Traveling Day Camp is a partnership ministry between the camp and congregation in which trained summer camp staff members are deployed to lead interactive programs in the congregational setting.
Traveling Day Camp has evolved over the decades and become a staple for many congregations and camping ministries. After so much time, you may step back and ask, “Why do we keep doing Day Camp?” Or even, “Is Day Camp important?” In these uncertain times amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional summer camp programs are being cancelled because of the fears of spreading the virus. Day Camp has the advantage of being local and community-centered, so it may continue to be an option for camp-like experiences during the pandemic.
The importance of Day Camp and its impacts were explored this past year in the Camp2Congregation research project at Sacred Playgrounds. We asked leaders, parents, counselors, counselors in training, volunteers, and campers about the impacts of Day Camp that they see and experience. We learned:
Day Camp is a doorway: Day Camp can be an introduction for new campers and families to both camp and the home congregation. Camp is exciting! Day Camp brings that excitement to local communities and provides the opportunity to encounter new faith-based spaces. The doorway can also be for campers who are familiar with church, but not familiar with camp. Day Camp is a first step for many younger kids into camping experiences of adventure and fun. In our surveys of day camp families, more than a quarter of parents indicated that day camp helped their children become more deeply involved in their congregation. Additionally, a quarter said that their children have attended or will attend overnight camp, in part, because of positive day camp experiences. Three quarters of church leaders who hosted day camp agreed that new families were introduced to the congregation through day camp.
Day Camp cultivates: Day Camp is a place where the seeds of faith get watered in young people. The Day Camp programs serve as supplemental to faith formation in the congregation and at homes. When Day Camp seeks to foster the greatest impacts, it provides churches and families with the tools necessary to continue the cultivation momentum. This cultivation serves as the foundation for future engagement in the faith community. More than half of parents indicated that their children were still singing the songs they learned at day camp months after the experience. Two-thirds of church leaders who hosted agreed that, as a result, children seemed more excited about and engaged in church than before day camp.
Day Camp pours into kids: The “pouring” at Day Camp includes a direct learning of specific skills, along with basic need provisions. Skill development includes social skills while interacting with other campers and (cool) counselors. Counselors can foster emotional growth and development of campers through meaningful relationships. Campers also learn to persevere through adversity. Day Camp is messy. As a result, campers grow and learn, as counselors and other caring adults pour into their development. Additionally, some Day Camps provide campers with basic needs, such as a safe space and food. Many church leaders said that children professed faith in Christ for the first time at day camp, and 87% of parents indicated that the day camp experience had a significant, positive impact on their children.
These impacts illustrate why camps and churches should consider continuing (or starting!) Day Camp ministries in their own contexts. Day Camp is important. As a temporary space, it provides a unique hybrid of church and camp. Day Camp ministries are camps that occur within the context of the congregation, which provides a dual introduction. Day Camp is “camp” and “church” for a short period of time to create something distinct, focused, and new. It is a temporary space, yet it provides lasting impacts on opportunities for connection and growth in other ongoing ministries. Traditional Day Camp models may now evolve to meet current needs and safety standards while continuing the tradition and ministries of camps in communities.
For a sneak peak into five camps’ Day Camps, check out these sixteen site briefs from this past summer. The inside look provides a window into what Day Camp looks like and the importance of Day Camp today.