the research

How we approached the study.

What are the impacts of Christian Traveling Day Camp programs on congregations, families, and young leaders in the church?

A Powerful Partnership between

expressions of the Church

Christian summer camps have been offering residential camping experiences for children and youth since the 1880s, but traveling day camp is a much more recent and less ubiquitous innovation. Most Christian camps across the country offer traditional overnight camping experiences for children and youth. In a traveling day camp model, trained camp staff members travel to a community site, most often a church building, to run their camp program and activities offsite. These staff bring program equipment, Christian education curriculum, and participatory programming. They partner with volunteers and staff from the local congregation to bring the experience of camp into the congregational setting.

Traveling day camp provides opportunities for young children to experience camp who may not otherwise have the time or resources to do so. Too often, young people experience camp as disconnected from their congregational experience. Traveling day camp emphasizes the partnership between these two powerful expressions of the church. It also allows opportunities for parents and community members to see camp staff in action in their community, including opportunities for them to participate in the programming. These interactions can help camp have direct impacts on the lives of families. Lutheran outdoor ministries have been operating traveling day camps since the 1970s as a way of strengthening the partnership between the camp and congregation, as well as providing opportunities for more young people to experience camp programming.

Meet SpringHill

Sponsoring Organization

SpringHill is a youth outreach and discipleship ministry that uses immersive experiences (residential camps, day camps, leadership development) and a proven method (The SpringHill Way) to impact lives and prepare the next generation of Christ-centered leaders. Their mission is to glorify God by creating life-impacting experiences that enable young people to know Jesus Christ and to grow in their relationship with Him.

Ministry-wide, SpringHill traveling day camps partner with 126 congregations and ministries across nine states. Their overnight camps in Michigan and Indiana serve nearly 10,000 campers annually.

Project Scope

Our study centers in the upper Midwest, anchored by the two SpringHill overnight camps in Michigan and Indiana. Four additional camps, all affiliated with Lutheran Outdoor Ministries, are also participating: Crossways Camping Ministries in WI, Living Water Ministries in MI, Ewalu Camp and Retreat Ministries in IA, and Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Indiana and Kentucky. In Spring 2019, we interviewed congregational leaders at 20 day camp sites. During the summer of 2019 we spent time at traveling day camps across multiple states. The locations are shown in the maps below.

Project Design

This project used an embedded mixed-methods research design aimed at assessing the variability, impacts, and best practices of traveling day camp programs in Christian camping ministries. The study centered on the programs of SpringHill, Crossways Camping Ministries, Living Water Ministries, Ewalu Camp and Retreat Ministries, and Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Indiana and Kentucky. The methodology used overlapping qualitative and quantitative research strategies, which was in some cases convergent and in other cases sequential. Each element is separated into six dimensions:

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Dimension 1: Traveling Day Camp Program Assessment

Spring 2019

This dimension aimed to uncover the scope and variability of traveling day camp programs across the country. It was important to understand how traveling day camp programs have evolved over time and what might be considered best practices. We heard from 50 camp directors who run traveling day camp programs.

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Dimension 2: Congregational Leaders Interviews

Winter and Spring 2019

This was an exploratory dimension seeking to understand the impacts of traveling day camp from the perspective of congregational leaders. We interviewed leaders from 20 different day camp sites in order to get their perspectives on the benefits and impacts of the ministries. These perspectives guided the other portions of the study.

Dimension 3: Day Camp Site Visits

Summer 2019

Researchers visited 16 day camp sites during their week of operation in summer 2019. Visits included program observation, focus groups with participants, and interviews of staff members. We gathered rich data on each site and captured enlightening stories from our experience on site.

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Dimension 4: Parent Survey with Control Group

Spring 2019 and Fall 2019

This dimension assessed the impacts of the day camp experience on individuals and families. We used a test-retest methodology to assess growth and program effectiveness. Parents completed surveys before and after the traveling day camp experience. We heard from 450 parents.

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Dimension 5: Summer Camp Staff Survey

Summer 2019

This dimension assessed the impacts of working on a camp summer staff in a role focused on traveling day camp, specifically related to congregational engagement and attitude toward the congregation. This dimension also assessed the extent to which working on camp staff contributes to the development of Christian leaders. We heard from 725 summer staff.

Dimension 6: Congregational Leader Survey

Fall 2019

This final survey of congregational leaders was designed to assess the effectiveness and ongoing outcomes of the day camp experience in the congregation and community. We allowed two or more months to pass in order for congregational leaders to reflect back on the experience and observe ongoing impacts.

Meet the Team

Dr. Jacob Sorenson

Jacob Sorenson is the founder and director of Sacred Playgrounds, a ministry offering research and training to camps and congregations. He has a PhD in practical theology from Luther Seminary, an Mdiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and more than fifteen years of experience in camping ministry and congregational youth ministry. He has directed multiple research projects related to camping ministry, including the Camp2Congregation Project.

Amber Hill Anderson

Amber has been a member of the Sacred Playgrounds team since 2015. She served as the research coordinator in the Camp2Congregation Project. She was also be one of the primary site visitors.

Dr. Paul Hill

Dr. Paull Hill is a retired educator, camp director, and consultant focusing on outdoor ministries. He was the founder of the Center for Youth Ministries at Wartburg Seminary, and he co-founded the camp research enterprise now owned by Sacred Playgrounds. He has specialized in adolescent and young adult male development, and co-authored many books including, “Coming of Age.”

Rachel Botting

Rachael is a program manager at HoneyRock, the Outdoor Center for Leadership Development of Wheaton College. In addition to supporting the research and evaluation efforts of the organization, Rachael oversees the college transition program at Wheaton College.

Abby Sytsma

Abby Sytsma acted as Program Coordinator on behalf of the SpringHill Team for the grant period. This role maximized the impact of the research study by allowing SpringHill to devote a staff member to facilitate change.

Sara VanWinkle

Sara VanWinkle is the Day Camp Divisional Director for SpringHill. She informed and supported the work of the grant in her role as Director of Day Camp Operations. 2018 marked her eighth summer with SpringHill.

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