Christian camps borrow money for two primary purposes. The first is considerably less publicized but far more prevalent. While many people may be aware that summer is the busiest season for Christian camps, fewer are aware that many camps fall into debt during the winter. During the sluggish months of the year, many camps spend more than they earn due to the need to maintain facilities and personnel. Consequently, it is common for camps to obtain short-term loans annually. Typically, these short-term loans are repaid when business begins to recover in the spring and summer. Money borrowed is costly. The interest rates on short-term loans vary significantly based on the state of the economy and the borrower's credit rating. But regardless of the interest rate, there is a cost associated with borrowing. This is why institutions loan money: to earn a profit.
As borrowing persists year after year, the total cost of operating a camp increases exponentially. In a recent report submitted by the United Methodist Church, it is evident that the annual practice of borrowing has caused four denominational camps to consistently spend more than they earn. Despite the fact that these centers have depended on the denomination's subsidies for some time, the denomination is now unable to continue providing these subsidies due to economic constraints. As a consequence, these camps must be sold in order to prevent further budget deficits. Despite the denomination's best efforts, insufficient funds were raised to prevent the closure of these camps (SaveMOUCamps, web).
Similar problems have plagued other sites across the nation. Canby Grove Conference Center in Canby, Oregon was recently sold due to inability to pay its debts. According to oregonfaithreport.com, the 82-year-old ministry was in danger of bank foreclosure prior to the sale due to a combination of short-term loans and a $1.2 million mortgage (web). While this article suggests that the foreclosure was caused by an economic downturn, we find that the mortgage and short-term loans totaled $3 million (Ericson, web). Canby Grove may have been able to endure an economic downturn without its large loan payments, but the economic downturn rendered the camp unable to cover both operating costs and loan payments. Banks refused to lend them any more money.
Along with short-term loans, financing for new construction is a leading cause of financial failure among camps. In a recent interview with Bob Nunziato, a camp director with 47 years of camping experience, two recent examples of the detrimental nature of camp debt were cited. Nunziato attributes the cessation of both Canby Grove and Pine Summit Christian Camps to ""borrowed funds for construction projects."" Both camps borrowed substantial amounts of money to conclude construction projects. In both instances, the ability to repay the debt was predicated on the premise that increased occupancy would generate the necessary funds. Nunziato notes that ""[o]ccupancy did not support the debt,"" culminating in the foreclosure and sale of one of the properties. Too often, the expectation that new facilities will increase commerce does not materialize.
The Bible contains essential principles for each of us as individuals and for those who operate Christian camps. As ministry leaders, it is essential to maintain a singular focus on Christ as our provider. When we incur debt, our attention becomes divided. Solomon correctly observes that """"the borrower becomes the lender's slave"""" (Proverbs 22:7, NASB). How can our concentration be entirely on Christ when we are bank slaves? Paul exhorts us to ""[o]we no one anything except to love one another"" (Romans 13:8). We will not delve deeply into the translation or emphasis of Paul's statement, but it could be interpreted as either a suggestion or a command. In either case, the message is clear: avoid debt.
As a marketing strategy, it is frequently alluring for ministry leaders to borrow money to construct new facilities. In any case, wouldn't more visitors be enticed to visit if we had a stunning new facility? Human reason alone would likely lead us down this line of thought. This is the premise upon which many Christian ministries base their ability to repay new construction loans. Occasionally, it is effective, but there are no guarantees. Nunziato argues that we may be better served if we """"permit him [God] to provide the funds before we spend them, not after."""" He continues by explaining that, according to his philosophy, we risk """"presuming"""" upon God if we move forward with an undertaking financed by borrowed funds without sufficient funds to pay for it. It is of the utmost importance that we follow God's desires instead of asking him to favor our efforts after the fact. Nunziato describes the uncomplicated principle of determining God's will based on whether or not he provides the funds in advance.
As the cost of operating as a non-profit continually rises, prudent financial management becomes even more crucial. Christian camps are under pressure due to increases in minimum wage, health and liability insurance, and the rising cost of government regulations. Ami Neiberger-Miller reminds Christian Camping leaders in her excellent article, Why Do Some Camps Thrive While Others Fade Away, that """"managing your role as both a steward of the camp's finances and a cultivator of its donors is an essential aspect of financial management"""" (Neiberger-Miller 11). In other words, our benefactors entrust us with the sacred responsibility of prudently managing the funds God has entrusted to us. By violating this trust, we risk not only losing our donors and guests, but also our own honor.
