Several years ago there was a shift in philosophy in the camping ministry of North Indiana. While the traditional program had been led by volunteers, pastors and local church lay people, it became apparent that there was a lot of inconsistency in this approach. Conference groups, led by the 4C's and then later the Board of Camps and Conferences, were developing programs, writing curriculum, supervising staff and making plans. There was a lot of ownership in the program among the churches, volunteers, pastors and laity.
However, camping began to shift from a volunteer-led model, to a professional staff model for our programs. This provided for quality, excellence and consistency across the program. There is little doubt that the kudos for Matt Poorman and others in recent days are a direct result of this change in philosophy. Our curriculums, programs, camps and staffs are generally better than they have ever been.
The biggest problem with this transition was that we never had a conversation about the implications of the change. (If there was a conversation there were a lot of people who missed it.) There have been several unintended consequences of this transition. Some of the more significant ones are:
- Because of a shift to staff-directed programming, local church ownership of the program has dropped dramatically. I believe that this is a significant cause of the decline in campers over the past several years. Fewer people are involved in the planning and implementation of the programs.
- Because of a shift to staff-directed programming, pastors and other volunteers were discouraged from participating. One way that this has significantly impacted many pastor-directors, including myself, is starting camps on Sunday rather than Monday. This means that preparations for camp must be made at the campsite on Saturday afternoon/ evening and Sunday morning. This is very problematic for pastors and other church leaders.
- The shift to staff-directed programming has also led to an increase in fees. A larger staff requires more money. The increase in fees for all camping levels has caused even more parents to choose other options for their children during the summer. (An interesting note: In 1989 one week of "classic" camp at Pine Creek cost $90. In 2008 that same event was listed as costing $365.)
We have an excellent, staff-directed program. We need to either come to grips with that and all it entails- including fewer choices, higher fees and further professionalization, or begin to ask some hard questions and make some changes.