learn and share the findings
Camp staff and congregational leaders, this is for you. This 2-page summary is a clear, concise resource ready to use in your training and preparation for day camp this year.
The Camp2Congregation Project was a multi-dimensional, mixed-methods analysis seeking to answer the question: What are the impacts of Christian traveling day camp programs on congregations, families, and young leaders in the church? The research uncovered three crucial elements of traveling day camp that together led to three common outcomes.
“It’s an awesome way for the kids to hear the good news, to learn about Jesus and faith things in a fun, engaging way. They just have a good time, and there is great outreach, high energy, and good messages.” – SpringHill site congregational leader
“It's a great opportunity to give camp to the people who can't get there, and we try to do as close of a program to a camp program as we can. Camp is expensive, and not everyone can get there. I think it's just a good opportunity to give camp to everyone.” – Lutheran camp staff member
What is Traveling Day Camp?
Traveling day camp is a partnership ministry between the camp and congregation in which trained summer camp staff are deployed to lead interactive programs in the congregational setting. These programs serve to cultivate faith formation, pour into participants through direct care and instruction, and provide a doorway for deeper engagement in the congregation and camp.
What does it do?
The Camp 2 Congregation Project found that there are 3 crucial elements to a successful traveling day camp ministry and, when those three elements are present, there are three common outcomes for participants, parents, and camp staff. These elements and outcomes are detailed below, and also in the executive summary.
3 Key Outcomes
Traveling day camp creates three major outcomes for participants.
Cultivating faith formation
Traveling day camp is supplemental more than transformational. The programs and relationships reinforce faith formed in the home and congregation. You are planting seeds of faith or cultivating seeds that have already been planted. The vast majority of campers attending day camp have some foundation of faith, and those who are new need an introduction to new relationships more than a conversion. Consider this: 63% of congregational leaders observed in the months after day camp that children seemed more excited about and engaged in church. 76% of parents said day camp helped spark conversations about God and faith in the home. A year after day camp, 27% of parents said that the experience helped their children become more deeply involved in the congregation. Seek to nurture relationships that can be long-lasting: those with family and congregational leaders.
Pouring into campers and staff
Day camp programs offer direct care and instruction for the campers, and the programs also directly impact the camp staff and volunteers. Campers receive affirmation and encouragement. They learn new skills and have the chance to step out of their comfort zone in a controlled setting. Parents have peace of mind, knowing their kids are safe, active, and learning about God’s love. It is a great joy to see them smile and excited about Jesus. For many parents, day camp provides an affordable and positive childcare alternative. Camp staff grow in their personal faith through interaction with other Christian leaders, and they gain a deeper understanding of the importance of congregational ministry. Volunteers become more involved in congregational ministry and build relationships with the children.
Opening a doorway to deeper engagement
Day camp is an outreach ministry. One of its goals is to serve as a doorway to primary faith formation spaces, especially congregational ministry and overnight camp. It offers a chance to try out church: 75% of congregational leaders say that new families were introduced to the congregation through day camp, and over half say these families stay involved. Try out camp: 26% of parents say their children attended or will attend overnight camp because of positive day camp experiences. Camp staff serve as both Christian ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and camp ambassadors. Their presence in the congregation and surrounding community offers unique opportunities to spread the gospel of Christ and to promote camping ministries.
Campers were asked to describe day camp in three words. Here’s what they had to say. The larger the word, the more often it was used to describe their experience of camp.
My child had fun!
Day Camp had a
impact on my child.
Day Camp sparked
conversations about God/faith at home
Still singing songs
from day camp
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.
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:
Dimension 1: Traveling Day Camp Program Assessment
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.
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
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.
Dimension 5: Summer Camp Staff Survey
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
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
Jake 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. He served as the project director and one of four site visitors.
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 served as a data analyst for both qualitative and quantitative data sets. She was also an interviewer and site visitor on the project.
Dr. Paul Hill
Dr. Paul 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.” Paul served as a site visitor and part of the research team on the Camp2Congregation Project.
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. She served as an interviewer, qualitative data analyst, and site visitor on the Camp2Congregation Project.
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 was the Day Camp Divisional Director for SpringHill at the time of the project. She informed and supported the work of the grant in her role as Director of Day Camp Operations. 2019 marked her ninth summer with SpringHill.
Where we went
Our team of trained researchers traveled to 16 sites around the Midwest during the summer of 2019. We observed the programs, talked with the campers, and interviewed staff/volunteers. Each site visit took place during 3 days during the week of day camp.
There are wonderful lessons to share from these visits. We are telling our stories through brief narratives aimed at capturing some of the unique characteristics of each site visit. Read the narratives and see some of the pictures we captured during our visits, along with some tip-of-the-iceberg learning from each site.
We have much more to share – data, cumulative learning, and important stories. We’re learning a lot about the connections and opportunities between camps and congregations. Start reading below, and check back soon for more summaries and themes from our research.
“Attending camp was just a place for me that I got to leave any baggage from life behind. I got to be me without any prior expectations or any of my past being connected to me. It didn’t matter who my parents were or what I had done at school that had been weighing on me. I could go to camp and be me.”
– Congregational Leader