Atheist Vs. Christian Summer Camps: Which More Effectively Taught Their Worldview This Summer?

Atheist Vs. Christian Summer Camps: Which More Effectively Taught Their Worldview This Summer?

A blog reader sent me some information recently on an atheist summer camp (thanks DD!). I was fascinated to read all that they are doing to promote an atheistic worldview with their young campers. It immediately made me wonder how Christian camps stack up. After all, about 40 percent of all U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 have been a camper at least once at a religious summer camp—making camp a perfect opportunity to give large numbers of kids an understanding of why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true and how to defend their faith in a secular world.

So are Christian summer camps imparting this critical knowledge? To find out, I Googled “Christian summer camps” and visited the websites of 100 camps across the country. I spent hours going through these sites to see what they offer so I could share the findings with you.

I wish I could say I had a positive report.

Before we look at what I found, however, I want to first give you a glimpse of an atheist summer camp for comparison.

 

What Happens at Atheist Summer Camps?

The largest atheist summer camp is called Camp Quest. Camp Quest started 20 years ago and has grown to 14 locations throughout the United States. According to its website, “The idea to offer a summer camp program designed for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families originated partially in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s increasing enforcement of their policy requiring boys to profess a belief in God.  It became clear that children from nontheistic families needed their own place to belong and enjoy the summer camp experience.”

The camp’s tagline is, “Summer camp beyond belief!” Campers participate in all kinds of traditional camp activities—for example, archery, canoeing, climbing, crafts, dance, horseback riding, and swimming—along with an important core of “freethought” activities in line with the camp’s secular mission.

So what do they mean by “freethought”? They define it this way: “Broadly, it means cultivating curiosity, questioning and a certain disdain for just taking the word of authority; demanding evidence and knowing you can make your own observations even if they lead you to disagree.”

In other words, they do activities that aggressively teach kids their worldview in the context of others.

You might not immediately conclude this from their freethought definition. After all, doesn’t every parent want to cultivate curiosity, encourage questions, and teach kids to think for themselves? Make no mistake, however: Camp Quest and all self-identified “free thinkers” ironically believe that freethought inevitably results in the same atheistic/agnostic conclusions.

One of the most loved freethought activities at camp is the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. The children are told that there are two invisible unicorns who live at Camp Quest but that they cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched. They cannot escape from camp and they don’t eat anything. The only proof of their existence is contained in an ancient book handed down over countless generations. The challenge: Can you disprove their existence?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these kids are supposed to see that the idea of God is just like these invisible unicorns. While the kids will learn that you can’t strictly disprove God’s existence (how can you disprove invisible unicorns?), they’ll also learn that there’s no evidence of them, so there’s no reason to believe in them. (The claim that there’s no evidence for the existence of God is pervasive today but flawed—see chapters 1, 7, 8, 21, 27, and 28 in my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, for help talking to your kids about this subject.)

With activities like these, kids are actively learning why they should believe their worldview is an accurate picture of reality.

Meanwhile, at Christian summer camp…

 

What Happens at Christian Summer Camps?

I went to a Christian summer camp for several years as a kid and remember those weeks rather fondly. I remember the excitement when it was time to go to the snack bar for afternoon popsicles; I remember the smelly but fun cabins where everyone would stay up late talking; I remember being sent off by camp counselors with a notepad and pen to write a letter to God and having no idea what to do; I remember nightly songs around the campfire; and I remember having my first crush.

What I don’t remember from those years is growing in my understanding of Christian faith. Of course every camp is different, and every camper is different, so that’s not to say that my experience is representative of all or even most. But, after seeing what happens at Camp Quest, I was keenly interested in seeing how Christian camps today compare.

Here’s what I found from my survey of 100 Christian camp websites.

First, many say nothing of their Christian mission outside of generally promoting a “Christian camp” label. If you’re considering sending your kids to “Christian” summer camp, make sure you know what exactly that means. At many places, it doesn’t mean much.

Those that did detail the faith-based component of their camp were quite similar in focus. The key words repeatedly found on camp websites were: worship, relationship, good values, community, devotions, experience, and growing close to Jesus.

I want you to see first-hand the specific descriptions these camps offered. Here’s a good representation of the key phrases found throughout the sites…along with some side notes I couldn’t help but make:

