- Multiplication of Discipleship (making disciples who make disciples; IMO our churches need to be better at this at all age-groups)
- More involvement in our camping ministries, which includes numbers of participants and numbers of churches
- More involvement of teens and children in local church worship services (the average age of our church attenders should trend down closer to the age of our communities, not 20 years (or more) older)
It has been two weeks since the Camping & Retreat Ministries Board of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church announced that the Conference's four campsite properties would be shut down. This, rightly, grieved all of people who have a connection to those camps, including the Camping Board themselves. The grief is further compounded by the way the decision and announcement were made. I myself, didn't help much when I used an incendiary title as click bait ("no one cares") so that I could try to help people channel their grief and anger in a useful direction (reaching the countless youth in our communities who aren't a part of the church). Maybe my intentions were good, but my tact and timing were terrible. Some have asked me to take down the blog posts, but I'm not. It's a story of holding each other accountable for living in a Christ-like way, even in the midst of anger and grief.
And that's what inspired my last post on the subject, "Saying 'They Don't Care About the Next Generation' Needs to Stop." I was always taught growing up, "Be angry, but in your anger, do not sin." I believe that's in the Bible, Ephesians 4:26. So it really bothered me of how some people were talking and posting publicly about other brothers and sisters in Christ. It really upset me. I guess Facebook and other social media are places that people vent their frustrations, but I've learned that's not a good idea. Facebook and Twitter are virtually public. It's one thing to share how you feel in a private conversation and seeking guidance on what you should do with those thoughts and feelings. But publicly spreading ill-will and false ideas about people is not a good idea, no matter how true or right you may feel. You have every right to grieve, to feel and think those things, and even say things privately to people. But know those are your emotions and may not be true enough to be posted publicly, or even for you to believe them once you've settled down. I really want to see us come together as brothers and sisters in Christ with grace, truth, love and mercy. So I'm not going to take down that post either. I'll admit, it's not a good thing to try to tell grieving people what they can or can't feel/think/say. I am sorry that I did that. But I do think that as a Christian, I need to not let my grief be an excuse to hurt others and do harmful things.
In my first post on this subject, I clearly said "I will not be joining a movement to #SaveMOUMcamps." I haven't, and I don't plan to. But, I do want to save United Methodist Church Camp Ministries. I have attachments and memories to 3 out of the 4 properties, but I have always known that the people we reach through the ministry we do is what's more important than property. I want to be a change agent to see United Methodist Church Camp Ministries flourish. In fact, that's why I became an Event Director seven years ago. When I first arrived to be an event director in 2007, I knew the campsites and camping ministry were in trouble. The camp I was at had 96 beds, but the registration for the week of camp I inherited was only around 30. The property itself was old, worn out, and barely usable. I was surprised anybody would want to come to camp there. But, my Event Co-Director (and friend) and I knew that if we could focus everyone on Christ, the amenities and empty space wouldn't matter. We also knew we wanted to see all of those beds filled.
The next year, we nearly doubled in size to about 55. I and the Co-Director took one for the team and stayed in the oldest, yuckiest, unkempt cabin on the grounds because the other beds needed to be used. We filled the worship space with so many people and energy, that the A/C couldn't keep up, and we knew we had to find a different place to worship (or move to a different location, possibly CMU). So we went on planning, preparing and praying for year three. Fortunately, the Lord provides. There was an old barn that had been used for horses, but was no longer being used much. At a planning session at camp that spring, we prayed and as soon as we said "Amen" we looked at each other and said "What about the barn." It became our "worship barn." All of the cabins had to be used to hold over 60 students and then counselors on top of that. If I remember right, we were just over 80 people that year. Then, in the fourth year, we had 105 total people...for 96 beds. We slept on mattresses on the floor. I'm not saying all this to brag about success. I want to point something out, I care about camp ministry in Missouri done by United Methodists. I've been wanting to SAVE camps for at least 7 years now. Over those 7 years, that camp property has seen a lot of improvements. It is MUCH better than when we started. I like to think partly because of the experiences that campers had and went back to their church saying how important and valuable camp is. Churches gave funds. Churches helped remodel. Churches sent more kids.
I don't think anyone is arguing with the fact that Camping & Retreat ministries are valuable to individuals who experience them, and that churches benefit from them. These ministries are important, and will continue. The impact they have on campers' lives is priceless. Those same campers usually become more involved in their local churches, and those churches are energized. These ministries must continue.
