone forced me, I would’ve thrown something at them. And it was a great, healing time!

    I think the explanation is simple. Because I lead such a hectic life as a journalist, rushing from deadline to deadline, appointment to appointment, participate in all kinds of press conferences, watch exciting shows, meet all kinds of people etc, when you’re on a holiday, you want to do the opposite. You want to be silent, and slow down. You want to be selfish.You I don’t want to be part of any thing. You don’t want to get excited. You want to do nothing, be with God alone without the distraction …I wish there was a church camp like that. Where I can just retreat somewhere beautiful with some friends and think and write about God.
    Do these thoughts resonate with you and the experience you have had at camp? Can you imagine youth at your camps who might feel just this way? I think these sentiments do a great job of laying out the challenges. Next, we'll start considering the options that might offer a different way of doing camp.


    Randy said...

    My first experiences of church camp were at Family Camp at Bethany Hills, the Disciples camp in Tennessee.

    Though there was some program time through a good part of the morning and vespers and all-camp games for a bit of the evening, there were also these major blocks of time when we explored the creek and the crawdads, fished, swam, sat lazily in the benches around the firepit in front of the dining hall, played cards and just were (the past tense of the being verb).

    Those times are likely my best imaginings of heaven.

    Bill Spangler-Dunning said...

    Perhaps like congregational ministry the "rethink" here is not see camp as monolithic and one size fits all. Though I am passionate about mentoring, alongside ministry and camp experiences that support that path to healthy connections with God and each other, I continue to be amazed at the many different ways that people enter the journey.

    My own wife once expressed her concerns that camp to her felt like a conforming factory. It did not do much for her spiritual journey. When I listend to what she was looking for I invited her to try a different kind of camp and wow it matched up.

    In the past I have found that people were told what camp they had to go to because it was the only one for their region, cluster, area. Now people choose for their own reasons. We do camps that are smaller 15-20 around differing approaches and experiences. Most still go to the larger standard camps but Im glad their are options. I think this is the way to change. Not unlike adding a second worship experience... keep the old, even protect it but add the new and sometimes the issue was not that we were doing something wrong we just were not doing enough . . .

    Brian said...

    Randy and Bill,
    Thanks for your reflections. I particularly hear the caveat that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to camp. And the sort of thinking-out-loud that I'm doing here, I hope, is more in the sense of offering an alternative, rather than tearing down the dominant model and replacing it with something else. Clearly, some of you are using different models out there, and the more we can get the word out about those alternatives, the better for our youth who may be looking for a camp experience that is more intimate, more filled with silence, more attuned to the arts, etc.

    Bill Spangler-Dunning said...

    More the better.. Perhaps if we cannot or do not feel that we can offer these different expressions because it is too much of a risk for one group or something than maybe we should find a way to link up together to make these different paths viable.. Please understand my comments as just thinking alongside. Doing some great stuff here... Together we are Stronger..

    Dailey Chandler said...

    (Ok, if you don't want to read it all, at least respond to the questions at the bottom.)
    As a Youth Programs Director at a Retreat Center in Pa. I very much understand the perspectives being shared and, on the surface agree.
    Camps come in all shapes, all sizes, and are incredibly diverse, and yes, specialized. Most camps run their own summer program and open the doors to anyone/everyone during the summer months. During the "Off-Season" (which is anything but) most camps do very little in terms of programming and have little say over what happens inside on their property. (Some camps go so far as to open their property to any group of people who want to use their facility...) While our facility does NOT host secular groups, we are completely hands-off when it comes to their programming. To them we are 1,000+ acres that they can come to and have their own program.
    Camps can further be broken down from there: Youth Camps, Teen Adventure Weeks, Teen Trek Weeks, Family Camp..... and these are just at my camp! There are literally thousands of other breakdowns from here. Each has its own feel. Each has its own strengths. Each has its own weaknesses. (NOTE: I do not think that any of our camps “Manufacture Togetherness” or are “Pressure Cookers”, but that does not negate the feelings of the original poster.)

    1) I would love to know, if you could design a camp for teens (13-17) what things would you want it to encompass? What experience would you have enjoyed at that age? What is something that they can not get at home, but that a camp environment can offer? Instead of talking about the bad (I get it, no more stupid camp games), what would you want to see? (We are doing a new program this summer & I would LOVE to hear your ideas on this subject!)
    2) If you were to go away somewhere for a week, what would you want that place to look like? Would you want modern amenities (Wireless access/Good Cell phone reception/TV)? Would you want things to keep you occupied, or simply free-time with options? Would you want a speaker? Would you want community worship & meals or simply a place to lay your head, and rock on a front porch and journal?
    What do you want?

    pastorwick said...

