Gregg Hunter is president and CEO of the Christian Camp and Conference Association.
The average teenager sends and receives 3,417 text messages a month, according to a Nielson report published in December. Children up to the age of eight spend an average of one hour and forty minutes watching television or DVDs a day, according to research done by Common Sense Media. The average child spends 623 minutes a week on a computer and 1,880 minutes a week playing video games.
Clearly for many young people, accustomed to being constantly “plugged in,” the idea of “getting away from it all” may feel like deprivation. Leaving behind their tech toys for a week of camp may seem like an utterly foreign idea. Perhaps it is not surprising, therefore, that this is one of the challenges camps face in drawing a new generation of campers.
Cost is also a hurdle. It’s hard to find an industry that has not been negatively impacted by the struggling economy of the last several years, and both camps and campers have felt the pinch. It’s difficult for some families to afford camp, especially if they have more than one child who wants to attend. There are certainly many other ways they could use that money, particularly if employment has been lost or is at risk. Also, camps may struggle to keep up with capital improvements when donations dip during an economic downturn. These challenges exist in an environment where many critical products and services, such as fuel and food, cost more to purchase.
In addition, families face plenty of competing options when deciding whether to send their kids to camp—specialty camps like drama, music, and sports camp, or mission trips through church or other organizations, to name just a few. And parents are often more inclined to let their kids choose what they want to do, in contrast to previous generations when parents were more prone to make those decisions for their children.
A final challenge is the myths that persist about camping. Parents who did not grow up attending camp may assume that all camp settings are rustic, and that their kids will spend the week sleeping on platforms in tents. Other misconceptions are that camps lack running water and electricity, or that camp food is limited to hot dogs roasted over an open fire. Some families may be concerned about how much supervision their children will have and how safe the camp environment is.
The solution to each of these challenges is communication and partnerships. “The only way camps will succeed is through partnerships—with churches, with community groups, with clusters of churches,” says Joel Rude, associate director of Alpine Camp and Conference Center and president of the Association of Covenant Camps and Conference Centers.
Those partnerships may take various shapes. Many Covenant churches are strongly connected to the nearest Covenant camp and sponsor several fund-raising events throughout the year to help send their kids to camp.
Cornerstone Covenant Church in Palm Desert, California, hosts a thrift store whose sole purpose is to raise funds to send disadvantaged children to camp. Alpine Camp and Conference Center partners with inner-city ministries. And Covenant Heights Camp and Retreat Center in Estes Park, Colorado, partners with public schools along the front range of the Rockies, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, to teach hands-on science curriculum. “Many of these schools use this as the curriculum for their science classes—map and compass, forest ecology, water ecology, animal tracks and trails, and geology,” says John Amschler, director of outdoor education and programming at the camp. Some three thousand students come through the program each year, and the program is growing as five new schools have signed on this year. The successful collaboration offers a strong financial resource for the camp itself, Amschler explains. “It makes it possible for us to offer more scholarships for kids to attend camp during the summer.”
For more than twenty years Covenant Point Bible Camp in Iron River, Michigan, has hosted Purdue University’s Forestry and Natural Resources outdoor education program. For five weeks Covenant Point staff host Purdue students and professors, who travel from their campus nearly 500 miles away to gain hands-on experience in wildlife, fisheries, and forestry classes.
Of course, Rude continues, “All camps partner with their donors. We have a strategic partnership with the denomination. And most important, through prayer, we are always partnering with God to further our mission.”