Arguably the most controversial topic during the Constituency Session this year, Camp Meeting was voted to be shortened from nine to five days starting the summer of 2017.
Purpose of Camp Meeting
Camp Meeting is a time of fellowship and spiritual growth, of new and recommitments to Christ. It provides a safe place for our children to grow closer to Jesus while enjoying making new friends from throughout the Conference. It’s an opportunity for adults to reconnect with old friends and meet new people, as well. We enjoy eating and meeting together, and nothing can quite compare to the atmosphere that settles over our Camp Meeting each summer.
If we examine the original purpose for Camp Meeting, it was meant to be evangelistic in nature while still providing an opportunity for like-minded believers to gather and study together. Ellen G. White states, in her book Gospel Workers page 400, “The Camp Meeting is one of the most important agencies in our work. It is one of the most effective methods of arresting the attention of the people, and reaching all classes with the gospel invitation.” If you continue on, she says that, conducted appropriately, Camp Meeting will be a light to the world. The guidelines she presents are as follows: hold the meeting in large cities or towns, continue for two-three weeks, and it’s better to have lesser attended meetings held in multiple places.
The growing trend throughout the North American Division has been to shorten, change or cancel Camp Meeting altogether. There are many reasons for this, ranging from the increased financial impact on the conferences and local churches, to a pronounced lack of interest from younger generations regarding continuing the tradition. The impact of a traditional Camp Meeting is not as noticeable as it once was; while it is a wonderful experience in so many ways, there is a national concern that we are not meeting the evangelistic goal originally set for Camp Meeting. Once upon a time, Camp Meeting had the same, if not a greater, impact of the evangelistic series hosted last fall in Minneapolis, during which 156 people indicated a desire for baptism.
As the world grows more tumultuous, and the sins of the world become more and more brazen, our commission of reaching the lost becomes ever more important. And this brings us back to the vote taken at the Constituency Session this year regarding Camp Meeting.
Impact of Camp Meeting
Prior to the session, 1,184 surveys about Camp Meeting were mailed to the constituency delegates and randomly selected church members. The results show a spike in weekend attendance, with mid-week attendance dropping by almost 75% in comparison to weekend attendance. Over the years, attendance on the weekends has varied based upon popularity of the speakers and musicians. In general, people enjoy and attend Camp Meeting for the guest speakers and fellowship opportunities.
The financial impact of Camp Meeting is approximately $250,600. Of that impact, $100,100 is attributable to direct costs associated with running Camp Meeting, and this cost is covered by tithe and accommodation fees. There are hidden costs of $94,000 primarily related to payroll. All pastors and conference office staff are required to attend and work at Camp Meeting. And while they would be getting paid for this time regardless of whether or not Camp Meeting was held, believing in being good stewards encourages us to ask if this is the best way to allocate our pastors and staff. There are also some opportunity costs related to Camp Meeting. While the Conference does receive approximately $20,900 in offerings during camp meeting, there is also a noticeable decrease in giving during Camp Meeting at the local church level. Approximately $56,500 are lost during this Camp Meeting period, and unfortunately, the offerings received at Camp Meeting do not make up for this loss of giving at the local church level.
There is also an issue of capacity. The Minnesota Conference currently has more than 9,700 members, with an additional 3,000 nonmembers in attendance. We have been so blessed to grow exponentially over the years, and it is easy to see God’s hand guiding our church. One side effect of our continued growth, however, is the increased number of possible attendees for Camp Meeting. We were at dorm capacity for Camp Meeting this year: people were on the waiting list to stay in the dorms, and the campsites are filling up as well, although there was some space available there. The auditorium, where the main meetings are held, was close to overflowing on Sabbath morning. A wonderful thing to behold, but a problem nonetheless. As our Conference membership continues to grow, these capacity issues of hosting Camp Meeting at Maplewood Academy will need to be addressed.
Five options were presented for the way forward concerning camp meeting, and those surveyed were asked to select their favorite and least favorite options. The options were as follows: cancel camp meeting altogether, hold two or three weekend rallies at various locations throughout the Conference, shorten camp meeting from nine days to five, keep camp meeting the same, or increase the high profile speakers and concerts during the week.
Shortening camp meeting was the most popular option, with weekend rallies a close second. Cancelling Camp Meeting altogether was the least popular option, with increasing high profile speakers and concerts a close second. This data made two things immediately clear: our members want Camp Meeting to continue, and there seems to be a recognition of the need for change.
Justin Lyons, our newly re-elected Conference President, suggested moving forward with weekend rallies at various locations throughout the state. What was not clear during this suggestion was the intention to hold an evangelistic series following each Camp Meeting weekend rally. Lyons felt that while this option was a bigger leap to make, it had a better missional focus than some of the other options.
Delegates lined up to comment as soon as the motion was shared. It was immediately clear that Camp Meeting is near and dear to our hearts, and there was a general feeling of discord in the room. Stories of conversions, baptisms, commitments and recommitments to Jesus flooded the room, and it was evident that God has moved in wonderful ways in the past. Finally, the vote was called and the initial motion did not pass, so the floor was open for another motion.
One of the delegates moved to hold Camp Meeting Tuesday through Saturday, shortening it from nine days to five. Again, discussion ensued, the vote was called and the motion passed. Starting next summer, 2017, Camp Meeting will take place Tuesday through Saturday. We anticipate this change will save the Conference approximately $33,000 in direct, hidden and opportunity costs. That money will be used to further other ministries throughout the Conference, and will make a large missional impact as we continue to win souls for Christ. This option does not address the issues with capacity, nor does it address the ever greater need for expanded evangelistic efforts in our state. In fact, with the data from the survey, it’s possible the auditorium at Maplewood Academy will not be sufficient for the main Sabbath morning session.
What Happens Next?
Camp Meeting will take place June 6-10, Tuesday through Saturday. Set up will take place during the days prior to June 6, and wonderful guest speakers and musicians will be there, as usual – specifically, Carlton Byrd from Breath of Life will be speaking for the Friday evening and Sabbath services. In most aspects, Camp Meeting will remain the same, and we hope that interest in Camp Meeting and thus attendance increases this coming year.
Savannah Carlson, Administrative Assistant to the President