By AT News Team, June 3, 2015: In the next two weeks, Adventist summer camps will begin in about 60 locations across North America. Before the summer is over, some 25,000 to 30,000 children will participate and nearly 2,000 young adults are already arriving at the camp facilities this week to prepare. It is “our brightest young adults doing the most incredible mentoring of next generations,” observed Dr. Allan Martin, young adult pastor at the Arlington Church in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, who once served as professor of youth ministry at Andrews University.
Youth camps started among Adventists in the United States in the 1950s when the Baby Boom swelled the numbers of adolescents in the faith and concern about juvenile delinquency was at its height in the larger culture. It has become a formative experience for generations of youth growing up in Adventist families.
Each of the 58 local conferences in the North American Division (NAD) offers camps for several different age groups and with specialized focus each summer. Typically this will include a Cub Camp for ages 6 through 9, one or more Junior Camps for ages 10 through 13, and at least one Teen Camp for ages 13 through 17. Specialized camps for various age ranges include horse camp, ski camp, music camp, soccer camp and often a family camp where parents come along and participate as well.
It is one of the largest evangelism programs of the denomination with about 3,000 young people making decisions to become baptized members of the church each summer. About one in six of these are actually baptized while they are at camp, often in the swimming pool. Most are sent home with a letter from the camp pastor to the pastor of their congregation back home stating that they have requested baptism. The majority of summer camp attenders are already baptized before they arrive, according to a survey conducted by the Hancock Center for Youth and Family Ministry at La Sierra University.
The camp facilities are funded by the conferences, using a small percentage of the Tithe Fund. The actual cost of operations each summer are generally funded from fees that run about $250 to $300 a week. “Not a bad price for a week of feeding, housing and supervising an adolescent,” one parent told Adventist Today.
Summer camp fills an important niche in the youth ministry of the denomination for several reasons. One is that nearly two-thirds of the children who attend are not enrolled in Adventist schools, according to the Hancock Center survey. One in five rarely or never attend an Adventist church.
“It is not uncommon for an Adventist grandparent to send their grandchildren to camp,” a youth director told Adventist Today. “I was told by a woman last summer that she offered to pay for her grandchildren to attend an Adventist school, but the parents did not want to do that. Yet, they were happy for the kids to go to summer camp.”
It is one of the happiest things for Adventist young people. Three out of four attenders rated their experience at summer camp a nine or ten on a 10-point scale of “how much did you enjoy camp” in the Hancock Center survey. Not a single child out of 4,613 in the sample rated it below a four.
Adventist summer camps have had a very positive impact on the children who have attended over the past seven decades. Today’s adults often cite it as the most important experience they had with an Adventist ministry, even though they may no longer attend church. The Hancock Center survey found that 68 percent of summer camp attenders agreed that “it is important to me that I am an Adventist” and 59 percent agreed that it was important to “attend worship at an Adventist church.”
The summer camp experience also gave children an open, progressive perspective with 84 percent agreeing “I like to try new things,” 91 percent agreeing “I enjoy going to new places,” and 75 percent agreeing “trying new things is important to me.” It also gave young people a sense of respect and fairness toward others with 83 percent agreeing that “It’s more important to play fair than to win,” and 83 percent agreeing “I respect other people.” It also helped to build a strong environmental awareness and positive spiritual development.
The data at the top of this story about NAD summer camps was compiled in late 2013 from reports submitted by all of the conference youth departments to the NAD office. Adventist Today could not find similar data from the rest of the world. A search of the official General Conference Archives and Statistics web site yielded no worldwide statistics on youth camps. Sources have told Adventist Today that there are similar activities in Australia and New Zealand, and a somewhat different approach to camping in Europe, but no information could be obtained from Latin America, Africa or Asia.