What if church could be more like summer camp?

Camps are cool. My youngest kids went to Christian camps last week. TJ (9) went to El Rancho and Hannah (14) went to Lakeview Bible Camp with some Gospel Chapel people from Foxton. They had a great time. They came home with huge smiles and heads full of memories.

I also have very fond memories of New Zealand camps when I was younger.

Camps are where you can hang out late at night, dress badly, discover yourself, fight the giggles at 2 in the morning, watch the uninhibited speaker embarrass himself publicly, eat poorly cooked food, get up surprisingly early to pray, create and perform silly skits, pee in a freezing cold cement toilet block, and share your life-changing decision with your new friends as bonfire flames lick your eyelashes.

Why can’t church be like more like camp?

Uv ngatiawa

Well, actually, it can be! As you know we arrived at Ngatiawa Camp a month ago and are still here. This is an old Presbyterian camp that was purchased 8 years ago by a network of Christian communities called Urban Vision and turned into a contemporary monastery that has been embraced by the Anglican church.

Founders Justin and Jenny Duckworth tell the story in their book Against the Tide. Justin is working on his Ph.D on contemporary monasticism and I expect he will have some great contributions to make once he is finished.

In a way, its like a camp that goes on forever, a perennial camp, a camp where no body has to go home because this is their home. They have fixed up the buildings, added gardens, a milking shed for the cows, art spaces for creativity, extra accommodation, a chapel for their 3 daily services, and a wifi signal. But its still a camp. Except the food is better.

Yth forum 1

We cooked pizza for 50 people last Friday. Every day new people seem to turn up. Lots of young people. Lots of Anglicans, especially since last month’s big profile [read article]. Anglican Youth Network Facilitator John Hebenton has been here all week, hiding himself away in the prayer hut. Yesterday, Bishop Richard Ellena dropped in for a cuppa.

Last week a young guy named Tim flew up from Christchurch and hitched his way to Ngatiawa Camp, just to stay one day before flying back south. People are looking for a better way to do church and models like this are giving hope to a new generation.

A lot of young people around the world are starting intentional communities that begin with the template of a monastery and then reduce the weird elements to make it fit the context. But another option is to START WITH A CAMP and add what needs to be added. Seems to be working for Urban Vision.

Want to check it out? Come for PassionFest in Feb right here at Ngatiawa and bring your tent.

Related: Prophets of a New Order, PassionFest in 2012


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • dkzody says:

    Oh, Lord, no. If church were like summer camp, I would not be attending. I have worked at church camps, and they are great fun for the summer time, but not for all the time. As for food, the camp with which I am affiliated has excellent food. I did love the idea of not having to think about what to cook. Maybe I’d just show up at dinner time!

  • Jeremy Myers says:

    I have been dreaming and praying for something like this here in the States! Does it exist? Does anyone there from NZ want a Macedonian call to come to New York and help start something similar?

  • Andrew says:

    Jeremy, Dude, I hate to be the one to tell you this but it already happened in New York and you missed it . . . by over a century.
    Check out this page on Wikipedia on the impact of American camp meetings on American Frontier Christianity:
    “Another camp gathering area known now as the Campgrounds, was located in what is now Merrick, New York. Parishioners would arrive in their wagons and park them in two circles, one inside the other. Eventually some of them started building small cottages, which offered more comfort than the wagons.”

  • Andrew says:

    Another quote on American camp meetings from the 1800’s:
    “What made camp meetings successful and multiplying quite rapidly “were their emphases upon revivalism and morality, de-emphasis upon formal theology, clergy sharing the worldview of the frontier dwellers, and respect for common people.”

  • Jeremy Myers says:

    Yeah, but I want it for me, and I want it NOW!
    (That’s my selfish American side speaking.)
    Seriously, though. There are still a few communities around here. There is a L’Abri community a few hours from here, and I’m 30 minutes from one of the Bruderhof communities, and then of course there is The Simple Way down in Philly.
    But none of these have the Summer Camp feel to them…
    (That is my picky American side speaking.)
    Listen, if you know anyone with $2.3 million, I found a summer camp near here that is for sale…
    (And there is the greedy American side shining through…)

  • Andrew says:

    lots of camps like that for sale. Someone smarter than us should figure out an easy way to turn those camps into kick-butt christian communities.
    Pimp my camp, anyone?

  • Drewe says:

    I went to a Bible College here in Australia that works kinda on that model. In the first year, you worked on the farm – so we milked the cows and then had the morning for Bible study classes. Lunch and afternoon were free time and then into town for a job at night (the one I went too owned a Pizza shop). Then over and over again for a year 😀
    In many ways, it was awesome. we fed 15 people for $150 a week+ what people donated to us. It was true ‘camp’. we rostered to light the fire to give us hot water 😀
    Then second year you got a different job in town (pizza shop for year 1 – and a year 2 to supervise), and lived in a communal house in town. Same deal – work and bible study.
    Then third year it was back to real life.
    But a great concept of learning, bible study, devotions (6AM sharp – after the cows milked!), and witness in society with work, as working in the small town everyone knew the ‘bible’ pizza place, and we had the best pizza by far 😀
    It is sad the one I went to has closed down (lack of teachers!), but I think the one in NSW is still going…

  • Andrew says:

    I think i remember hearing about that one. What was its name???
    I went to WA Bible College in Perth and we had a sheep and lots of chickens.

  • Drewe says:

    “Cornerstone”, or cornerstone bible college.

  • My family and I spend a lot of time in the outdoors. Hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing, etc. We have tossed around the idea of trying to start a Christian outdoors oriented camp or community. Maybe setup some yurts, create a space for Christians to gather and take-in God’s beautiful creation, gather, and do some fun stuff together.

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