In God's hands, Christian Camps are a tool far too valuable to risk losing due to financial mismanagement. Every year, thousands of people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior at Christian camps throughout the United States and the globe. """"I can attest to the unique and dynamic way God comes to us through these special settings [Christian Camps] and rhythms of intentional Christian community that occur when we take sacred time apart from our daily responsibilities, environments, and patterns to deepen our relationship with Christ and the Creator,"""" says Kevin Carnahan. (Carnahan web). Those whose lives have been transformed through Christian camping can share countless testimonies of God's work. Church leaders repeatedly describe the transformed lives of young camp-goers who are baptized in their congregations. Because the purpose of these ministries is to spread the Gospel for God's glory, it is incumbent upon their leaders to manage the resources God has provided according to his principles.
There are a number of measures camping leaders can take to implement biblical financial principles in their ministries. We must assure that God is our primary source of financial support for our ministries. Nunziato reminds us that using biblical principles in the operation of our ministries does not exempt us from relying on our Heavenly Father every moment of every day. He sustains us, and we would perish without Him. Nunziato insists, ""[I]t is essential to recognize that we are not self-reliant.""
It is good stewardship to postpone construction projects until all the necessary funds have been raised in advance, as this allows God to grant his benediction before construction begins. Resist the temptation to construct it now with the expectation that God will bless it later. Allow Him to reveal his blessings by providing the necessary resources beforehand.
Take courage, if you find yourself leading a ministry that is already in debt. Reverting to biblical principles for borrowing and living within one's means can restore financial viability. God seeks leaders who are willing to make sacrifices to bring their lives and ministries into conformity with His principles.
Establishing reserve funds for use during lean periods can reduce operating expenses and eliminate interest payments. The Board of Directors of Hartland, a Christian camp in Central California, decided fifteen years ago to set aside a sum of money that had previously been borrowed from the bank during the camp's sluggish season. The camp was able to avoid costly interest payments by borrowing from this reserve fund during the winter months. It required some self-control, but the reserve fund was repaid during the hectic summer season and has been annually since. In addition, by contributing to this fund during prosperous times, the camp now sets aside three to four times the amount it previously borrowed. Instead of paying interest, the camp receives monthly interest on these deposits.
Using biblical principles in our personal lives as well as our ministries will put us on the correct financial path. God does not guarantee our financial success, but he does provide us with prudent operating guidelines. Once we have done everything possible to operate within God's principles, we can rest assured that we are in God's hands. Our ministries are not our own, but rather God's. He may do as he pleases with them. He has always been dependable, and he seeks trustworthy individuals to lead his Christian camps into the future.
Consider the parable in Matthew 25 about slaves who are entrusted with various amounts of money while their master is abroad. The person who buried his money was reprimanded, """"you should have placed my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money with interest"""" Matthew 25:27 states. This passage implies that we must at least earn interest on God's money rather than burying it in the earth. How much more should we endeavor to avoid paying interest on God-given funds?
Remember to always keep the end in mind. Each of us will one day stand before God and render account for the deeds we have committed. Those of us who have been saved by his grace will, thankfully, receive a recompense rather than a punishment. Everyone desires to hear him say, ""Well done, good and obedient slave."" You were faithful with a few things, so I will entrust you with many things; enter the pleasure of your master"""" Matthew 25:23 states.
Carnahan, Kevin. """"THE HEART OF CAMP AND RETREAT MINISTRY."""" Missouri Camp Closure Deliberations and Broader Reflections on the Future of the CR Ministry. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.
Oregon Live. Ericson, Cathie. ""Canby Grove Director Plans October Closure."" The Oregonian, no date (web), 28 October 2015.
Save MOUMamps on Facebook. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. Ron Watts, n.d.
John Fortmeyer. """"A 82-Year-Old Minister Is a Victim of the Recession."""" Oregon Faith Report. N.p., n.d. Internet.
Debt Hole. Digital image. Consumer Affairs. N.p., 2 May 2014. Web. 13 Dec. 2015. Hoffman, Mark.
""""Information from the Camp Board"""" Conference of the United Methodist Church in Missouri.
13 December 2015. Web. The Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church.
""""Money."""" Insight 12.MY/June 2008 (2008): n. pag.
The New American Standard Version of the Open Bible. 2004 edition published by Thomas Nelson.
""Why Christian Camps Fail Financially,"" Interview with the Author, 7 November 2015""
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