By: Christa Meland
A few months ago, Rachel Devereaux and Tracy Ottenstroer told members of their congregation: If you donate $2,500 for the church’s kids to go to camp, we’ll jump into a frozen lake in sub-zero temperatures.
“Tracy and I are terrified of water,” said Devereaux, director of youth ministries at Cross Winds United Methodist Church in Maple Grove. “But we’ll face our fears because we believe in the camp ministry so much.”
People in the congregation took notice. Adult members rose to their challenge and donated $3,500 for scholarships to Camp Minnesota, and younger members signed up to attend camp this summer.
Cross Winds is among a growing number of Minnesota United Methodist churches that have found effective and innovative ways to increase camp participation and give their kids an unforgettable faith-based experience at one of Camp Minnesota’s three primary camp sites—Northern Pines in Park Rapids, Koronis in Paynesville, and Kowakan near Ely.
Here’s a look at how three of these churches have made camp a priority:
Cross Winds UMC
Over a five-week period this spring, Devereaux and Ottenstroer showed three short and entertaining videos in worship. The first one showed them committing to do a polar plunge if members donated money for camperships. The second one showed them training for the plunge by dipping their feet in ice cold water, and the third one captured them doing the polar plunge after donations had topped their goal. They also used social media to share their videos and generate awareness.
“It’s not same old stand up in front of the congregation and give a pitch about money,” said Devereaux. “It met people where they’re at in their lives right now.”
Several years ago, eight youth from Cross Winds signed up for camp. Last year, it was 25. As of mid-May, 30 were already registered for this year.
Each young person from Cross Winds who goes to camp this summer will receive $100 toward the camp of their choosing, which has been a great incentive, the women said. While they let families know that kids are welcome to attend any of the 80-plus camps offered, they concentrated on promoting four that they knew well.
“I always say the week at camp is like no other and it equals a year or two years’ worth of programming that we could do at our local church,” said Ottenstroer, director of children and family ministries. “Campers come back with a new excitement for Christ and a new excitement to make an impact for the world. You just see this light, this energy that comes from them after they get back.”
The women said they want to be partners in helping other congregations get children and youth fired up for camp. Next year, they hope that other youth leaders around the conference will join them in setting financial goals for their congregations and taking the plunge if those goals are reached.
UMC of Thief River Falls
Heather Crandall doesn’t wait for one designated Camp Sunday to encourage members of her church to go to camp. She talks about it all year long—and so does her 6-year-old daughter, who returned last summer from a treehouse camp at Northern Pines eager to go back.
Crandall, co-chair of the education and youth committee at the United Methodist Church of Thief River Falls, wasn’t raised in a faith and wasn’t given the opportunity to go to camp. She wants to make sure that’s not the case for her own four children and others in the congregation. Fortunately, other members feel the same way.
Thanks to a legacy gift fund at the church and the generosity of some older members of the congregation who annually give money, the church pays for half of the cost of any camp experience—not only for young people in the church but also for young people in the community. Some need additional financial assistance, and the church provides opportunities for youth to earn money by helping out around the church—caring for children in the nursery, raking leaves, and other such tasks.
Crandall estimates that 75 percent of the kids who the church sends to camp wouldn’t have been able to go without some form of assistance. But the church is committed to finding a way to pay for any and all children who wish to attend.
Last year, the church sent four to camp. This year, 11 were signed up as of mid-May. After their camp experiences, kids will be invited to share their experiences and photos with the congregation.
“Camp is a good way for them to see that you can have fun while being with God and growing in faith,” said Crandall. “It’s different than sitting in church.”
Coon Rapids UMC
A few months ago, Abby Koppen told members of her congregation: I’m going to camp, and I hope you’ll come with me.
Koppen, youth ministries coordinator at Coon Rapids United Methodist Church, said she’s found that kids are more excited to go to camp and parents are more eager to send their children to camp if they’re going with other people from church.
When Koppen was in school, most of her classmates were Christians. That’s not the case for youth today, she said.
“Camp is one place you can go where people around you are Christians or want to be Christians,” she said. “You can talk about your faith and it’s a safe environment to do so.”
Koppen attended camp throughout her childhood and is still friends with many fellow campers. She has shared her own experiences with the congregation. But one of the biggest motivators for kids who haven’t tried camp is hearing about it from peers.
Last year, two of the church’s kids went to camp. As of mid-May, 15 were registered—including some friends and cousins of those who attended in previous years.
“At camp, it doesn’t matter what you look like or who your friends are or what you’re interested in,” said Koppen. “Everyone loves you.”
*It’s not too late to sign up for camp!
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church