By Rev. David Berkey
We who love leading summer camps often say, “Camp changes lives.” We see happy campers, hear testimonies, witness a high percentage of returning campers, and hear positive feedback from parents. In our hearts we know summer camp is a really good thing. And now, thanks to a new study, we have the data to back it up and show that those good vibes carry over into a camper’s daily life back home.
What we really want to know as people who create curriculum and design camp experiences — these things don’t just happen on their own — is that campers grow in self-confidence, social skills, leadership, appreciation and regard for others, and the understanding that faith is relevant to their lives. The 2022 study of United Methodist camps demonstrated these tangible results and that much of the growth seen during camp was maintained months after returning home, particularly in the areas of self-confidence and faith relevance.
United Methodist Camp and Retreat Ministries (UMCRM) participated in the Effective Camp Project, in partnership with Sacred Playgrounds. This study focused on the one-week overnight summer camp experience at United Methodist camps in five regions of the country, selected at random. The study is ongoing and as of 2022, includes data from over 13,000 campers at 60 sites in 30 states.
The study focused on five camp characteristics: faith-centered, relational, participatory, a safe space and unplugged from home. One third of campers surveyed were first-timers.
Overwhelmingly, the results were positive:
- 94% said “I had a lot of fun!”
- 93% said “I enjoyed my counselor”
- 91% said “I tried something new”
- 88% said “I felt supported and happy at camp often or always”
- 87% said “I made friends who are different from me and my friends at home”
- 85% said “I enjoyed participating in large group games/activities”
- 83% said “I enjoyed spending time in nature”
- 79% said “I was strengthened in my faith”
- 43% said “I had opportunities to lead”
Overall, United Methodist camps surveyed excelled at providing an unplugged from home experience. And campers reported much less difficulty being away from technology in the camp environment compared with at home.
A related American Camp Association study recently indicated that “camp supports young people’s appreciation for being present – specifically, for taking time away from technology, developing in-person relationships, taking breaks, and reducing distractions. Over a period of three years, 58% of youth reported that their time at summer camp helped them appreciate the importance of being present in the moment.”
Something special happens at summer camp and even the best surveys struggle to capture it. Whether you’re singing and dancing to welcome the day, playing crazy games on messy night, sharing quietly about your faith around the campfire, snuggling up in your sleeping bag and whispering to your new best friend, trying new food in the dining hall, or discovering a new sport like archery or paddleboarding, there’s nothing quite like the magic of camp.
The good news is that camp is for everyone and you are invited to register now and secure your spot for summer camp 2023! Sign up by April 30 and get an early-bird discount! Log on to www.umcamping.org/events and send campers on a really great adventure!