Monday, September 15, 2014

It's About Congregations: More Thoughts On Missouri UM Camps

I watched part one of a video that was taken of a meeting at Liberty UMC on Wednesday, September 10. The meeting was convened to discuss the recent decision of the Missouri Annual Conference Camping Board to dismiss the camp staff and take church camping in a new direction.

Here's the video - CLICK HERE. (Thank you to colleagues and friends Steve Cox, Jon Spalding, and Garrett Drake for being present, and to Liberty UMC for hosting the forum.)

I invite you to listen to what Garrett Drake has to say at 19:30 and immediately following. I believe this is the number one factor that led to the Camping Board's decision:

"The mission of the conference is different than the mission of the church."

He means, I think, the conference will focus on, fund, and support efforts to strengthen local congregations, not necessarily individuals. This has been the clearly stated mission of the Annual Conference for years.

It was the opinion of the Camping Board that church camping does not strengthen local congregations in a way that is faithful to the resources expended in that effort. (If I have misinterpreted that opinion, I trust I will be graciously corrected.) This does not mean they think church camp is a bad thing.

No one is disputing claims that children, youth, and adults feel God's presence in powerful ways at church camp. No one is disputing that people are called into the ministry at church camp on a regular basis. No one is disputing that it is good for people to be immersed in God's beautiful natural creation. Etc. Etc.

So, if I understand correctly, all that stuff is a red herring to the true point of conversation. What the Camping Board IS disputing is that church camp makes an impact, a positive, meaningful, tangible difference, to the health of local congregations, a difference that is worth the cost expended to achieve it.

I think this is how the conversation should be framed. Here's the order: People are members of congregations; congregations are led by the conference. (A conference, by the way, of which I am a member.)

For the record, I believe with all my heart that church camping DOES, in fact, make for healthier congregations. Those who have participated in church camp are always among the most active, joyful, energized members of the congregations I have served. I could describe so many different situations where church campers are the ones reaching out to invite others, leading small groups, serving on mission and ministry teams, and on and on.

So here's the problem - there is no numerical metric I can show the Conference office that directly demonstrates the impact camping has on the congregation's health. And lacking that, it is really hard to communicate it to anyone. We send reports that measure stuff - worship attendance, small group participants, apportionment dollars, and so forth. There is no "People invited to church by someone who never would have done so had they not attended church camp" report, for example

There are, however, "describables" in the life of a congregation. As Bishop Schnase has written, "There are thousands of ways of impacting lives through the ministry of Christ and a thousand forms of fruitful ministry. Some are measurable, and these we should count and learn how to do better. Where we cannot measure outcomes, we can describe changes and bear witness to the visible signs of the Spirit’s invisible work through us and our churches."

Which points out another problem - had we known about the "new direction" earlier, we would have had more opportunity to describe ways church camp was making our congregations healthier. A simple question on our annual report would have been sufficient: "Describe ways that church camping made your congregation healthier?" or something like that.

My colleague and friend Ann Mowery, a member of the Camping Board, posted on Facebook, "And for congregations that did send campers to our programs, the week’s experience seemed to be completely isolated from their experience in the local church." That statement revealed as much as anything about why this decision was made. Simply put, there is no way I could disagree more with this perspective.

But sadly, I have neither the means nor, it seems, the time to convince the Camping Board otherwise.


Anonymous said...

A-men, and amen.

unpastor said...

Andy, you're on the right track, but the meeting today gave a little more clarity around what the camping board was thinking and the information they were processing. I'll probably post about it soon. My experience has me agreeing quite a bit with Rev. Mowery. I don't it means what you think it means. I know several people who had great camp experiences, but then returned to a church with nothing for them. I also know of several people who went to a camp alone (as the only person from their church). They return to home church and there was no follow up to their camp experience, and no one from their church that they shared it with (I mean shared-experience, not that they didn't share about it). That sounds "isolated" to me. That doesn't mean that in some other cases, people attended camp solo, had an experience, and went back to their church and began leading (or other helpful stuff, giving positive energy). I think both were happening in our camps (a lot of it depending on the volunteer camp leaders and the health of home congregations). There seemed to me to be a lack of intentionality about it, and that's why we have a hard time measuring it. We know we put stuff into it. And we know we got great results, priceless and invaluable. And it benefited some of our congregations. But we have a hard time measuring because it was so varied and inconsistent, lacking a coordinated intentional effort. The new direction is an attempt to align everything with Next Generation Ministries with intentionality and coordination with clear goals in mind. I can post what was stated at the meeting today about what that intentionality is and the goals. I don't think they are absolutely saying that camping as it was didn't benefit congregations. They agree that it does. They have a new way forward to do camps, but in different locations. It seemed to me that all of the board understood the importance of camping ministry and its potential benefits for congregations. They felt that the properties had become a hindrance to doing that ministry well because of needed improvements. Improvements to remain insured amidst rising insurance premiums. After hearing the ideas for the future, I'm actually pretty excited about it.

Brittanee said...

Pastor Andy,

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and feelings on the subject at hand.

