What Is a Seventh-day Adventist Camp Meeting?

Although camp meetings didn’t begin with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they’re as much an Adventist thing as haystacks.

Camp meeting is an extended event for Adventists (and non-Adventists) of all ages to gather and participate in spiritual seminars and activities. During the event, attendees often camp in tents, campers, or RVs.

Whether a weekend or ten days, the focus of the time is strengthening personal faith in Jesus and connecting the community of believers.

We’re going to dive into the following details:

To begin, let’s take a brief tour of its history.

How camp meetings started

James and Ellen White with other Adventists under a canopy at a camp meeting in 1875

Courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.

The first camp meetings, as we know them today, started during a Presbyterian revival in Kentucky in the 1800s. At the time, another Protestant revival, the Second Great Awakening, was early underway.

The event was dubbed a “camp meeting” because the attendees camped out in their wagons and tents.

We don’t know how many attended, but at the same camp meeting the next year, between 20,000 and 30,000 people flocked to hear the preachers.1

The fervor quickly spread to other denominations, who began holding their own.

Adventists weren’t far behind.

Here’s how their camp meetings came about.

The first General Conference session had been held in 1868, but the people who attended came away disappointed at how business-like and dry it was. They had expected spiritual encouragement.2

James White, one of the founders of the Adventist Church, caught on to the sentiment. After some thinking, he suggested holding a “campmeeting,” an event that would be free from business and focus on spiritual matters.3

His plan was quickly put into action.

A couple months later, in September 1868, the first Adventist camp meeting took place in Wright, Michigan. It drew a crowd of over 2,000—among them James and Ellen White and J. N. Andrews. The meeting was so successful that they planned two more for that year in other states.4

Since then, Adventist camp meetings have become annual events across the United States and even the world.

What an Adventist camp meeting is like today

Camp meetings today are in many ways similar to when they started. They’re generally held sometime between late spring and early summer. The programming still focuses on spiritual growth and revival. And many people still camp, too.

But unlike those of old, today’s participants don’t always stay in tents—they may bring an RV or camper, or rent a cabin. Many also stay in other people’s homes or in housing provided by the church.

Some meetings take place on school campuses, where camping isn’t always conducive. There, attendees might stay in dorm rooms and convene in a gym or auditorium instead of under big white tents.


Although many meetings are still the traditional week in length, some are as long as nine days, and others are just a weekend or Sabbath convocation.


Camp meeting can be as inexpensive or as expensive as you want it to be. If you come just for the day and bring your own food, or stay at someone’s house, it’ll be free. But to eat at the cafeteria, have a campsite, or join certain workshops, you will most likely have to pay a fee to help cover costs.


Children sitting and listening to a teacher in a classroom

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Another feature today is programs for different ages. Children can take part in classes geared for them, while adults can go to adult classes. But there is also time throughout the day for families to participate in events together.

Let’s get a feel for what that might look like.

A typical camp meeting schedule

Every camp meeting will have its own variations in programming and time segments, but here’s a basic outline of a day:

  • Prayer session. Rise and shine! This is generally the first event of the day and could be as early as 5:00 in the morning. Here, participants pray for each other and have a devotional time to kick off the day. However, this, as with every other event, is optional, so don’t worry if you’re not an early riser!
  • Breakfast. Campers may cook their own, and usually, the cafeteria provides something for a fee.
  • Activities and workshops. These activities focus on specific practical topics for Christians and are usually divided by age. They may last an hour or two. On Sabbath, this time slot is reserved for Sabbath School.
  • Morning meeting. This event is typically two hours long and is divided by age to best suit the wide range of people. Classes are held for infants (0–2), kindergarteners (3–6), primary ages (7–9), juniors (10–12), earliteens (13–14), youth (15–18), and young adults (19+). Adults attend the main meeting and listen to a guest speaker. Over the years, these guest speakers have included well-known Adventist evangelists like Shawn Boonstra, Doug Bachelor, or John Bradshaw. On Sabbath, this period is the main church service.
  • Lunch. Once again, families may prepare their own midday meal or go to the cafeteria.
  • Afternoon workshops. Like morning workshops, this section of the day could include many different activities for all age ranges.
  • Afternoon meeting. Each age group will have its own activity or seminar for another hour or two.
  • Supper and family time. This slot gives families the opportunity to spend some time together and catch up with friends. 
  • Evening meeting. One last event closes out the day. Sometimes, it’s a concert; sometimes, it’s a meeting like the others during the day. This usually ends by 9:00 pm or so.

Participants can pick and choose what activities and seminars they’d like to attend throughout the day to take advantage of the many benefits of the camp meeting program.

Why Adventists still hold camp meetings

The event serves many purposes, but the main one is to revive and enrich the spiritual lives of those who attend.5

Sometimes, the cares and frustrations and worries of life can seem overwhelming. But camp meeting offers a hiatus from all that to focus on what really matters: your spiritual life.6 It’s a time to rest and take in encouraging, wholesome thoughts.

But you might be thinking, I can do that at church or on my own. Why camp meeting?

Camp meeting isn’t just about individual spirituality. It’s also a huge community revival that connects the larger church body to encourage each other, build each other up, and learn together.

Friendship is a key aspect of that. At events like camp meeting, we have the chance to catch up with friends we don’t often see.

It also gives us a chance to reach out. You may run into people who aren’t Adventist—and maybe not even Christian. This is your opportunity to befriend and welcome them into the community, answering questions they might have along the way.

Who can attend camp meeting?

Anyone! All are welcome and encouraged to come, whether they attend an Adventist Church, another church, or no church at all.

Especially for those who are new to the Christian faith, camp meeting is a great way to meet Adventist Christians in a more casual setting. You don’t have to know, do, or be anything to learn about Jesus Christ and His love.

How to find a camp meeting near you

The best way to find your nearest yearly camp meeting is to ask your local pastor or someone else at your Adventist Church. You can also search online for ones in your state.

These are a few of the ones in the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NAD):

There are also camp meetings for different cultures and languages, such as Campestre Hispano in various states for Spanish speakers or the Native American Camp Meeting.

And if you can’t attend in person, some have livestream or video archives available.

Camp meeting has been part of Adventist culture for a long time. And though times have changed and we don’t camp in wagons anymore, one thing remains the same:

The need for humans to connect with Jesus and one another.

Camp meetings help meet that need.

If you’d like to learn about other Adventist ministries that bring people together,

  1. Spangler, J. R., “Workshops for Spiritual Revival,” Review and Herald, May 30, 1968. []
  2. Poirier, Merle, “Camp Meeting,” Adventist Review.org. []
  3. Ibid.[]
  4. Ibid. []
  5. “Why Camp Meetings?” Ministry Magazine. []
  6. Spangler, J. R., “Workshops for Spiritual Revival,” Review and Herald, May 30, 1968. []

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