Brian Frick is the Associate for Camp and Conferences Ministries with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has been involved in camp and conference ministry since high school. For the past ten years, Brian has served as program director of Johnsonburg Center in New Jersey, Westminster Woods in California, and Heartland Center in Missouri.
Camp and conference ministry compliments and partners with other ministry aspects of our church to foster faith development and reflection. As our communities and our church changes, our ministries need to grow and adapt with creative and emergent programming and leadership to meet new realities.
These blogs entries, though varied, are intended to spur thought and conversation around the opportunities and challenges before us.
I had a wonderful conversation with Tony Biasell, director of Calvin Crest in California. If you have not had a chance to speak with him, I highly recommend it. Here is a person who has committed his life to Christian camping and served for more than 20 years as program director before becoming the director. He gets it and has lived it and change share it in fresh and creative ways that we can all learn from.
Calvin Crest has experienced a decline in camper numbers throughout the last decade or so. From a high water mark of over 3,000 campers each summer to somewhere near 1,000 campers per summer. Still a good sized program in comparison to other centers, but there was definitely a decline.
Instead of doubling down on marketing to get those campers back (how many of you or your board have said, “if we can just get 200 more campers next summer, we can balance our budget!”?) he had an epiphany. “After one of our large churches called to tell me they would be taking their campers elsewhere, I was depressed. Had to go to bed early but woke up in the night and felt God telling me to go out and get all of those who have not come to Calvin Crest, to come,” shared Biasell.
So he went to the communities. Found groups and partners eager to bring a new group of campers to Calvin Crest. They were not Presbyterians and did not come through outreach through the traditional model of partnering with PCUSA churches. Instead they were building new relationships.
He shared that one group of inner city kids came to Calvin Crest and had never been to the woods before (imagine 1,000 seqoia trees and you get an idea of the beauty of Calvin Crest.) They had a good time and Tony asked them what they could do more for a “better” experience next year. Maybe a camping trek in the woods? The response was, let us use your basketball court (nothing to write home about mind you) and do our thing, then you can do your thing with them after dinner. The moral is the kids just needed to be in the Woods, away from their lives to feel community and through that, encounter the love of Christ.
Why am I sharing this? Read their mission statement in the picture above “Ministry at 5,000 Feet” – “Using the resources and environment at 5,000 feet, we partner with churches to train disciples of Jesus Christ, with schools to teach outdoor education, and with communities to bring people to health and wholeness.”
Get real. If your model of ministry is not attracting people like it used to – doesn’t mean your ministry is invalid. But it may be focusing on the wrong area of a changing society. Who needs us now? Of course our churches and their children still need camping ministry experiences. But there is a large and changing world out there who needs to experience retreat – time away. Through getting them out to us by any means available, Jesus will touch and transform them in ways we have yet to imagine.
Thank you Tony! May God bless all you are doing through Calvin Crest and may God continue to bless all that have passed through your gates.