The Unique Contribution Camps and Retreats Make to Discipleship

By Scott Hughes

Camp list 1

Like many of my pastor friends, I found that camp and retreat settings have been formative to my faith. I still remember confirmation and summer retreats at Epworth by the Sea on Saint Simons Island. I have fond memories as a youth and young-adult leader at Camp Glisson in North Georgia. I also had the privilege of being a theologian-in-residence at Camp Glisson for a treasured week with my family. Camp and retreat settings have been crucial to faith formation across the lifespan for so many church leaders.

That’s why, along with Chris Wilterdink (Director of Youth and Young People’s Ministries) and Kevin Johnson (Director of Children’s Ministries), I was excited to participate as workshop leader at In the Kitchen, the biannual National Conference for the United Method Camp and Retreat Ministry Association. The workshop we presented was a time for brainstorming and conversation about how camp and retreat settings can be intentional about the ways they contribute to faith formation while recognizing the unique contributions local churches make, so that we can be better ministry partners. (Yeah, that’s kind of wordy, much like our title for the workshop—“Connecting Camping/Retreat [transformative] Discipleship with Church [formative] Discipleship.”)

We spent time in our workshop giving participants a glimpse into the trainings we’ve done with churches and conference leaders around intentional discipleship systems, which include: connecting to our “why” and starting with the end in mind; grounding discipleship in baptism; and noting that salvation is much more than conversion. The participants had healthy dialogue about how to define discipleship and how central discipleship was to their camp’s mission.

The highlight of the workshop, for me, was the conversation we had about the unique contributions camp and retreat settings make to discipleship formation. Before looking at the images (if you haven’t already), try to come up with three to five things camps contribute uniquely to discipleship formation and three to five things local churches contribute uniquely to discipleship formation. Then compare you answers with the images where we brainstormed during the workshop.

Camp list 2

You can read (if you can read my terrible handwriting) the bullet points from the workshop in the first image. Perhaps you have thought of some additional ways. What fascinated me the most is when we asked participants to list the unique contributions local congregations make to discipleship formation (again, assuming you can read my handwriting, you can see the list in the second image). Having served as a pastor for thirteen years, having been to countless district meetings and in many other conversations with pastors, I could discern the distinct perspective these camp and retreat leaders had toward the ministries and activities of a local church. (I really hope to repeat this conversation with pastors. My guess is both lists would be wildly different. What do you notice about the length of the two lists? What do you notice is missing from the churches’ list?)

From the workshop participants and in the many other fruitful conversations that we had at the beautiful Jumonville Camp and Retreat Center, I discovered that these are my top takeaways:

  • The are many ways churches and camp/retreat settings can collaborate.
  • Leaders from each of these settings have been through a lot in the past two years and can collaborate to ease some of their stresses. Camps can offer space for church leaders to experience sabbath or retreat spaces for church teams. Camp leaders might offer speakers for worship services. Local churches can help with scholarships and offer camp leaders spaces where they can worship without having to be responsible for anything.
  • Local congregations can be intentional in pointing their participants to the needed transformative (mountain-top) experiences that camp/retreat settings readily offer.
  • Camp/retreat settings can collaborate with nearby churches for participants to get needed regular, long-term formative experiences that local church communities offer.
  • While many local churches and camp/retreat settings are struggling from the events of the last two years, in particular, it shows each setting for faith formation needs the other to collaborate well (in some cases, survival depends on it).

Lastly, I’ll note some questions that might help generate collaboration between church leaders and camp/retreat leaders.

  • When was your last camp or retreat experience?
  • What does your strategy for discipleship look like?
  • How can we collaborate to make discipleship formation experiential and more than just acquiring information?
  • How might we help each other to experience God’s rest as leaders?
  • How might a camp or retreat experience help you connect in new ways with children and youth in your congregation?

Click here to view the slideshow from our workshop.

Click here to see pictures from around the Jumonville Camp and Retreat Center.

Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.