We can’t afford to lose life-changing camping ministry

April 23, 2012

We have some difficult decisions to make as a church about our camp and retreat ministry.

Many of us had significant experiences, perhaps even life-changing ones, at church camp. We discovered the power of Christian community. We may have heard a call to full-time Christian vocation. Perhaps we have been going to the same family camp year after year and its location is sacred ground to us.

I’ve had formative Christian experiences at every one of our campgrounds except Ko-Wa-Kan. I have valued all our sites and the life-changing ministries that have happened there. Our camp and retreat ministry is very important to me.

I greatly want the next generation to discover Christ in the midst of creation and community. If our children are to have faith, I believe our camp and retreat ministry is a significant way to help that to happen.

We cannot afford to lose this ministry.

But the world is changing, and our camp and retreat ministry must also change. If you haven't noticed, there is a lot of competition for people's time, and children's lives are busy with sports, scouting, and specialty camps for music and languages. People are not going to come to our camps just because they are United Methodist. We have to offer quality experiences, in facilities that meet their expectations for the experiences we are offering, at a price that fits the family budget.

A sustainable future

The Retreat and Camping Ministry Team has been in an intentional strategic planning process for the past four years. In the first phase, it became clear that they needed to move toward a unified system instead leaving each site on its own to develop programs and maintain its ministry. We approved that strategic step at 2009 annual conference session.

Since then, the RMCT engaged Kathy Trotter from Kaleidoscope Inc., a camping consulting company, to determine a focus that aligns with the conference ministry, assess all our properties for maximizing our resources, and best position us for the future.

On behalf of the conference, the team is reclaiming our strength in children’s and youth ministry in the classic residential camp setting (think cabins, waterfront, campfires, group activities). Volunteers, deans, and counselors have built our current system. But in these changing times, fewer volunteers can give up a week of vacation to work at camp. To succeed, we need more staff leadership to ensure a consistent experience across all our camp offerings. Volunteers will still play a key role!

Kathy Trotter's work with us revealed that we own and operate more campgrounds than we need and can afford. We incurred an operating loss of $100,000 in 2011. Our facilities need capital upgrades to be competitive. Our camping ministry cannot survive those trends.

We learned that we need two sites that can offer classic residential camps for 150 children and youth each week for the entire summer. We need to invest in staffing and sites in order to provide quality programming that will make us the preferred choice of children and youth.

At conference session this month, lay and clergy members will be asked to take action to divest of two of our sites (and possibly a third). This recommendation comes out of a long, deliberate, and painful process. We know the memories and experiences people have had at each of these sites. RCMT knows the magnitude of the decisions they are asking us to make.

They also know that if we don't make these decisions, we may not have a camping ministry at all. That is not acceptable.

Prepare to discern as wisely as possible where God is calling us in terms of our ministry with children and youth and what we need to do to best position our camp and retreat ministry so that we can continue to offer Christ to as many as possible in creation and community.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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