Almost nothing is more dear to our hearts than our children. We all want to see them baptized and doing great things for God someday, but statistics are daunting. According to The Barna Group, a research firm, less than 25% of the children of church members become involved themselves, with girls twice as likely as boys to do so. Though this is a statistic from all churches that purport to be Christian, the point is still relevant and comparable in our family of churches.
The Indianapolis Church of Christ Dads’ Camp has become, for us, an effective weapon in this battle, dramatically increasing the rate of baptism of our boys to as high as 90%. The camp was initiated almost 14 years ago by Dan LaFever, now one of our elders. When a confluence of events would have kept his son from going to any church camp, Dan looked his son in the eye and said, “Son, if we can’t get you to camp we will make you a camp.” Dads’ Camp marries outdoor activities and mentoring by fathers. Some of the concepts, particularly manhood ceremonies, come from the book Raising a Modern-Day Knight by Robert Lewis. The activities at camp are aimed at developing the character, faith, responsibility, and manhood of the boys. In the first year or two this involved mostly cooking, camping, crafts and talking, but has evolved to include canoeing, shooting sports, ziplining, caving, hiking, airsoft, rappelling, and a useless skills contest. Older boys who wish to can participate in a pheasant hunt off-site. We even have access to Camp Atterbury, a local military base, for other events such as a thrilling A-10 jet fly-over. Boys age eight to 18, who have shown little interest in other activities, will happily attend Dads’ Camp. We have drawn fathers and sons from other states, from among people who have left the fellowship, and from the world. All men are screened, and participants sign waivers for their participation. Mentors are matched with boys who do not have a father in their lives. Camps have more than paid for themselves. Now the moms in the congregation have decided to create a mom’s camp based on the same principles, to begin this next summer. The congregation has also begun an informal outdoor ministry with regular outdoor activities and no meetings. All this strengthens the fellowship and is a draw for non-members. The fathers involved realized that one week a year would only have limited influence, so they have added activities to essentially make the mentoring year-round. The camp has become self-perpetuating, with the original group of fathers passing the torch to a new group as their own sons have moved on to college. Dan’s son Jacob said it best when he stated that this was the best camp ever “because you were there, Dad.” Seeing the impact of Dads’ Camp on his own son, I felt called to try to take the concept to other congregations. I was raised canoeing and kayaking, and have spent the last seven years securing grants for outdoor sports organizations, particularly involving shooting sports, on a voluntary basis. I am certified as an NRA Range Safety Officer and a NSCA Scholastic Shotgun Coach and NRA Training Counselor. I have begun to use my grant-writing gifts to secure some added support for the camp, reducing costs. Recently I formed a non-profit, Pay It Forward Now, to build on this program and help other congregations start a similar one. A small group has been added in Los Angeles recently. I can share a lot from being a part of the growing pains of Dads’ Camp, including mistakes that have driven changes. Additionally, my contacts with the Midway USA Foundation, FNRA, Cabela’s, and the Potterfield Foundation can help fund the establishment of new groups. As we all know, there is no magic bullet for saving our children. You can be a great parent, and your child may not follow in the faith. Ultimately it is in God’s hands. Our hope is that sharing the Dads’ Camp concept can tip the odds in the parents’ favor. It is a vehicle for “teaching them to obey” as Matthew 28 requires. If you are interested in establishing a program modeled on Dads’ Camp at your congregation, have questions, or want to see if funding is available for you, contact me, Brett Thompson, at email@example.com and provide the following information:
- Congregation name
- Approximate total membership of congregation
- Contact name, phone number, and email
- What outdoor activities and events are you doing now, with about how many participants?
- What events would you like to do in the future?
- What other events could you do with some funding?
This information will help us get more donations, which we will share with those with an outdoor ministry. If you are planning to attend the Youth and Family Conference in Denver, contact me in advance to meet!