  • Wholesome Christian atmosphere
  • Excellence in Christian camping (This made me laugh out loud. I get the term “Christian camp” but “Christian camping” makes me wonder how Christians camp differently…)
  • Take the next step in your faith
  • Fun, faith, friends (alliteration is fun, but it doesn’t say much)
  • Demonstrate that the Christian life can be one of meaningful fulfillment (Another laugh out loud moment—“can” be?)
  • Enjoy recreation in a Christian atmosphere
  • Dynamic speakers (I’m glad they’re dynamic, but what will they speak dynamically about?)
  • Show kids you can be a Christian and still have fun (What kind of message does this send? That everyone assumes Christians can’t have fun and this camp will prove the universal assumption wrong? How about showing kids why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true so they understand why they should be a Christian in the first place?)
  • Special moments to learn about a loving God
  • Exciting Christian campfire programs
  • Gain deeper insight about God (I like how that sounds, but insights could mean anything…)
  • Grow strong in a welcoming Christian experience
  • Transformative worship
  • Campers come to know Jesus and pass on God’s love with excitement
  • Give kids a moral compass and learn God’s Word
  • Be encouraged and strengthened in the Lord
  • Wholesome recreation consistent with Christian standards and purposes (“consistent with” is about the least committal descriptor I can think of)
  • Enjoy God’s wonder
  • Enthusiastic speakers (enthusiasm is great, but, again, what content are they enthusiastically sharing?)
  • Establish goals to move closer to Jesus
  • Provide a life-altering experience
  • Enjoy high energy worship (I’m glad they clarified it’s high and not low energy…)
  • Conform campers to the character of Christ
  • Bring kids to a saving knowledge of Christ
  • Explore faith and God’s creation while you enjoy outdoor time around the campfire
  • Promote a lifestyle that honors God
  • Provide strong Christian role models
  • Nightly cabin devotions
  • Explore actions and teachings of Jesus Christ
  • Each adventure-packed day ends with campfire singing and a Bible message
  • Daily group Bible studies
  • Awesome worship music, live speakers, and meaningful Bible study
  • Activity-based application of biblical principles
  • Bible-based teaching based on shared adventures
  • Values-based camping
  • Help campers build a relationship with Jesus
  • Experience Christian community
  • Provide programs allowing campers to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ
  • Emphasize Judeo-Christian values
  • Be inspired and challenged as the staff brings the Bible alive in new ways
  • Christian lifestyle is demonstrated through Bible study, devotions, music, and personal interaction
  • Experiences that strengthen the spirit, mind, and body under a strong Christian emphasis
  • Steadfast focus on the Creator in the midst of adventures (I’m imagining a kid sliding down a zip line with camp counselors yelling, “Focus on who ultimately created this!”)
  • Focus on values important to all faiths (now we’re just going to focus on the lowest common denominator?)
  • Speakers sharing from their heart on how God’s Word has transformed them

If you read through all those “talking points,” it’s clear that Christian camps overwhelmingly focus on the experience of being a Christian. And, of course, facilitating opportunities to experience God is hugely important! But one of the ways we experience God is with our minds and stems from the confidence of our convictions. Out of 100 camps, just TWO explicitly mentioned anything related to teaching Christian worldview in the context of other worldviews and how to engage with our secular culture:

  • Prescott Pines: “Stand up for your faith in the face of adversity” (funny enough, this is a camp in my hometown—but not the one I attended!)
  • Camp Kanakuk: “Helping your child grow in their character, and ability to communicate and defend their faith”

While other camps may address these topics as part of their general Bible teaching or messages, it certainly wasn’t a focus enough for them to explicitly mention it on the other 98 sites. I’m not saying that every single camp should have this as an emphasis, but given the challenges kids are facing today, the fact that 98% of camps are at the very least not promoting that they’re going to talk about Christianity in the context of other worldviews is both surprising and disappointing.

 

What Should We Make of All This?

In terms of numbers, the attendees at Christian camps far outnumber those at atheist camps. But if you’re tempted to think that means we shouldn’t care about this comparison, you’re missing the point.

Atheists are still a small percentage of Americans overall (5-10%), but their numbers are quickly gaining because they aggressively promote what they believe to be the truth of their worldview versus the falsities of other worldviews. Meanwhile, the number of Christians in America continues to decline in response. Churches have been slow to realize the urgent necessity of teaching apologetics given the increasing challenges to faith today…and it’s clear that Christian summer camps are no different.

This is a shame. Truly. A lost opportunity with thousands of kids.

I hope that this post will reach the inbox of people involved with camps and encourage them to think of how their program next summer might be more tailored to these subjects.

Importantly, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be “exciting campfires,” devotionals, “high energy worship,” fun speakers, and so on. All of these things contribute to a memorable camp experience. But there may be nothing more important today for helping kids draw nearer to Jesus (a stated goal of most camps) than helping them know confidently why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true.

If you’re involved in camp planning for your church or other organization and want some content ideas for teaching apologetics at next year’s camp, please email me through my contact form.  

 

Addendum: Two Camps to Consider

There are two fantastic programs for teens that do focus on equipping kids to engage critically with other worldviews and I want to make sure you know about them as you consider opportunities for next summer.

First, Summit Ministries offers intensive two-week retreats designed to teach older teens how to champion a biblical worldview and to strengthen their faith in a post-Christian culture. These retreats are in Colorado, Tennessee, and California. They have incredible speakers. If you want to see what Christian camp can look like, check out their sample schedule. Wow.

