First Third Conversations

Camp and Church

By Neil Christians

 In view of the upcoming conference at Luther Seminary on November 26-27 entitled “Why Can’t Church be More Like Camp”, I thought that I’d write a pre-event blog and pose a few questions for us as a community to think about.

Philliber Research Associates and the American Camp Association did a study. That looked into the impact of camp on children and youth. This is the largest research study of camper outcomes every done in the United States with more than 5000 families and 80 accredited camps participating. You can view the entire study here.

This study included day and resident camps, one-week and multi-week camps, single gender and co-ed camps, private and agency, for profit and non-profit,  as well as religious and non-religions camps. With experiences at camps being as diverse as the campers who attended, the study did evaluations pre-camp, post-camp and a 6-month follow up. What they found was a significant growth in four major areas.

Positive Identity

Social Skills

Physical & Thinking Skills

Positive Values & Spirituality

It is not a surprise that Physical & Thinking Skills and Friendship Skills fell back to a Pre-Camp status 6 months after their camp experience. However, what really struck me was the impact on Spirituality. Campers showed an increase in Spirituality Post-camp yet reverted back to where they were after 6 months. What gave me insight as to why was this quote:

Camp makes you feel more free to be yourself and not have others judge you. At home, many people think I’m a punk, but at camp, I’m just a Christian and people don’t judge me the way the world does.”

 – Dariela, age 14

Let me pose a few questions. I’d love your insight!

  • Is this judgmental attitude they are experiencing because of something that we are doing at church or is the part of “the nature of the beast” because these individuals are back in a school environment?
  • What else might we be doing that is hindering spirituality in these individuals after they return home from a camp experience?
  • How is the camping experience focused on discipleship that brings this spiritual growth that we are not doing in the church when they return home?
  • Is what needs to change simply what we do as youth workers or is there something more systematic? 

Join the conversation on!

Neil Christians is the Director of the Family Ministry Team at Christ Lutheran Church in Charlotte, NC. He has been in paid children,youth and family ministry for 20 years and is passionate about mentoring others in a life of faith. Other passions include Harry Potter, movie clips and his favorite band Switchfoot. So, watch for references to these in his blog posts. 


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