Where there is a common interestin an activity,
there is an inroad to a man’s heart.
Bent against the elements of cold wind
and rain and the rugged terrain of Montana, the adventurous spirit of the
outdoorsman comes alive. Montana is rugged, and so is the ministry there. In
one of the most difficult territories you can inherit when it comes to reaching
non-believers, North American Mission Board church planter William Johnson is
making inroads by connecting with sportsmen through outdoor
Time doesn’t matter to these adventurers. Nor does weather. Only a
life-threatening storm would stop their stalk and send them back to the safety
of camp. Their driving goal is to end the day with a bounty of healthy food for
the family and a trophy for the den. They also are hunting the passion, the
spiritual experience, of being one with nature. The hunt is almost like a
worship experience for many of these wilderness men.>>>
You won’t find too many of these guys placidly sitting in an artificially
climate-controlled edifice on Sunday morning. Their sanctuary is the great
outdoors. Southern Baptists recognize this void and are making a concerted
effort to reach out to outdoorsmen.
In developing their strategy for starting a new church—Gallatin
Valley Baptist Fellowship in Manhattan, Montana—William Johnson
and his team were intent on making outdoor ministry a massive part of their
everyday church life.
“We started using sportsmen ministry just to make initial contact with
men in the community and to develop relationships,” says William, an avid
hunter and fisherman.
“Our first events were sportsmen rallies. We invited men in the
community to come watch hunting videos and bring their favorite wild game
recipes. At first we had more men attending the rallies than we had people
attending our worship services. Several of those guys from our first rallies
are now members of the church.”
William and his wife, Teresa, fell in love with Montana on their
honeymoon and following vacation. When they realized the lack of churches, they
kidded that when they ran out of things to do, they could move there and plant
a church. God didn’t let them forget that, and a few years later William knew
God was calling him to Montana.
What sportsmen like William are discovering is that people who routinely are
in the outdoors experiencing the wonder of God’s creation may have an easier
leap to understanding the gospel message than on mission
Christians ever realized. Maybe it’s not Christianity that outdoorsmen have
objected to, but rather the separation from God they feel in a worship center
shut off from His creation.
Consider what Jesus did. He met some fishermen and said, “Come; I’ll make
you fishers of men.” He met a woman drawing water from a well and got her
interest by talking with her about living water. He started with their
interests. What churches with outdoor ministries are doing is helping people
replace the object of their worship—the creation—with the Creator.
“We’ve found a very natural connection between people who enjoy the
outdoors and being able to relate that to a relationship with Christ,” says
Ohio Pastor Tony Wagner, called 13 years ago to small-town Mt. Sterling Baptist
Church. The congregation then consisted of five members; today, it’s about 120.
Some have come because of the church’s outdoor ministry, according to Tony. He
started an annual wild game and awards dinner in 1995 that today is attended by
250 or more men.
“I knew hunting and fishing and outdoor things were a big part of the
culture here,” Tony says. “This is a side-door ministry that gives us the
opportunity to share Christ and to share the family of our church. There’s no
question the church has grown because of it.”
Tony listed four elements of a successful wild game dinner: good food
(with both wild and domestic meats), good speakers (a big-name outdoorsman is
always a hit), a good gospel presentation, and lots of prizes. The church’s
outdoors ministry also includes a variety of outdoor activities: shotgun
sporting clays, winter hikes, fishing trips, big game hunts (such as a recent
one to North Bay, Ontario, with 10 hunters who harvested six bears), and the
annual frog-gigging event.
Jason Cruise was comfortably ensconced as pastor of the sizable Belmont
Heights Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, when he realized two things:
First, he wasn’t alone in his interest in reaching men through outdoor
ministries. The concept was birthed by Southern Baptists in the 1970s with the
first wild game dinners and is of growing interest in churches across the
nation. Second, some churches’ outdoor ministries were ineffective or off to a
slow start because leaders didn’t know how to do them. Jason started Outdoor
Ministry Network (www.outdoorministrynetwork.com) to share information and
develop resources for churches to take the gospel outside church walls.
“I wanted to help men find a way to use the outdoors to find real spiritual
meaning for themselves, and to help their buddies find it too,” Jason says. “I
know personally that there are men coming to Christ in great numbers through
churches who are gearing their approach to speak a man’s language. Moreover,
there are men who are finally planting roots in churches because there is, for
once, something they can connect with other than nursery work!”
Montana Pastor Mark Hasenyager takes the concept of outdoor ministries to
new heights. He and John did little more the first Sunday they met other than
grunt from their adjoining stands on the shotgun practice range, but somehow in
trying to best each other’s shots they connected. When they came across one
another again in Wal-Mart three months later, the upcoming elk season was on
both their minds. The talk turned personal during a weekend they spent in the
high country, and, the week after that, John came to church, drawn by the offer
of a free barbeque meal and having nothing else to do on a Thursday night.
He was back the next week. “You could see in his life the gospel
taking hold,” Mark says. “He accepted Christ and began to grow and digest the
Word as fast as he could.” After being discipled for a year by Mark—often
during weekend hunting and fishing trips together—John’s discipling others and
contemplating fulltime Christian service.
“Folks in Montana live here because of the outdoors,” Mark says. “Doing
church on Sunday was kind of a threat to them because they had to give up the
reason they were living in Montana. So, we started a church with a Montana feel
to it—casual, outdoors oriented. We have worship on Thursday nights and use
weekends to build relationships with people who aren’t in church.”
After-church fellowships, occasional family outings and three weekly small
group Bible studies are bonuses to free he-man meals and a laid-back attitude.
Attendance, now at 70 or more for worship, peaks higher in the summer, when
other Missoula churches might be at half-strength because of members’ outdoor
“Something else that’s really neat is that we actually have more men than
women in the church,” Mark says. “Whenever we do a testimony time, on average
it’s all men who stand and give their testimonies.”
It’s a program-free multiplication model church where the emphasis is on
each one reach one, and disciple him or her. “Real in-depth ministry happens
one-on-one or with a few,” Mark says. “With a program or event, we’ll reach a
few folks, but if we look at Christ’s example, the real impact was with
Most churches won’t forego Sunday morning worship, but resources exist to
help churches reach out to outdoorsmen. Jimmy Sites, founder of Spiritual
Outdoor Adventures suggests renovating a sterile Sunday school classroom into a
hunting lodge environment with coffee bubbling on an artificial log campfire in
the middle of the room. Instead of nametags, give every man a tin coffee cup
and write his name on it with a Sharpie. Start the session off with a video,
and segue into a Bible session with everyone using the same type of Bible—such
as The Sportsman’s [Holman Christian Standard] Bible. In this way the leader
can give the page number as well as Scripture reference.
Says missionary William Johnson, “All we’re doing is taking our hobbie
and using it to develop relationships with men, and through those relationships
we are able to introduce them to Christ.”
Karen Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message in
Visit NAMB’s video gallery at www.namb.net to find out more about
missionary William Johnson and his ministry in Manhattan, Montana.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC