In a time where resources are dwindling and are ever more focused on local congregations rather than conference-wide projects, programs, and places, we as camp and retreat leaders must continuously tell the story of our relevance to everyday discipleship and local congregational ministry.
Our local congregations know as well as we do that we as a church, both denominationally and globally, are at a crossroads. Some things have to change, or there won’t be any things left to change.
We have a part to play in that change. Any deep change in any organization, especially one so steeped in tradition – and sometimes dysfunction – as the church; one whose purpose is not only practical but deeply emotional; one that deals with people in the most significant and sincere sense – that deep change requires an intentional process.
One of the most effective ways to guide people through a time of change is referred to as the head-heart-hands approach. I’ve seen this approach work wonders in the area of intergenerational ministry and helping churches move from a siloed approach (separate age level ministries, age-segregated worship, etc.) to an approach that is inclusive of all generations and facilitates interaction between them.
First, people must be convinced that the change is needed through information and cognitive means – the head. Second, they must find meaning and need for the change in the spiritual and emotional realms – the heart. The first two can be accomplished through workshops and personal relationship building, but finally, the turning point comes with the hands.
The “hands” step of this process is where camps and retreat centers have everything to offer. In order for a change to be accepted, it’s imperative that those who are going through that change have a positive experience of what the outcome is intended to be.
Often this experience is not easily created within the regular church setting. Often it’s not welcome because of the power of place – whether a change in venue, worship style, small group ministry, children’s church, or even just the color of the carpet – it’s hard to introduce something new in a place filled with so many traditions, emotions, and – let’s be honest – opinions.
When it comes to intergenerational ministry, our center offers family camps and retreats to help with this step of the process. For example, bringing kids back into worship on Sunday morning is fraught with fear and loathing from many congregants of all ages. So why not start the process on neutral ground?
One non-negotiable at Family Camp is worship. Every day, we worship. And worship is for everyone. We have childcare for the youngest kids during some sessions, but never during worship. At camp, we facilitate a worship experience inclusive of all generations, including the youngest, the oldest, and everyone in between.
By providing that experience – that positive experience – of what a church may be working toward in their local setting, we help them open the door for change. After trying it on at camp, our Family Campers are just a little more open to the idea of worshiping together at home. Our “Dad and Me” Weekend fathers are just a little more prepared to pray with their kids. All because they got to experience what it’s about in a non-threatening, neutral but sacred, different camp environment.
Often this process is led by the kids themselves! I’ve had many parents email or call about a resource we used, or a song we sang, because now they are being told they must do it at home!
Although my experience is specific to the intergenerational culture shift in congregations, the same process and concepts can be applied to nearly any change. And our camp and retreat centers have so, so much to offer.
We camp and retreat leaders know the power of getting away – and that’s a power we have to offer. In processing a change, what a gift we have to offer for a church to come away to sacred but neutral ground. We can offer them a place where the opportunity for positive experience is most possible. We can offer them a place where participants are more open to God’s movement, more aware of God’s presence, and less tied down by traditionalism and “we’ve always done it that way.” We can offer them a place where folks can go home with fresh heads, hearts, and hands full of new, exciting experiences.
We have a lot to offer the church, especially in this crucial time of transition and transformation. Let’s help it be an exciting time for churches as they move into their next phases, and into God’s next phase for all of us together.
Rev. Melissa Cooper is an ordained deacon, the Program Coordinator for the Life Enrichment Center and the Director of LECFamily, a ministry that includes intergenerational retreats and camps, resources for families and churches, as well as training and workshops for local churches and leaders. She has a passion for the present and future of the church and loves helping to equip churches to expand and strengthen their ministries. She is married to Will and they have two adorable four-legged children. You can find out more about LECFamily at www.lecfamily.org.