Content written by Rev. Paul Johnson, CCA
Dear Pastor: This is a series of articles about real world problems that churches often find difficult to handle. They are presented in the form of emails for ease of conversation but can come in many different ways.
Disclaimer: All the names are made up and in no way identify actual people nor does the author assume responsibility for the opinion expressed in the response.
Summer programing for youth is not a new problem for pastors. It’s a double edged sword; first it seems like an uphill battle for attention to faith development by young people in a competitive, secular world that values sports above academics, and values academics above ethics and faith. Church camps and conference centers are starving for operating dollars; counselors and staffs are harder and harder to come by; and losing money has become a drain on scarce denominational dollars. VBS – once a mainstay of summer Christian education – has become harder and harder to operate with most of the human resources needed already working fulltime jobs. Now, here comes the parent’s side of the issue….
Seems like the church is between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to turn.
What can we do?
Summer Camps and Teen Conference programs scholarships can be the easiest fundraising we do. If Camps and Conferences were not a part of your personal reality, then interview someone who participated. For many, many folks, it is a fondly remembered time when important faith decisions were made and maturation to adulthood in a religious setting became foundational in their lives. Therefore, if you do not have an ongoing scholarship program, then this should be an easy fix. Ask older members who relate to these programs to contribute to a scholarship fund, either with gifts of cash or as a codicil of their estate plan. Mollie’s story alone should motivate folks to consider helping. This does not need to come from operating budget income but should come from a special designated fund for this purpose.
The other factor that should help is to communicate the “real” cost of operating these programs without any outside subsidies. Many churches and adjudicatory groups pay a substantial portion of the “real cost” of work trips and camp and conference so that more can attend. We need to communicate to the congregation the actual cost of what it takes to run these programs. Then ask folks who are financially able to pay the “FULL” cost for their children so other children can participate through subsidies. By subsidizing all attenders, we are giving financial help to some folks who do not need it but who simply think that is what the real cost is. The subtle bonus is that it lets folks who might consider a scholarship know what they really need to give to make this happen.
Mollie’s complaint is all too common and it points out our responsibility to help families set priorities and see the extremely long term value of participation in faith development as opposed to other, secular options. Not an easy issue but a very important one. Church camps are (definitely) non-profit enterprises contrasted to a for-profit sports camp or other private programs. This may not be the only criteria for decisions but it ought to be a factor.
The second piece of bad news is that you need to personally take action to volunteer yourself and to recruit others to participate in these worthwhile programs. You first need to take the lead and then invite others to join you. If you treat being a camp counselor as “part of your vacation”, then no one will value this. In fact, what you need to do is to ask people to consider taking some of their vacation time to volunteer.
Scheduling conflicts are always a problem. Being sensitive to what is going on in families lives is very important. Be sure that that issue is on the table when you design programs and that families are included in the planning process.