Friday, June 2, 2017

Outdoor Ministry And Its Future

Outdoor Ministry History (Pt 2: The Future)

The next chapter in outdoor ministry history has yet to be written. (For part 1 of outdoor ministry history see this article). Where is this form of Gospel ministry headed in the future? What trends will dictate its direction and effectiveness? Should outreach leaders pay more attention to this form of ministry? Historically, outdoor ministry has proven to be a viable form of in-reach, outreach, and training for future generations of Christians. Today it is more vibrant than ever. So where is it headed?

Many summer camps and outdoor ministries are tied directly to specific churches or denominations. With so many people leaving churches, especially young generations according to recent research, these camps and ministries are loosing much of their clientele. Many were designed to primarily cater to existing members of their parent church or denomination. Many of these ministries have not historically focused on outreach so much as in-reach. In-reach is vital. With the large and ever-growing interest in outdoor recreation in Western culture and around the world, a fantastic outreach opportunity exists for all outdoor ministries! Shrinking churches may force many outdoor ministries to refocus their target audience and mission. This is an opportunity, not of a crisis! Outdoor ministries may be a future hub of outreach evangelism!3

A recent survey by Pew Research suggests that Millennial's are more interested in continuing the work of the Gospel than previously thought. While many Millennial's may be leaving churches this does not necessarily mean they are completely forsaking their faith in Christ. This 2015 survey suggests that many Millennial’s are still very serious about maintaining their faith and in sharing it-- albeit in less traditional ways. Finding new ways to share the Gospel with new generations can be a good thing. The ways of the past may become less effective. The survey also indicated that there are a core segment of Millennial’s who are committed to picking up the leadership torch in traditional ways too.5 Church and ministry leaders can be confident that there will be Millennial’s who, “will hold themselves to the standards of behavior and motivation described in Scripture, and will live identifiable as disciples of Jesus Christ.”2 The future of Gospel ministry may look different or employ new methods but will be carried forward.

Current trends in American summer camps include a rapid rise in programs involving adventure camps/programs, family camps/programs, and nature/environmental education programs according to the American Camps Association.4 This trend creates fantastic evangelism opportunities for Christian outdoor ministry. First of all, adventure and camping programs provide a platform for experiential education and character building. The wilderness experience as modeled throughout the Bible is a primary means God uses to train and prepare His followers and to build and test their character. Adventure programs offer a great medium through which to use wilderness experience training. The effects are more potent and long-lasting when these experiences are shared with family or friends. The lessons learned and struggles overcome are reinforced long after the program has ended and participants are back at home when shared with people from home. Family focused programs have this advantage and should be emphasized more in outdoor ministry along with programs that emphasize friend involvement.

One proven framework of outdoor ministry that emphasizes friend and family involvement is the club-based model. A new Christian scouting movement in America has arisen and is growing rapidly. It is called Trail Life USA. It is an outdoor focused charter organization similar to Boy Scouts of America but is expressly Christian. After its first full year of operation, TLUSA had over 500 troops in 48 states and more than 20,000 members. It is experiencing explosive growth. Their focus is on outdoor adventure, character, and leadership development through a biblical worldview.1 It represents a current growing trend in evangelism.

The internet and social media are playing an increasingly important role in outdoor ministry also. The internet has enabled the Gospel message to spread more rapidly on all fronts. It has also boosted the effectiveness of outdoor ministry in two key ways. First, it has increased the exposure of outdoor ministries to the general public enabling them to reach and serve more people. Secondly, social media in particular enables these ministries to stay in contact with previous participants and continue discipleship or encourage participation in the future.1

Outdoor ministry has a bright future. It is growing and adapting. It is gaining a more important role in outreach evangelism. It is more important than ever for in-reach and maintaining the fold of God’s people. Christians must encourage its growth at the local as well as at the organizational levels. It will require volunteers, laity, and professionals to grow and succeed. Outdoor ministry has many forms which are all effective and vital. Experiential education will predominate its future just as it has in the past. It offers many benefits such as small groups and is a primary method Jesus used.6 These are all reasons why outreach and in-reach leaders should take notice of and promote this form of ministry. What better discipleship method is there than learning about the Creator in his creation!

Written By David F. Garner


1. Stemberger, John, “10 Positive Trends Christians Should Thank God For,” Charisma News, (1 Jul, 2015), Accessed June, 5 2017, god-for.

2. Cruickshank, Jessie, "Some Perspective on Millennials Serving in Ministry," Christianity Today, (5 Nov, 2015), Accessed June, 5 2017 millennials-serving-in-ministry.html.

3. Sorenson, Jake, "Outdoor Ministries: Present Challenges and Future Outlook," The Blessed Wilderness, (20 Dec, 2013), Accessed June 5, 2017 challenges.html?m=1.

4. American Camps Association, “ACA Facts and Trends,” American Camps Association, (2017), Accessed June 5, 2017

5. Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” Pew Research Center, (12 May, 2015), Accessed June 5, 2017

6. Denton, Ashley, "Why Is Church Outdoor Ministry Relevant Today,", (n.d.), Accessed May 5, 2016