Friday, September 29, 2017

Plan An Outdoor Church Event



Does your church hold an outdoor church event? If not, they should! There are many reasons including increasing lay involvement, improving member interaction, and growing your church body. By outdoors, I mean outside a building with four walls, perhaps under a covered pavilion or canopy where people can see and feel nature. I am talking about a genuine worship service, not just a social gathering.

Looking back through Christian history, there are many examples of church services held outdoors. The Waldensians of the Middle Ages are a good example, they met in caves to worship! Jesus taught outdoors more than anywhere else. The original Wilderness Tabernacle had an inside, but all the worshipers were outside!

So what can outdoor church do for your congregation? Here is what happened when my local church decided to put on our first annual church campout. Our signup sheets suggested there would be about 30 people camping overnight. Nearly 50 actually showed up! We invited any who preferred to join us just for the day. About 65 showed up for the church service and fellowship meal after! Over one-third of our regular attendees came for the outdoor church service!

We had high school students and extremely shy church members leading small group discussions. People helped with music who are normally too shy to preform up front. We were able to connect with those around us and share our faith and identity because we were not barricaded off by walls or the stigma of a church building. We were a true church- a group of believers in Jesus Christ.

So how did our church members respond? Many came to me personally and expressed a wish to do this twice a year! They loved it. Many felt refreshed and closer to their Savior. They also grew in friendship and fellowship with other church members. It was so successful we now do two events yearly, a weekend long church campout and a daytime outdoor church event. 

Church on the weekend can feel very formal where church members only connect superficially. But in the relaxed setting of the outdoors, people let their guard down and tend to have more personal conversations. There are so many reasons to have plan an outdoor church. You may be surprised how much people enjoy it and want to do it again. I have seen a church who does it monthly at their local State Park.

Here are tips to plan your own outdoor church event. You can do a one day church service or a campout, I recommend a campout. You could also do a nightly evangelistic series held under a tent as was popular in past generations. They are still effective. A previous church I belonged to holds them yearly with great success. Do a survey to see what your members would be interested in.

Step 1: Officially designate an organization team. Three people who have various skill sets (music, teaching, food, etc) is ideal. If two of the organizers are married this can be an advantage because they have many more opportunities to discuss and organize outside of set planning meetings. It's is also usually preferable that none of the primary organizing team is a church pastor, only because pastors already have a lot of church responsibilities. However it’s good to encourage the pastor or pastors to be involved in the planning and sit in on planning meetings. They can make suggestions or assist in other ways. 

Step 2: Pick a date. Plan the campout or event on the same weekend a potluck or fellowship meal is scheduled. This will encourage attendance. Be sure there are plenty of tables and seating. Plan for more people than expected to show up. Overcrowding will discourage attendance the next time.

When selecting a date strive to plan at least 6 months in advance to ensure time to find and reserve a location. Consider the best time of year in your area for good weather. Also, check your church calendar and the regular calendar to avoid conflicting with other events or major holidays.

Step 3: Find a location. Pick one suitable to all age groups and that has handicapped accessible facilities. A location within one hour and thirty minutes of the church works best. Closer is better. Look for places that offer a variety of recreational opportunities. Most important is a large meeting area for worship services. Many parks offer a stage or amphitheater. A pavilion can work as well. Any open or semi-open space large enough to accommodate the expected group will suffice.

Try to keep the audience out of direct sunlight. Find a shaded area, a covered pavilion or canopy, or schedule meetings at cooler parts of the day. The speaker should be seen and heard by the entire audience. A simple platform or sloped hill side can remedy this. A portable sound station or a speaker with a loud projecting voice can help. Visit the location ahead of time.

Finding a location does not have to be difficult. Petition your church members for ideas. Your local chamber of commerce may be able to recommend locations. A mapping website or app like Google Maps is a great place to start. Just search "campground" or "campground near [your city and state here]" and it will show you many popular options nearby. In Google Maps when you click on one of the results, it will show you how far away it is along with reviews left by other users. It will often provide the location's website and phone number. Other good sites include www.tripadvisor.com and www.yelp.com. You can search "campground" and enter a location to search near at both sites.

Www.recreation.gov is another alternative. This is the site that handles reservations for all Federally managed campgrounds and recreation areas. Its search feature is tricky to navigate. The customer hotline that may be useful. The agents are always very helpful, but there can be a long wait time. Many States have Parks and campgrounds now. A great place to find ones near you is www.americasparks.com. It lists them by region in each state and provides a basic description and contact information.

Be sure to reserve locations well in advance (6 months or more) to ensure availability. Also note that most locations require a reservation for pavilions and shelters separately from campsites.

Step 4: Pick a theme for your outdoor church event! This will keep the focus on one important topic. Here are some great ideas: The second coming of Jesus, The wilderness experience (of the Israelites, of Jesus), Discipleship, Witnessing. My church members really enjoyed having a theme!

Step 5: Organize the service. As stated earlier, outdoors is a great place to get people involved who do not normally lead out in church. Several people have preached for the very first time at our outdoor church events. It’s a great time to get the youth and young adults involved. Give more than one person the opportunity to do the sermon before you give up and just ask the pastor. I ask people individually. Don’t just make an open call for volunteers. You likely won’t get any. Ask months in advance. I give each person a few days to a week to consider and pray about it. I also offer to help them prepare the sermon and our pastor helps them also. If the first one says no, I try 2-3 more. If I still can’t find someone than I ask my pastor or an elder with preaching experience to do it. 

Feel free to break from your normal service routine and changes things up. Have the youth group prepare a skit, let people display their artistic skills through music, poetry, or other forms. There are many beautiful ways to worship. Many churches only utilize music. But God created many forms of art. This is a chance for other artists to use their talents for God!

Make sure to have something for the young kids. We like to include some songs they know and always have a children’s story. You could do a separate church service just for the children if you want. 

Planning an outdoor church event takes extra time and commitment. But it has been a great blessing to our church. It has improved fellowship with our sister church who shares the same pastor. At every event we have many guests who have never attended our church or sometimes any church. So it is a great outreach opportunity. It is always worth the extra effort involved. I pray that God will bless your ministry where ever it happens. Lastly, I will leave you with a sample packing list of items we usually take for our events. 


Here is the example packing list. Now what are you waiting for!



A general list of items to bring:

Tables

Chairs

Water coolers

Trash bags

Table cloths

Song books

Portable sound station with extension cords

Bug spray 



Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Mike Baird via www.flickr.com

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