Multiplication Center

Summer Camp Becomes a Leadership Machine

January 14, 2015

By Warren Bird

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One of the best summer camps in the southern U.S. is actually a “leadership laboratory” for Perimeter Church in the Atlanta area—where disciple-makers are being built and deployed for work in God’s Kingdom.

Started by Perimeter in 1989 as a parking lot day camp, Camp All-American (CAA) has transformed into a 100-acre funplex of zip lines, adventure games and world-class facilities for more than 9,000 kids every summer.

But as participants experience “the love of Jesus by spending time with the best staff in the country,” according to the camp’s website, the camp is also a training ground for future leaders who are being developed for ministry and future life roles.

“Walking around the camp one day a few years back, I realized that young leaders were running the camp,” says Jay Martin, Perimeter’s Senior Director of Camp and Sports Outreach. “And they were doing a phenomenal job as they step in, make decisions, plan, coach, supervise, be responsible for spiritual care—and all in the context of a local church.”

Developing Lifetime Disciple-Makers

Come summer, Camp All-American (CAA) will attract a staff of 60 Counselors-in-Training that are in the 9th through 11th grades, and more than 200 college students from all over the South (some from Perimeter Church, some who have never been to Perimeter), plus a small number of church staff and interns.

More from the camp’s website: “Playing the most important part in the camper experience, this select, highly trained, and screened group of college students loves, encourages, energizes, protects and cheers on every camper at CAA!”

Jay says when he moved onto Perimeter’s staff and began evaluating the parking-lot camp, creating a disciple-making mission was very much at the heart of what his leadership team envisioned.

“We allowed Gospel, more than camping, to inform everything we did,” says Jay, a former college athlete at Georgia Tech University. “The main delivery tool was not the programs, but the people. We were doing a camp, and God showed us that we actually had a leadership laboratory.

“Our mission statement: we create extraordinary environments that discover, develop and deploy lifetime disciple-makers. We want to be truly world class in bringing about mission transformation.”

An Easy Invitation

CAA has become so popular there are five Summer day camps, Winter and Fall one-day camps, Spring family camp, and a week-long overnight camp experience.

camp is sticky

CAA has become so popular there are five Summer day camps, Winter and Fall one-day camps, Spring family camp, and a week-long overnight camp experience.Camp All-American is succeeding, as it has grown from 250 day-campers to over 9,000 in five day camps for ages 4 through 8th grade. CAA also hosts Camp 365—a one-day camp on Columbus Day and Martin Luther King Day—an overnight camp in a different location, and High Adventure events that welcome more than 4,000 guests a year from corporate groups, school tennis or football teams.

Building the camp on the property of Perimeter Church “enabled us to build natural bridges from our church into the community,” the website states. But a direct connection hasn’t yet developed from the camp to Perimeter’s growth.

“Over the years, most of our efforts to try and connect with large masses of people have failed.  This continues to remind us that evangelism is not necessarily about the masses but about the one on one relationship that leads to disciple making.” Jay says of the camp that is now a self-supporting ministry of Perimeter. “This is a church ministry, and so our members know this is a place to invite their non-Christian neighbor. Our focus has really turned to encouraging and equipping them to do the inviting. Ministry and evangelism is a personal endeavor not a programmatic one. This camp has value to the community far beyond being a church program, so it’s an easy invite.”

The camp is open to “all people regardless of religious beliefs, gender or ethnic background,” according to camp material, and it attracts a large number of non-Christians every year.

Along with lots of sports and near-non-stop fun and games, campers meet daily with counselors for a 45-minute Bible lesson, and every exercise is followed by a debrief designed to teach campers something about God. The camp strives for “spiritual formation outcomes” for campers, such as getting involved in a church, having personal and corporate worship time, understanding discipleship and spiritual gifts, and how to use those skills for God’s glory.

“We don’t have any problem attracting church kids, it’s the place to be,” Jay says. “Many church kids come here, but 90% of the 9,000 are not from Perimeter. More than half of them are unchurched, from atheist backgrounds to other religions. We work with everyone as a nonbeliever until we know a bit of their spiritual story.”

Counselors Vital Part of the Story

Director Stephen Ready and other camp counselors share their experiences of how working at Camp All-American has impacted their walk with the Lord.

The spiritual stories of camp counselors are becoming intertwined with Camp All-American experiences.

One camp counselor, Karen Wood, says her four years at CAA dramatically changed her life. “Coming into camp, I was new with my walk in the Lord,” Karen says. “I thought it would be fun playing some games with kids and talking a little bit about Jesus. Little did I know, camp would fully change the way I would walk with the Lord.”

Another teen who attended the camp became a counselor for several years, then interned before moving on to become sports ministry director at a church in South Carolina. Many other former counselors are in full-time ministry, or their CAA experience is impacting how they lead and manage wherever they go.

Even the camp’s Director, Stephen Ready, is himself a graduate of Camp All American’s leadership pipeline. Stephen worked as a counselor and soccer coach at the camp during college. He became an assistant director of one of the five camps for two summers. After graduating from Georgia Tech, Stephen worked for a year on the staff of another church, then came back full time to Perimeter.“One of the themes of what made my experience so unique and appealing: from an early time, I was given probably more responsibility than I would have received in another place,” Stephen says. “I was overseeing 50-60 staff, handling parent complaints, working through how to operate more efficiently, how to prepare for the next round of kids and more. That kept us engaged and growing.”

Staff Are Customers, Too

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Camp All-American is very selective when choosing the counselors and puts them through extensive interviewing and training.

Stephen says camp leaders are as much a focus of the summer as the campers. The staff, which goes through an extensive interview process and training on how to share their faith and lead effectively, starts every day with 30-minutes of devotional time. On Tuesday nights, the staff meets for corporate worship, and counselors are in small groups for the summer.

“We consider our camp staff to be ‘customers’ just like the families we’re trying to reach, in the sense that we want them to grow and develop,” Stephen says.

Stephen and other camp counselors are part of a long line of Camp All-American leaders who have seen that development happen—a win all-around for campers, counselors, Perimeter—and ultimately the Kingdom, Jay Martin says.

“When people wonder if they could start something similar in their community, we encourage them to look far beyond programs and numbers, and to the question Robert Coleman asks in his Master Plan of Evangelism,” Jay says. “Are we accomplishing what Jesus asks us to do?

“Jesus went about making disciples. He made disciples who were reproducers. If that’s not our focus—or anyone else’s—maybe we’re wasting God’s resources. Are our young people becoming equipped to make disciples, wherever they are? Ultimately, that’s what’s going to grow God’s kingdom, not how fast they made it down the zip line.”

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