Does camp make a difference? The research says it does.

The Effective Camp Research Project is a multi-year study examining the impact of the Christian summer camp experience on campers, families, and church communities. Evidence is building that camp experiences continue affecting young people long after the last tearful goodbye, and we can build on the success of these experiences in our ministry contexts by knowing the potential impacts and forging connections between camp, congregation, and home. The impacts are clear and recognizable in camps that attend to the five fundamental characteristics of Christian camping: Faith-centered, relational, participatory, safe space, and unplugged from home.

Does camp make a difference? “Yes” always feels like the answer, but do we know? How do we know? This is the question we seek to answer in the Effective Camp Research Project.

The impact of camp experiences is shockingly understudied. This project serves as a place to start. Scroll down for project details, or click the button below to begin reading the findings. Welcome to the Effective Camp Research Project!

Doing research to help you design your programs and make your case to your constituency is critical and cutting edge. In this competitive world full of distractions and alternatives, those that can show “camp actually makes a difference” will have an advantage.

For the first time ever in religious camping, a skilled research team is able to work directly with individual camps to help them evaluate and demonstrate the impact of their programs.

The current and future findings of the Effective Camp Research Project are powerful. The real impact, where it matters most, is in how it helps outdoor ministry leaders continue to share the good news about the impact of camp to their churches, families, and communities. The research matters when it is used.

We’ve created a communications kit for you to share the impact and help you continue to make the case for transformational experiences at camp. You can use the content in your emails, newsletter, signage, social media, or any other platform you use to reach your people.

Project Overview

Summer 2015: The project began exploring the question of the impact of the one-week summer camp experience by examining a cohort of three camps in Wisconsin affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Sugar Creek Bible Camp, Lake Wapogasset Lutheran Bible Camp (“Wapo”), and Lutherdale Bible Camp. The project used the methodology of grounded theory. Data were gathered from 11-14 year-old camp participants, their parents, summer staff members, camp directors, church professionals who were visiting camp, and direct observation during site visits. From this deeply embedded research emerged our understanding of the 5 fundamental characteristics of Christian summer camp.

Summer 2016: The project continued by surveying more than 1200 campers at 6 camps, including the original 3 and Imago Dei Village, Luther Park Bible Camp, and Luther Point Bible Camp. Campers completed surveys on the first day of camp, the last day of camp, and 2-3 months after returning home. Results from these surveys show the growth that took place during the camp experience and how much of that growth persisted in the weeks and months following camp.

Summer 2017: The project expanded the camper survey beyond the state of Wisconsin, including 5 additional camps: Camp Lutherwood (OR), Shetek Lutheran Ministries (MN), Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp (MI), Camp Amnicon (WI), and Mar-Lu-Ridge Camp and Retreat Center (MD). More than 800 additional campers and 250 additional parents participated in the project this summer.

Participating Camps

These findings offer compelling evidence of a specific camp model that is highly adaptive and highly effective in facilitating positive and lasting impacts in participants. We have demonstrated that this camp model is effective at camps in different regions of the country and among those offering very different program styles. There is also evidence that when the camp model breaks down, anticipated outcomes do not take place. By improving our camps and attending to the 5 fundamental characteristics, we can maximize the impacts of the Christian summer camp experience and strengthen area congregations and constituent families.

Focus Groups + Interviews

Campers Surveyed

Parents Surveyed

Camps (and counting!)


The Christian summer camp experience directly impacts participants in positive and recognizable ways, and these impacts extend to their supporting networks.

Meet the team behind the project

There is a dynamic team of researchers and leaders behind the Effective Camp Research Project. They are ready to continue their work, maybe at your camp.
Meet the Research TeamBring the team to my camp

This Project is Generously Sponsored By

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