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Affording the Ministry

This is an excerpt from a PDF download. To read the full manuscript, please download the PDF: Affording the Ministry.

To readthe accompanying document: The Long-Term Importance of Camp and Retreat Ministry.

Today, a serious threat to our camp and retreat ministries looms that we can definitely do something about. The issue focuses on how to finance our camp and retreat ministries in ways that are sustainable over the long run. We must forge a dynamic future that continues to produce the great benefits and blessings that these experiences and sacred places provide as a vibrant aspect of how our denomination carries out its Christian mission in partnership with local churches.

There is a convergence of economic stresses from a downpour of factors that has the capacity to sweep viable ministries away unless we build stable foundations to withstand these new pressures. Pressures like skyrocketing health care and insurance, the cost of proper risk management training and systems, the need for funding of other important endeavors like new church development, declining apportioned giving, rising public expectations of our ministries and facilities, constrained conference budgets, along with other high impact dynamics at play within the US and world economic recession. Some experts are predicting the closure of 10% of all camp and retreat centers in the US over the next several years, unless faithful, visionary leaders take action.

Today’s landscape requires that all ministries operate at higher levels in terms of leadership, mission focus and financial sustainability. The financial resources that were once available in conference and district budgets to simply bailout ministries that previously operated at a chronic deficit are much less available today – and in some settings nonexistent. That truth must be genuinely accepted. Most of our ministries receive some level of generous support from our conference and/or district budgets, which is very important to continue where it is possible. Receiving support is quite different from becoming an untenable burden due to poor operating practices, however.

It is crucial to realize that camp and retreat ministry is part of a larger faith community. Many local churches and conferences face the same financial stressors now impacting extension ministries like camp and retreat ministry. This is an opportunity to become stronger on behalf of the whole. Those who recognize the need to adapt and change earlier and then act will have a greater variety of options available in making transitions. Those options narrow in direct proportion to the length of time that we delay in taking serious steps to address what needs to be implemented. This paper attempts to give an overview of key factors that work together for effective, sustainable camp and retreat ministries that are much more likely to remain viable long into the future.

We might look as the situation as we would our own family. If our family faced a period of financial struggle, everyone in the family would be asked to pitch in and take on greater responsibility to see the family through. We are in such a time as a church family, as are most denominations right now and for the foreseeable future. Camp and Retreat Leaders must step up, too.

You are not alone:
Those of us in positions of responsibility within U.M. Camp and Retreat Ministry and the broader circles of Conference leadership are very fortunate that expertise and support is much more widely available today than it has been in previous decades. This is due, in large part, to a more highly trained network of camp and retreat professionals within the UM Church and ecumenically who share best practices and strategies. In our case, the Camp and Retreat Leader Network is a potent source of information and insight. There are also professional camp and retreat consultants that can be tapped who have extensive experience through their work with thousands of camp and retreat centers of all types (religiously affiliated, not for profit and private independent camps).

This paper is written as a tool to assist leadership teams doing their very best to be discerning, prayerful and wise in decision making that impacts camp and retreat ministries of the UMC. These leadership teams include Bishops and Cabinets, Connectional Ministry Staff and Committees, Treasurers and Councils on Finance and Administration, Camp and Retreat Ministry Directors and Boards. There is enormous benefit to seeking out knowledge and then leading the way to effectiveness, because camp and retreat ministry has a significant role to play in our current and emerging priorities as a denomination.

A group of experienced camp and retreat leaders and consultants has prepared this Paper to provide an overview of the areas for action associated with financing this ministry based on practices known to lead to health and vitality. It is our hope that these recommendations will provide a foundation for decisions that move all of our UM camps and retreats toward stronger missional and financial health.



  • Put First Things First
  • Be Strategic - Respond to Significant Changes in External Realities
  • Require Prudent Operational Procedures and Practices
  • Diversify and Expand Resource Streams
  • Tap Sources of Support, Expertise and Inspiration

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