While I understand the reasons the camping board presented in relation to the future of camping and retreat ministries, it saddens me to think folks believe the experience(s) at camp is/are isolated from the ones in the church. I know many campers (and even counselors) who did not have a church home or simply didn't attend, but after their experience at camp they began to seek the year-long (and longer) community.

Your insight has caused me to take a new approach to the situation.

Thanks again,

Tom Lemons said...

There is much wisdom here. Thank you. I seem to understand: traditional camping does change lives which does change congregations. Why can't we have traditional camping plus the new ideas (CMU and traveling day camps)? Why can't the Annual Conference be allowed to be part of this major decision?

Anonymous said...

Interesting insight. However, i think it is great that we offer camps which act like a spiritual boot camp for youth that lights a spark and in many ways creates a relationship with God. Why don't the leaders in the congregations work to leverage this spark?
In my church we, the campers, were responsible for several worship services throughout the year. We had a very active youth program, which was centered around the summer camp experience. We sang songs, played games, and even drank bug juice. And we represented our congregation in a very visible way outside of the four walls, being a magnet to attract other people into our church.
This was all done because our pastor and leaders held a deep appreciation of camp and wanted to bring those great experiences to the rest of the congregation and community.
This wasn't done by the campers, and it wasn't done to the congregation by camps. It was done by the leaders of the congregation who leveraged their resources who were energized by the spark of church camp.

Michael Blacksher said...

Thank You my friend, You have written well. I am often frustrated by the non-reportable items in the church and the church's ministries. It seems that if you can not measure it is of no real value..... Well how did you measure Love, Hope and Joy... not sure???

robotics13 said...

Measuring worship attendance, small group participants, and apportionments are good ways to monitor the size of the church. Actually understanding the health of the church requires measuring member engagement.

Measuring engagement is something I have seen corporations participate in because employees that are more engaged and connected outperform employees that are just there because it is some place to be. When looking at different people in my church I can see that the people who are more enthusiastic about attending on Sunday (more engaged) are the same people who donate more of their time to the church. In my experience at church, the attendance numbers are always recorded but rarely if ever have I seen members asked how satisfied they are with the church experience.

How much did you take away from the sermon, what small groups are you involved in, how enthusiastic are you to attend on Sunday, how many events have you helped with... These types of questions combined with what activities you are involved in, eg. Camping, youth ministry, mission trips, provides a metric that can be used to empirically determine if “people that participate in camping are more involved in the church,” for example.

Is a church with 1,000 members who attend on Sunday because it is just something to do healthier than a church with 100 members who are enthusiastic about attending and sharing their experience with the community? Raw attendance and giving are indicators of quantity, engagement is an indicator of quality; both are important when making decisions.

Bruce Blair said...

If the camping program is not in line with the narrowly defined mission of the Conference then perhaps it should be removed from their control, instead of allowing them to discard a valuable asset.

I agree that some of the ideas presented, e.g. day camps, will be of benefit to local congregations, especially those without the resources to implement such programs on their own. Those ideas should be implemented.

They are not, however, a substitute for the wondrous resources that God has provided the United Methodist Church for Spirit immersion camping. The following parable, though not scriptural, illustrates what the Church may be doing if we allow the Council to continue along the planned path:

There was a great landowner who had many servants. He was called away for an extended period of time. Having given his servants a beautiful set of iron tools, he commanded them to till his lands and harvest the crops while he was gone.

For many years the land produced abundant crops and the tools were put to good use. Everyone flourished. But then a drought fell upon the land and the crops became sparse. The iron tools were allowed to fall into disrepair as the servants became discouraged. So the head servant said to the others, "Come, let us sell these rusty tools and purchase new robes for ourselves. We will make tools of wood. Wooden tools will be sufficient for the harvest because the crops are sparse." And so they did.

The question that each of us should answer before we act is whether Christ will be pleased when He returns to find what we have done.

Sherwin Dent said...

As a church member who has selfishly used Church Camp for years, but never attended Annual Conference, I guess I have this coming. However, I would like to comment on an observation out of all this. The obvious is we have all had a wake up call and now talking about the things that should have been brought out to all the congregations before the Camp board's actions. At one of the Camps I attended just this year, our director came back tired, from attending Annual Conference, spending valuable time that was spent there rather than his Camp that was needing his leadership. I am sure he never even had a clue that this outcome was coming down the road. I can tell that most of the people participating in these blogs and face book comments are much more educated and take the time to study this situation in depth more than I. But, even if people don't come home from Camp experiences and shout to the rafters how it changed their lives, church retreats and camping at our camps is essential. To me it is similar to the spiritual growth that is experienced with mission trips. I don't think we can ever put a finite value on the camps. I think if the conference wants to point at the camps as a financial overload, I am sure the congregational members can find plenty of other places in the Conference that God's provisions may be miss used.
The Conference has somehow left a big void in the communication of the goals by the Churches, Camp officials, and the Conference officials. Yes we need to look at the future, but don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
I have prayed for the situation, and I guess God is really testing me, because I can't buy in to this, and most of all the conference's attitude that there is not any backing up to fix it. Just take what we put on the shelf and like it.