Second, Faith Ascent’s Base Camp in St. Louis offers “5 days and 4 nights of fun, fellowship, and intense preparation for the challenges and opportunities college bound Christians will be presented with. In a real college environment we ask and answer the tough questions Christian teens are asking (and being asked).” They, too, have fantastic speakers and an incredible schedule.

I hope you’ll check out these excellent programs and consider them for next summer if you have kids of the appropriate age.

 

UPDATE May 5, 2017: 

Many people have emailed me to recommend a couple of other camps that are doing a great job of training kids in the Christian Worldview and apologetics. Be sure to check out these excellent programs as well!

11 Comments

  1. Letitia Wong on August 17, 2016 at 2:34 PM

    Thanks for the shout out for Faith Ascent Base Camp in St. Louis, Natasha! As an instructor and camp volunteer, I can personally vouch for the camp’s dedication to exploring the truth of the content of Christian faith with high school aged teens.



  2. Nick Klein on August 17, 2016 at 5:25 PM

    I appreciated this post very much. My wife and I transitioned our week of camp to one of worldview training and apologetics 3 years ago and we are very happy with how the kids have responded. Would encourage you to check us out http://www.jrhighcamp.com and let us know what you think.



  3. Karen Haught on August 18, 2016 at 8:00 AM

    Wow! I do hope you’ll republish next Spring when parents are looking for camps. Meanwhile I’ll bookmark to share at that time with my audience. Thank you. I always enjoy your blog posts.



  4. Heather on August 18, 2016 at 8:33 AM

    Another wonderful camp to consider is Worldview Academy! They offer 5 days and 5 nights training in Christian worldview and apologetics. It’s offered in nearly every state!
    From their brochure: It’s for students who want to find their reason. At camp students discover their purpose, they’ll know their calling and they learn to act on their mission.
    At Worldview Academy we help students take the legacy of their parents’ faith and make it their own. We give them reason to believe and reason to lead.”
    My kids each have said, “It was the best week of my life!” They are already looking forward to returning!



  5. DR on August 22, 2016 at 5:19 PM

    How about 40 days and nights in a barren Middle-Eastern desert wilderness, without food, being constantly harrassef by the prince of demons himself? And maybe some serpents, scorpions, locusts and camel’s-hair clothing for good measure.

    That is as near a definition of “Christian camping” as I can think of.



  6. Steven White on August 31, 2016 at 11:12 AM

    Humm not sure what to say. I do agree the atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking camps aren’t shy like the Christian camps. Remember, not all “Christian” camps are really Christian oriented and some have done it for the money knowing how we will more likely try to educate our kids while letting them have some fun over their summer breaks. Another point is Christian camps have always been very respectful not overly pushing or selling their Christian aspects. Thus far the Christian way is to share our faith, not brainwash others into Christianity. I’ve clearly noticed these other camps/groups openly brag and yell about their religion of choice and aggressively recruit others including young moldable mines toward their chosen paths. The camps I visited as a child tended to offer to share their faith but if we don’t accept it they let you continue as you are knowing you’ll come to the right realization if left alone to search, find and explore while they watch over us. While they have been and do seem a bit wimpy, I still think it’s more representative of how Christians would/should act, unlike many other religious groups who argue, debate, yell, protest and basically raise a big ruckus by saying their religion is the right one because they are so loud promoting it. Its time Christian camps step up and be a bit bolder in the face of these new non-Christian camps and values being promoted. Otherwise we shall continue to be run over, ignored and attacked for our belief in God. I pray things will change and our children will be allowed to make their own decisions instead of being sent to a camp that forces its beliefs into them.



  7. John on September 4, 2016 at 12:41 PM

    An interesting article that again shows the importance of checking what ‘christian’ means in connection with schools, colleges and camps.
    As a coparrison here is the link for a UK Christian summer camp that my children have benefited from attending:-http://www.contagious.org.uk/

    Hopefully the comparison will help the ‘christian’ camps get there act together.



  8. Jennifer Schrank on May 5, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    Worldview Academy is recommended by Summit for younger ages. Summit is for ages 16-22 (and is highly recommended by many parents I know whose kids have gone)
    Worldview Academy is for ages 13-18 and is also nationwide.
    http://www.worldview.org/camps/



  9. Ed on May 5, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    Thank you for raising the bar on essential apologetics. Cults and Atheist have hit the deck running and they believe they can win the information war. I have been trying for awhile to get my Christian friends to engage on topics that address and answer attacks on Christianity. There are a few who show interest but even fewer who want to wrestle with these questions in order to learn how to talk to skeptics. Every Christian Church needs a spiritual S.W.A.T. team. (Specialized Witnessing and Tactics.) Imagine how beneficial it would be for a Pastor to have someone he could turn to for ready answers to question he is not equipped to answer. God Speed.



  10. […] check out these excellent programs and consider them for next summer…You can read her the full blog post here.WOW! Out of 100 Christian summer camps, based on mission statements and keywords, she could only […]



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