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Church camp is the place for your congregation to grow

by Lloyd Mattson

For pastors at churches large and small, time is the nemesis. Your congregation sings, “Take Time to Be Holy,” while keeping an eye on the clock. With eternal issues on your agenda, you get only snippets of time to teach, broken by hours or days of distractions—good and bad. Relaxed, uninterrupted periods for instruction and fellowship are hard to come by.

What if you could find an affordable, pleasant environment where your congregation could become an extended family for several days? The people would eat, play, study, and worship together. Specialists would be on hand to help meet the needs of all attendees, young and old. A place like that stands ready to serve your church. It’s camp!

You’re probably aware that camps, conference centers, and retreat centers provide summer getaways for kids and adults, but do you know that many of those same facilities are excellently equipped to host your entire congregation for a retreat? You and your team set the agenda; the camp provides hospitality and staff.

“Our church held its first family camp 16 years ago over Labor Day weekend,” says Joel Mattson, an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington. “About 50 of our 300 members attended. Last Labor Day weekend, more than 750 of our 4,000 members showed up at [camp] for three days of great Bible teaching, foot-stomping camp singing, and family fun.

“Seminary professors led introductory Bible classes, [the camp] provided great hospitality, and our people enjoyed pure fellowship. We held our own version of the Olympics and organized other activities for attendees of all ages.”

The annual weekend at camp has become a great kickoff for the church year at First Presbyterian. It also provides opportunities for the church staff to recruit Sunday school teachers, choir members, and other volunteers, and for the pastor to preview his sermons and goals. (You can e-mail Mattson at for more information about his church’s camp and for program samples.)

“We get to know our staff and their families and interact with people whom we see only for an hour on Sunday, if at all,” Mattson says. “Church camp has played a vital role in the growth and outreach of our congregation. The bonding of our congregation throughout the weekend encourages and humbles me.”

Mattson says his four-year-old granddaughter came to church camp last fall. The kids were making “jeweled” crowns, and Kaycie hadn’t finished hers by checkout time. She cried, not wanting her beloved classes to end until she finished her crown.

At camp, kids, supervised by camp staff, run and play together while parents relax and visit or participate in their own activities. What an impact one weekend can have. Why not plan a family camp for your congregation? It will bring you and your people as close to heaven as you expect to get this side of glory.

Lloyd has served as a camp director and pastor, and has written or edited 28 books about Christian camping, including Christian Camping Today (The Wordshed). He lives in Minnesota with his wife, Elsie.

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