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Have you been to camp? Is it an important part of your faith story? How do outdoor ministries fit in with the ministries of your church? Millions of young people attend Christian summer camps every summer in the United States and tens of thousands of young adults serve on summer camp staffs. Some have amazing, “mountain-top experiences,” while others do not. Some camps are known for cranking out leaders for the church that become pastors, youth ministers, bishops, deacons, and devoted lay volunteers. Others are important sites for retreat ministries for adults, youth, and families. While some Christian leaders praise the benefits of camping ministry, others are skeptical of its role in faith formation and discipleship.
The truth is that Christian camping ministry is an incredibly understudied field. This is shocking when we consider that the 2003 National Study of Youth and Religion found that 39% of all American teenagers have attended a religious summer camp. When we look at the 5 denominations involved in the Confirmation Project, the number jumps to well over 50%. Christian summer camp is an important part of Christian education and faith formation for many young people, and the Confirmation Project is one of the first major studies to take this role seriously. The study promises to provide the most comprehensive picture to date of the nature and significance of Christian camping ministry to the work of the Church. This is one of the many innovative approaches and unique contributions the Confirmation Project is making to scholarship and the strengthening of discipleship in youth.
There are multiple questions directly addressing outdoor ministries on the nationwide confirmand and confirmation leader surveys. In addition to this, every camp and conference center affiliated with one of the five denominations is being surveyed. This camp survey went out via e-mail in coordination with the congregational surveys. It is designed to be filled out by a director-level staff person or camp manager. Pastors and youth ministers, contact your camp leadership personnel to make sure that they participate in this survey! Five camps (one per denomination) will also be visited in the summer of 2015 to examine their programs more closely. This means that camps will account for one in five of the total sites visited.
The study focuses on camp as a CEP (“Confirmation or Equivalent Practice”), but it is not limited to “confirmation camp” programs. The researchers recognize that camp may be directly involved in a congregation’s CEP programs and it may also serve in various support roles. All camps and conference centers in the five denominations should, therefore, participate in the survey. This study will answer: In what ways and to what extent does the Christian summer camp experience contribute to the faith formation and Christian education of adolescents in the Protestant tradition?
 The camp survey is being sent under the name “Outdoor Ministry Research Project” to distinguish it from the congregational survey. It is being sent to all camps affiliated with the outdoor ministry organizations of the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Your help is requested in contacting these camps! Make sure your camp is included. The African Methodist Episcopal Church does not have an organization of outdoor ministries, so we need your help in identifying camp programs in the AME tradition. Contact Jacob Sorenson for more details on the camp study and for access to the camp survey.
This project will help us get more young people to camp, improve the quality of our outdoor ministries, and strengthen the partnership between outdoor ministry sites and congregations. You are invited to join us in these efforts!