The camping board knows this, and they are deeply committed to continuing the camping and retreat ministries. The Camping Board had a meeting this past Monday, and they allowed some of us to sit in and listen to all that they had looked at when making the decision for this new direction. Most of the explanation did not focus on money and property (though it probably should have). They focused on the Missouri Conference's Mission & their mission as a camp board. The conference mission is to lead congregations to lead people to active faith in Jesus Christ. At a visioning retreat, the camp board decided their mission would be a similar, focusing on the fruitful practice of "Intentional Faith Development." The mission statement they put down on paper is: "Leading local churches of the Missouri Conference in intentional faith development of children and teens." Then basically, they hit a "do-over" button by starting with this question: "If we started from scratch, and wanted to find the best way to help local churches intentionally develop the faith of the next generation (age 0-25), then how would we do camping and retreat ministries?"
They then asked, what are the "wins" or desired outcomes if we are accomplishing this mission well? These are what they identified.
The next question then was, what strategies do we use to accomplish these wins? This is where new ideas developed, property/financial issues were discussed, and alignment with the conference vision/direction was presented. I'll talk about alignment first. Already, our conference has developed processes for churches to have consultations to help them be/become "growing, vibrant, healthy churches." We have a consultation process for college-age ministry, and now with Next Generation Ministries, we have a consultation process in development to help with youth and children's ministries. There was a clear intention by the board to focus camping ministry on the Next Generation Ministries, which will eventually include workcamps and other ministries focused on helping churches reach those age 0-25. I basically see this as shuffling around what we do. Like re-organizing your kitchen or your clothes drawers. Instead of pots and pans in separate drawers, let's put them together in this one bigger drawer. Instead of having a socks & underwear drawer, I'll keep my socks separate and put my underwear with my undershirts. Of course, it's a little bit deeper than that when you're talking about an organization's Vision and how they implement it, but the bottom line is the same things keep happening, just a little differently, in a different place, with a different name. The conference has decided to put staff and resources into helping churches reach the next generation, so the camp board said, "We are all in!"
The truly new idea that was discussed is mobile camping. Rev. Garrett Drake toured the country learning from others who do mobile camps. These are not strictly "Day Camps" (though it could be), or a Vacation Bible School, but could be more time than VBS and involve an overnight component. This is really exciting to me because my two churches aren't necessarily capable of pulling of something like this really well at the scale it needs to be in order to reach my community. But, if the conference and some other churches collaborate together, we could reach families that are not currently apart of any church, people who don't know Jesus Christ. That's exciting. I know some people are afraid this won't work well, but I always tell folks (and my 5-yr-old), "you don't know until you try."
As for our four properties, basically, the question the board asked is "Are managing these four properties the best way to provide camping and retreat experiences for the next generation?" As we know, the board said "No, they're not." The reasoning is, we are not historically good property managers. Because of decreased funding, and increased costs, we choose to defer as much maintenance and improvements as possible so that we can get by on the bare minimum. We do not manage these properties with excellence. If we allow for camping ministries to operate at other sites that we don't have to manage, we could do our camping programs/ministries much better and at a reduced cost. Local churches would still get the benefits of camping experiences, and the cost would be less. While not a lot of the details were shared as to what property issues exist, enough was shared that I was amazed at the costs to keep the properties open, then add to that improvements needed to provide an experience that relates to post-2014 kids and teens.
So that's basically how the camp board came to their decision to close the four properties. They wanted to find the best way to help congregations intentionally develop the faith the next generation through camping ministries. They decided "We love camping ministry so much, and know how valuable it is to reaching young people and impacting churches that we need to find a way to continue it even if we can't keep our four properties." I recently had to trade-in a sporty little hatchback car for a mini-van because we became foster parents and went from 1 child to 3 in a matter of months. I still miss that car, but the minivan is better in the long-run. Even if I don't get to drive it that much. (That's probably a terrible metaphor, but it's what came to mind.) It was the best thing for all of my family. I hope and have faith that this change is the best thing for the future of our churches and The Missouri Conference. I hope you will too.
I am a United Methodist Pastor, but I'm trying to re-define that as a Missionary sent to my corner of the USA. What would it look like for you to envision your life as a Christian more like a Missionary than a Church-goer?