Director Art Snead talks about the success and growth of their summer “discipleship through adventure” camps
Nestled in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, Ridgecrest Conference Center has so much going on these days they purchased a drone, with funds from a donor, to help capture some of the activity across its 1,300 acres. The Conference Center is a big operation, sleeping up to 2,000 people and hosting events and camps year-round, including many LifeWay student and kids camps (Fuge Camps, Student Life, CentriKid, Student Life for Kids). Less well known, however, are the residential camps for boys and girls that take place outside of the main conference center location and run for eight weeks during the summer (four two-week sessions).
“The first boys camp was in 1929,” says Ridgecrest director Art Snead, who first attended a Ridgecrest camp when he was 9 years old. “And last year was the girls camp’s 60th summer. So, they’ve been around a long time. But the last 10 years, the way God has blessed and used our camps has exploded.”
Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls run concurrently and are located across the interstate from each other. And while they do some functions together, they’re mainly separate operations with separate facilities.
“Separate sites allow ‘boys to be boys’ and ‘girls to be girls,’” Snead says, “which helps our campers focus on growing in a Luke 2:52 manner.”
Both the boys and girls camps combine intentional discipleship with adventure for individual campers rather than church groups.
“Our camps’ mission statement is ‘impacting lives for God’s glory through discipleship and adventure,’” says Snead. “One of the differences between us and Student Life or Fuge is we have individual kids come, not church groups, and they’re with us for at least two weeks. That allows us to have an extended, intentional discipleship focus with them. And then we’re in touch with them the other 50 weeks of the year, too.”
The year-round camp team stays in touch with campers through social media like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and vlogs (video blogs). “As we looked at God’s future for the camps, we asked how we could impact these kids and their families outside the two-week mountaintop experience they have at camp. So, that’s where the parents blog and the boys blog and the girls blog all came in,” says Snead. “We have a very active and impactful two-way social media presence. We’re not just sending stuff out; we’re getting feedback in from campers, parents, and alumni, too.”
In addition to year-round staff, the camps employ carefully screened college students to serve as counselors.
“It’s a high priority that we hire folks who love Jesus and are passionate about pursuing Him and helping impact kids’ lives,” says Snead.
That’s the consensus among the camp leadership—the student counselors are key to the success of the camps.
“This will be my 40th summer working with the camps,” says executive director Ron Springs. “It has been a privilege to serve alongside these college-age young men and women and watch them interact with our campers. They are such wonderful role models and Christian mentors for the children and youth we serve.”
Boys camp director Phil Berry agrees: “There’s nothing quite like watching hundreds of boys and young men interact with college students who love Jesus like crazy. It’s amazing how quickly they are changed when they see Jesus in a loving adult.”
Girls camp director Sharon Aylestock adds: “I am so thankful to be a part of what God is doing through Ridgecrest summer camps! It’s evident He is at work in the lives of our campers and staff.”
Massive expansion underway
Up until 2008, the camps had 200 camper beds at each site. Then in 2009, five cabins were added to each camp, boosting the number of beds from 200 to 250.
“At the time, the leadership involved thought, Man, if we can ever fill those cabins, that would be awesome!Well, they filled up almost immediately,” says Snead. “So we’ve continued to add a cabin or two each year.”
About three years ago, leadership began looking at the long-term future of the camps, asking what the master plan is and working with consultants who specialize in camp expansion, says Snead. This resulted in a four-year expansion plan beginning in 2015.
“Our girls camp’s capacity is going from 280 last summer to 420 this summer,” Snead says. “So, we built 14 new camper cabins. We’ve doubled the size of the dining hall and chapel because of how many more kids we’ve got. And we’ve doubled the footprint of the girls’ camp to about 65 acres.
“We’ve been intentional about not only making camp bigger, but also making the experience better. We’ve added some new program elements, some of which will benefit the Conference Center guests, too. For instance, we’ve put in a new high-challenge course that all three entities will be using,” Snead says.
The boys camp will see a similar expansion next year, and then the following two years the plan is to add additional space and program elements as needed.
“The four-year plan is under way and there’s a lot of construction involved,” says Snead. “God is doing something very special. And for those of us who are a part of the camps and have prayed for their future and now seeing that future being realized, it’s an exciting time.”
The growth of the residential camps is not the only good news coming out of Ridgecrest. There are big changes ahead at the Conference Center, too. “A lot of exciting things are going on at the Conference Center,” says Snead. “It’s been a blessing to serve both places. Thinking back to my first summer here as a 9-year-old camper, and now seeing how God is blessing the camps and being a part of helping guide that has been an incredible experience.”
“We’d love for more people to send their kids to camp,” he says. “We want people to know about the one-week Starter Camp, our Family Camp (Labor Day Weekend), the Mother & Daughter weekend, and the Father & Son weekend. Those camps are growing, too, and we’re getting great feedback on them. It’s amazing the impact all these camps are having on people’s lives.”
The regular price for the two-week camps this summer is $1,750, which is lower than most residential camps. Pricing for the family events can be found on the camps’ website: RidgecrestCamps.com.
LifeWay employees talk about their experience with Ridgecrest camps
“I think the experience can best be summarized by a short story about our oldest grandson’s first year at camp. Jeremiah was somewhat apprehensive about going away for a two-week camp to a place he had never seen, with people he had never met, disconnecting from all of his electronic devices, and knowing he would have severely limited communication with anyone outside of camp. However, my wife, Sherry, and I were confident that not only would it be an experience that would help him mature physically, mentally, and spiritually, but it would be an experience he would enjoy. Our expectations were certainly fulfilled, but the most telling and immediate indication of his evaluation of his first two-week camp session was his first question to us when we picked him up: “Papa Jerry and Nana Sherry, could I stay for another two weeks?”
—Jerry Rhyne, vice president of Finance and Business Services
“When my son was about 4 years old, we read The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp. He was immediately fascinated with the idea of going to camp. When he was ‘finally’ old enough to attend Camp Ridgecrest after completing first grade, we signed him up for Starter Camp. When I picked him up on Friday, he said he was so glad I was there to pick him up, but he wanted to go back for a full session the next year and stay for two sessions when he was older. Two and four years later, my middle and youngest children attended Camp Crestridge (the girls camp) for the first time. Now they each claim Camps Ridgecrest and Crestridge as the highlight of the summer—the one thing they look forward to all year long.”
—Kimberly Phegley, internal audit director
“My daughters bug me all year to go back to Crestridge. It’s now a part of our summer routine!”
—Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Insights Division
Written by Matt Erickson, managing editor of Facts & Trends and LifeLines.