Due to the breakdown of family and the disconnectedness of urban communities, the distractions of technology, and the signs of eroding trust in our youth culture, people in the coming years will respond more and more to small group approaches to ministry. The time is ripe for a great expansion of wilderness ministry that promotes trust and establish connectedness through small groups. I have interacted with hundreds of men and women who have a passion for Jesus, adventure, and using the outdoors to share the Gospel with people. Yet a common problem all over the world is a lack of perspective on the details of how to start and sustain a wilderness ministry program. Any new initiative takes work, yet you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. There are really just four basic steps to launching and sustaining a wilderness ministry:
1. Objective: What are we going to do?
Wilderness ministries rarely make it as stand alone ministries. There are a few successful camps who have pulled this off (see my Recommended Outdoor Programs List). I believe those ministries will continue to thrive, but I also see the future growth of wilderness ministries will come through new church-based start-ups and volunteer-led models. When launching a new outdoor ministry it is important to first consider, What is Wilderness Ministry? We have developed a helpful Wilderness Ministry Start Up Kit that has helped hundreds of programs get the ball rolling.
2. Rationale: Why do we need to do this?
If you are passionate about wilderness ministry I can almost guarantee it is because you have experienced a multi-day wilderness experience and you were personally transformed by it. Yet most of the people you want to share a wilderness experience have not had those experiences, so when you share your excitement with people and ask them to help you start up a new program, you will probably be met with glassy eyes and lots of trite comments like: “that sounds neat”, “camping in the woods… oh I remember a camp out when I was a kid, gee that sounds fun,” or “I’m really glad you are passionate about this, you should talk to ‘Joe Shmow’ about that… I think he likes hunting…” and so on. Don’t be discouraged by this. Just realize how important it is that a wilderness ministry gets launched in your area, and realize that only after you TAKE people out on exposure trips will they “get” your vision. There is no other way to start except by taking people out and exposing them to the value of regular wilderness experiences. Here are a few resources that may also encourage you in learning how to articulate “why we need to do this” kind of ministry in your church or community:
The links below highlight the amazing intentionality of Jesus teaching techniques in the outdoors and how he facilitated teachable moments:
- The Outdoor Leadership Genome Project
- The S+T+IC=K Method for Experiential Learning
- Is outdoor ministry more effective for discipleship or evangelism? The ABCDE’s of Christian Outdoor Leadership Outcomes
3. Budget: What will this initiative cost?
Almost immediately when talking with people about wanting to start up a wilderness ministry, they will ask you how much it will cost. And in truth, it does cost a good bit to start a program that requires outdoor equipment. But as I always tell people… if your vision is to make disciples and get glory for God, then don’t worry… our Father in Heaven is not short of resources to help you get started. You may be encouraged by the following post if you are pondering the costs to start up a ministry: Don’t Let a Lack of Money Derail Your Vision for Wilderness Ministry
4. Outcome: What will be the benefit and fruit of this initiative?
The fruit of wilderness ministry is changed lives. To put it simply, people will be exposed to the Gospel in the wilderness. I view the wilderness like “good soil.” When you take people out into the wilderness, they are removed from distractions and self-absorption, and this creates a perfect environment for their soul to become “ready” to hear the Gospel and consider it’s implications to their life. Here are a couple of resources that may help in when considering how to help people see the potential outcomes of your wilderness ministry:
Our vision is twofold: 1) that every young person in the world will have an opportunity to meet Jesus Christ and grow in their faith through a guided wilderness adventure, and 2) that every Christian leader will understand more fully their need for retreat and begin to model their lives after the pattern of Jesus who regularly retreated to the wilderness to promote longevity in ministry. I hope that the resources on my blog will help you confidently step out to take people into the wilderness to meet with Jesus. Please comment below or send me an email if you need any help or encouragement toward developing a wilderness ministry in your church or community.