During the bummer summer of 2020, COVID-19 caused many of the nation’s Christian camps to limit or cancel sessions, and three camps that stayed open spawned major outbreaks.

Now, camps are welcoming 2021 as a chance to return to near-normal.

“I expect the rebound for camps to be powerful, and I am convinced that families and kids need camps, perhaps now more than ever,” said Gregg Hunter, president/CEO of the Colorado Springs-based Christian Camp and Conference Association.

In March, CCCA released a survey from its 843 member camps, which prior to 2020 hosted as many as 5 million campers a year.

“Ninety-eight percent of those responding say they will be opening this summer, and many have already opened registration,” Hunter said. “All of the fun, adventure, mentoring and spiritual enrichment will be delivered, while changes will be made by individual camps to reflect local guidelines and requirements for camper safety and infection prevention.”

Hunter said most CCCA camps suspended operations last summer while some operated at limited capacity with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, CCCA has provided training on best practices, CDC recommendations and local guidelines.

Many camps have embraced a cohort model for smaller camper groups, pre-camp testing and screening. Some member camps have made structural changes to their properties to reflect recommendations from environmental and health agencies.

The Associated Press reported that 45 states are allowing camping this summer, an increase from 39 last year.

Young Life reopens most campsCamping is a key for the international youth ministry Young Life, which hosted more than 93,000 campers in 2019.

“Camp offers a unique environment for kids to experience fun, humor, adventure and to talk about what matters in life,” said Gabe Knipp, spokesman for the Springs-based nonprofit. “Our camp experiences are aimed at showing kids what life to the full is meant to look like, which includes communicating our beliefs about God’s love and letting kids respond in their own way.”

Knipp says many campers describe a Young Life camp as the best week of their lives.

In 2020, Young Life anticipated that 90,000 or more young people would attend events at its 22 U.S. camp properties and other facilities, including its three Colorado camps, Crooked Creek Ranch in Fraser and two camps in Buena Vista: Frontier Ranch and the Trail West family camp. But last April, the ministry announced it was suspending activities involving person-to-person contact. As a result, only 15,000 guests enjoyed a Young Life camp experience.

For 2021, the ministry expects to host two-thirds as many campers as it did in 2019.

“This year, we have had requests for 61,000 guests to visit Young Life camps,” Knipp said. Typically, campers attend in groups with trained leaders from local Young Life groups that reach some 350,000 young people every week.

“We have heard that kids and their parents are eager for summer camp experiences. We’re excited to have kids at camp this summer to experience this, in an environment created for them to consider the person of Jesus.

“We will have multiple interventions in place to mitigate the spread of the virus, with each intervention reducing the chance of spread. A few interventions, among others, include masks, physical distancing, and placing kids in cohorts — and we’ll be following local health guidelines at every camp.”

No Summit sessions here

In 2019, about 1,200 young people attended Summit Ministries’ 12-day student conferences in Manitou Springs. But this summer will follow the model created in 2020, with in-person sessions in other states, along with remote sessions delivered online.

Dustin Jizmejian, Summit’s vice president of program, said the close quarters in the ministry’s historic hotel in Manitou Springs run afoul of three Colorado regulations covering overnight youth camps, commercial dining and conference centers.

Instead, Summit will take six sessions on the road, to Arizona Christian University, Covenant College in Georgia and Anderson University in South Carolina. The ministry will again offer two all-virtual sessions, which reach foreign students and others who can’t afford travel to Colorado.

“We had a big brainstorming session about what makes Summit unique, and our DNA is truth and relationships,” said Jizmejian. “The challenge is how do we do that relationship part virtually, because content is the easy part.”

Jizmejian says Summit saw COVID as an opportunity rethink the youth sessions it has offered for half a century. It asked major donors to help it invest in the technology and personnel needed to give its virtual sessions the feeling of interaction and fellowship that characterize its in-person sessions.

“With all the hassle and headache, this has been good for Summit and given us a chance to reimagine it all,” he says.

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