According to the American Camping Association (ACA), there are over 15,000 summer camps in the United States. (2022 statistic). Many of them are faith-based facilities—Christian summer camps have a long tradition and history in ministry. Summer camps combine many of the best parts of other types of ministry ( for example–the teaching and discipleship of pastoring, the powerful worship of music ministry, the fun of student ministry, the personal impact of counseling and the activity of recreation ministries) into one complete package! And just like other forms of ministry, they need strong, competent workers to continue the impact and legacy of Christian camping. This article seeks to provide a background, description, and preparation resources for people who are exploring a call into being the director of a Christian camp.
Background & Description
Christian camps come in all different types, but generally, they all fall into one of the following categories:
- Private: camps owned by private individuals.
- Non-Profit: camps owned and operated by a non-profit organization. Summer camps affiliated with a non-profit are frequently just one of many ministries the non-profit is involved with.
- Church or Denominational affiliation: camps owned by one specific church or a denomination. Similar to non-profits, summer camps are frequently one of many ministries that the organization is conducting.
It is also important to recognize the difference between a camp and a retreat/conference center. Summer camps, as their name implies, traditionally operate in the summer and cater to school-age children (typically, 1st-12th grade), usually through their own program. Summer camps are traditionally organized into Day Camps (camps where campers come for the day and go home each night) and Residential Camps (camps where the campers come and spend multiple days on-site, sleeping in cabins on property). Summer camps frequently host retreats and conferences during the non-summer months, but the main focus of their ministry is during their summer camp program.
Retreat and conference centers traditionally do not offer their own programming but host other churches and organizations that are conducting their particular programs. Retreat centers and conference centers are usually larger, with more specialized facilities for hosting groups with multiple worship, meeting and breakout spaces.
As the director of camp, you would be responsible and oversee all the aspects of your facility. Everything that happens at the facility will fall under your leadership and supervision. At a minimum, that would include:
- Administration: A Camp Director casts the overall vision for the organization and directs the day-to-day operation of the facility as it works to bring about that vision. This includes marketing and promotion, hiring and management of all staff (full-time and seasonal), finances (including potential fund-raising), church/parent interaction financial and a myriad of other administrative responsibilities.
- Programming: What kind of program is your facility providing? Summer camp programming is focused on a tremendous variety of activities: traditional sports, arts and crafts, water-based events, science, missions, computers, wilderness activities…the list goes on forever. Summer camps often have a Program Director, who creates and supervises their program (and Staff), working under the direction of the Camp Director.
- Food Service: Regardless of the duration and location of the facility, food service is a big part of the ministry. This is usually under the directions and leadership of a Food Service Director/Kitchen Manager.
- Facilities/Maintenance: Taking care of the physical structure of the camp—the buildings and grounds—falls under the supervision of the Facilities/Maintenance Director/Caretaker. Called by different names, their responsibilities are all the same—being responsible for the maintenance, repair, upkeep and/or construction of the facility.
Preparation for a Camp Director position is generally split between education and experience.
Undergraduate: Because the duties and responsibilities of a Camp Director encompass such a huge range of activities, undergraduate studies can similarly cover a wide range of subjects: Christian ministry, business, leadership, management, Human Resources (HR), Sports Management, Marketing and Outdoor Recreation are just a few of the applicable degrees.
Graduate: Many Camp Directors in the Christian world have seminary degrees with an emphasis on Theology, Education or Recreation. Advanced degrees in leadership, business or organizational management are also very practical.
Professional: Beyond the traditional undergraduate and graduate/seminary degrees, many Camp Directors have attended other professional trainings/schools that are appropriate to the field. Schools like the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Project Adventure (PA) or the Summer Camp Society offer trainings that are highly relevant.
Nothing can help prepare you for the challenges of directing a camp like experience in the summer camp field. Many Camp Directors have years of experience working in the summer camp industry, typically in a progression of roles that require higher levels of leadership and competence. But it’s also possible to apply non-camp related job experiences from other ministries or organizations to a Camp Director position, so the experience required or needed varies widely from camp to camp. The main question is this: can you take your past education and experience and apply it to a Camp Director position?
Opportunity & Placement
Here’s the reality: getting a summer or seasonal job at a Christian camp is relatively easy. Summer camps are located all over the country, and are run by state denominations, faith-based organizations or privately owned. Each summer, these camps hire thousands of summer workers. But getting a full-time job is significantly more difficult, as the number of full-time positions is relatively small. Here are a couple of things to consider if a Camp Director calling is on the horizon:
- Find a camp and stick with it. Most camps hire from within, and very few places will hire an “outsider” with no connection to their organization.
- Be willing to put in the work. A seasoned camp director needs education and experience and exposure to a wide variety of situations. That doesn’t happen when you are young and fresh out of school. If you think that God is calling you to a Camp Director position, be confident and soak up all the experiences you can to help prepare you.
Other Things to Consider
- Not all Camp Director jobs are full-time, year-round jobs. Many of them are seasonal positions, operating primarily in the summer. Most (if not all) seasonal Camp Directors have an additional job during the rest of the year.
- Camp Director jobs are not traditionally high-paying positions, but often come with benefits that balance out a lower-paid position. For example, many camps provide free housing to the Camp Director (and family), in addition to meals, free camp tuition for dependents and other tangible benefits.
- Professional Development: Like any job or industry, ongoing professional development is vital to staying current and in touch with the latest developments. Luckily, there are many external organizations that offer relevant training and skill development. Some of those include:
- American Camping Association. A secular organization that is recognized as the industry standard for summer camps, ACA offers both individual and organizational training and accreditation. (https://www.acacamps.org/)
- Christian Camp & Conference Center Association. The Christian version of ACA, the CCCA (https://www.ccca.org/)
- Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) is the international trade association and the world’s leading advocate, educator, trainer and standards developer for the Challenge Course industry (https://www.acctinfo.org/)
- National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is the leader in training individuals that work in outdoor environments, wilderness education, leadership and experiential education. (https://www.nols.edu)
- Camp Directors have a tremendous opportunity to minister to the “Next Generation” due to their close interaction with campers and Staff. Because many summer/seasonal summer camp counselors return for multiple years, the mentoring and discipleship opportunities can extend for several years.
- Because many camps and conference centers are located in remote locations away from the distractions of life, it is a very common occurrence for spouses to work together at the same facility.
In closing, the camp & conference center ministry is a mission field with unbelievable potential for significant ministry impact. With beautiful locations across the United States, camps are places where people can retreat, refocus and reconnect in their relationships with God and others. A career in camping ministry is an unforgettable calling that needs special people focused on serving others and creating impactful experience.