    I traveled to tons of church camps, leading worship with a band in college. Before that, I worked at a camp, and loved attending them as a teen. The energy, and freedom from the stresses of school/social status/economic pressures/etc..was awesome.

    Now I'm a father of 2, husband, and youth pastor. I love the quiet times of camp. The early mornings before everyone's up. Spending time with those who get "shoved aside" in the bustle of camp activities...and yeah, doing something obnoxiously stupid for attention.

    I think that thinking thoughts like those listed above, is a GREAT thing for us in ministry. I've seen camps that follow the same patterns since 1890, and camps that do ridiculously "new" stuff every year. I've seen both change lives, with Christ as the center...and I've seen both be ineffective, with "spiritual productivity" as the center.

    The Bakerboy himself said...

    As a child, my parents would always take the fam to a Weslyan church camp for a week, and I grew to like it very much. There was time set aside to simply hang out with friends, or at that time much more important, hanging out with the ladies, and there were many programmed activities. They seemed to encapsule a decent balance between the two.
    Most recently, for 6 years I have been involved in a great non-profit, non-denominational organization called Youth for Christ. Their idea of camp, though successful in todays program driven society, was successful, howver it always led me down the path of wondering if we were much like sheep following the trend of always keeping the middle schoolers moving from one activity to the next simply because that is the lifestyle to which they become accustomed and anything less would simply render them bored.

    I believe there must be a way to slowly move from that type of chaos towards a camp that allows more freedom from the normal day-to-day society rush.

    I can recall with ease the hours poured into the weeks of camp to program every minute of the day into some organized activity and my ideas of breaking that mold slowly faded into the background without a second thought as if we could not possibly move from a society that lends to pushing our kids from one game/activity/etc to another into a retreat from the outside world allowing some (it doesn;t have to be a lot) freedom from organized activity and to put into your words, just allow them to be...for a short while.

    Part of the misison of the organization with whom I serve is to partner with other ministries, ministers, volunteers, and communites to build HIS Kingdom. If there is an opportunity to partner with your ministry and to be of some encouragement to you, your crew, and your teens, i would very much like to be of service.

    Vaya Con Dios,
    Toby Baker

    Brian said...

    THanks to everyone for their great thoughts -- all helpful as I plan the next installment of this series. I realize that I speak from a limited experience of camp, but I do hear several folks echoing the sentiment that it would be nice to offer an alternative that allows camp to be an experience of rest rather than activity.

    rphinkle said...

    I am looking for the answer to Daileys question, I am building a church camp facility in nrth Alabama in an area where it is much needed. We are planning on having a water park area beside it and would like to know hw important that will be to the facility, I personally dont care, but would like to know from teens and youth ministers. I also need support with ideas as Dailey ask. To make this very successful I have to be very humble to find out what teens and youth and adults would like to see in a great facility. We are planning on doing a lot of hands on educational items such as: teaching carpentry, heavy equipment, farming, banking, real estate, marriage, relationship, financial such as checking accounts, credit, borrowing. Family matters which we will all relate to the bible. Can this work please critique.We are also looking for support throughout the project financial, faith, and physical. Any help would be appreciated.

    Stoney Creek Outreach

    cliffnclyde said...

    I am a Youth Minister and love camp. I understand that there are different people at each camp that wants different things (games, quite times, ect.), but the question I want to ask is "IS camp for you or for your students?"
    Almost everyone that has commented on this is only talking about what I want to get out of camp, I like when it is quite before everyone is up. Is that really for the kids? Camp is a great time for your students to grow in there relationship with Christ, not for us to worry about our free time and all the things that go on during a week of camp.
    If it is that hard on you don't go!!

    Kwinn said...

    Quiet times are good. Activities are good, but if kids don't want to participate... let them watch or hang out and talk to the other kids participating. You really don't get to personally know... "KNOW" your students. This is a time to fellowship and mentor your students. They get away from their world, their cell phones, thier my space, facebook, you tube... me me me me and are surrounded around Christ. IF you focus a camp on fellowship, of course good food, worship, the word of God, and prayer... How can it not be awesome? Everyone knows fellowship is awesome or why would you even care to come to youth group or a camp. We all know the word of God doesn't return void. God is worthy to be praised! Use the prayer time to individually go around in circles finding out what prayer request everyone has... and have a leader right down everything and remember the prayer needs. Pray for the Lord will to be done in those students situations throughout the week. Ask if any of the other kids want to pray for any of the other students needs. Teach on the power of prayer. Break up the boys and the girls and teach on sex. It is way undertaught, and what a better time to get real with your students and have open discussion and what the Bible says on these topics. There is so much you can do to be successful, but I do believe it has to be centerd on Jesus Christ, worshiping Him, Spending time on our knees, and time in His word... all the activities are fluff, but the students do enjoy them, so keep the main thing the main thing. In our lives If nothing changes... nothing changes.