Camp’s Role in Spiritual Growth
Previously, we touched on Faith Formation and the idea that camps can play a significant role in spiritual leadership. We brought up the concept that this leadership should extend beyond just summer camp, and follow youth throughout the year. We even asked for input from you, our readers, about which camps were excelling in this area and what advice you had to give. Now, we would like to dive deeper into camp’s role in spiritual growth, as we believe wholeheartedly there is a strong mission opportunity.
How history plays a role
When we first started working with denominational camps, the concept was much different than today. Camp was simply an additive, correlating to a place of worship. Meaning, children would come directly from their local religious community to summer camp, with the goal of strengthening the home congregation. Their place of worship would then continue their education when camp was over. In fact, oftentimes there was a hard boundary between these establishments and spiritual camps, that once summer programming was over, it was no longer acceptable for camp leadership to interfere with religious education.
This concept, although askew, may have worked years ago when local congregation attendance numbers were soaring and they had enough staff and volunteers to work on youth programming. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. Decreased numbers means less youth participation and fewer spiritual opportunities. This is a pattern we are seeing throughout many denominations.
What does this mean for camps?
In short, we believe this means faith-based camps have a greater responsibility than they did years ago when it comes to faith formation and spiritual growth. Since the majority of our youth is not connected to a local place of worship, camps must be the nourishment these children need to grow and form their faith life.
In order to carry out that responsibility, camps need to adopt a new way of thinking and new programming guidelines. Instead of being a one-stop experience, there should be a focus on continual outreach and mentorship. Leaders need to consider how their staff can support these efforts. Some camps may find it necessary to hire a spiritual growth coordinator, whereas others can adjust responsibilities between staff and volunteers efficiently.
The main concept is that the continuation of faith-based education needs to be part of a camp’s mission all year long. This means a specified amount of time and resources should be spent planning and preparing for faith enrichment.
Start making changes now
We understand that this mission may be a new path for many organizations, but this time of year is prime for planning. Below we have listed some ideas and tips that may help you to get the ball rolling:
1. Brainstorm with your team on how you can meld your messaging into your programming and outreach. Make these sessions a safe place to offer suggestions, no matter how small or out-of-the-box.
2. Center your programming around year-long faith formation, making it easier to reachout to campers during the off-season. This may include:
- Scheduling projects or activities during summer camp that will furnish future results. For example, you could have campers build donation crates for local charities and then update them on how well the collection is going during the winter. You could also have them plant something that will prosper throughout the year and give them updates on growth as the seasons change.
- Introducing new activities that can be practiced back home, and then checking-in for updates on how they have improved. This could include activities such as praying, meditating, knitting or Tai Chi.
- Giving campers thought-provoking questions to ponder before they leave, and letting them know you will be contacting them to check-in on their thoughts.
3. Focus on message-related outreach efforts throughout the year. This may look like:
- Holding regular virtual gatherings: religious study, chat sessions on a specific topic, or simply silly hat night.
- Holding an in-person event or holiday gathering.
- Having a ½ way party, celebrating 6 more months until camp!
- Sending personalized letters or emails.
- Hosting onsite retreats for your campers, and offering a virtual experience for those who cannot attend in-person.
- Sending interactive mailings with fun assignments to return.
- Holding brainstorming sessions to let campers get involved in programming for the upcoming season.
- Posting fun and engaging content regularly on social media.
You have the opportunity to open up communication channels with your campers during their summer stay. If planned thoughtfully, these gateways can make the transition to out of summer outreach more fluid and organic. After that, it is all about how you weave faith-based messaging into your efforts.
If anyone can provide spiritual growth for the next generation, it is denominational camps. Not only do they have the tools, education and support needed, but they also have strong roots in their faith. Who better to spread the word and guide our youth?