7 Tips for Successfully Launching a Church-Based Outdoor Ministry

Recently a leader from a church called my friend Matt Scott to ask him for some advice in starting a new church-based outdoor ministry. Below are 7 profound insights and “how-tos” that he shared from his experience directing Mountain View Backcountry,  a ministry of Mountain View Community.

Matt Scott on a church-based outdorr ministry trip

Matt Scott sharing a Teachable Moment on a Mountain View Backcountry Trip

I was kinda thrown into the deep end when I was asked to star an outdoor ministry at our church, but it has taught me so much about how this ministry works.  So much is behind the scenes and it takes a lot of planning.  If you’re in this just for adventure it won’t last.  Eventually you will get tired of washing dishes and stinky sleeping bags.  If your heart is ministry and seeing lives changed then prepare to see God work in amazing ways then it will thrive.    If you are in charge of guides, gear, evacuations, food, and all the details it is a ton of work so count the cost. You need a whole team of people to help.

RELATED POST:  7 Reasons Why Church Based Outdoor Ministry is Taking Off

1. HOW HAS OUTDOOR MINISTRY BENEFITED MOUNTAIN VIEW COMMUNITY CHURCH?

GUIDES: It is so hard to measure this, which I struggle with each year.  So here are my thoughts in general:  Guides and leaders:  The biggest impact is on the guides.  I get to spend over 500 intentional hours or more over a 2 year period getting to train, adventure, and do life with each guide.  We have a prerequisite to guide and that is to be a leader in a ministry in the church.  Most of our guides lead in either college or high school ministry.  This is where the greatest impact has come.  The desire to guide has pushed people to lead on a year round basis, and not only that.  Guiding teaches leaders so much about serving, leading, sacrifice, community, and humility.  All these things make these leaders amazing.  If you could measure it, it would be liking taking like taking a leader climbs 5.7 on top rope and after the 2 years are over they are leading at trad climbing at a 5.10.

STUDENTS: That impact then moves down to students.  I would say the greatest impact on students during the year by FAR is the week on the trail.  A week of getting to know students and push them towards Jesus.  That is where we have seen new life more than any other place of ministry.  Not, just during that week but many time the deeply planted seeds of that week bear fruit years later.  I just got to see a girl who came on trips for the last 2 years finally accept Christ over a cup of coffee.  This would not have happen without the seeds of friendship, community and shared experience that happened on the trail.  I could share a hundred specific stories of the amazing things that have happened through time on the trail.  Simply this ministry is incredibly valuable and impactful for our student ministries.

ADULTS: As far as adult impact.  We are just starting to do adult trips.  We did our first men and women’s trip last summer.  It functions very different and will take someone invested in the ministry specifically targeting this audience and we don’t have that now.  The potential is there.

RELATED POST: Why Men’s Ministry Needs Outdoor Adventure? An Inspiring Story

2. HOW HAS YOUR OUTDOOR MINISTRY HELPED INCREASE CHURCH ATTENDANCE?

Like I said it is hard to measure.  I would in general say yes.  Increasing attendance hasn’t been a goal for us but we trust that healthy ministry will grow our church.  We have focused on connecting each student with a leader and growing the depth of relationship.  That has happened beyond measure.

3. ARE THE MEMBERS OF YOUR CHURCH MORE INVOLVED AND COMMITTED BECAUSE OF OUTDOOR MINISTRY?

We have a rich college ministry.  Many of our guides are college students or resent grads.  The leadership and depth of community that comes from the program is amazing.  I would say it is very hard to get adults on the trail for more then a day trip.  We do a father-son trip and weekend trips and both had great long-lasting impact on the participants.  With the students we have a strong year round presence of leaders connecting with students.  To see what our guides are doing that have graduated is pretty amazing.  Many have gone on to start adventure ministries in their new church or joined me to travel to promote outdoor ministry as mission.  So yes very much so.

4. DID THE CHURCH HAVE TO GET DIFFERENT INSURANCE?

No, we do pay extra including calling them and adding the dates for any climbing that we do.

5. WHAT DOES YOUR PARTICIPANT’S FEE COVER?

We charge $165 for our trips.  This covers, food, gear rental, shirt, $10 for transportation.  Guides use their vehicles or we have a guy lend us his suburban.  Our church, Mountain View Community Church pays for guide training so the only cost the usually have is any extra gas.  Having a vehicle is a huge $$ drain.  I would say if this is a ministry your trying to start I would not try to make it your only job. I can share several different stories of people doing this ministry and a full-time job as well.

6. HOW MANY TRIPS ARE YOU DOING A SEASON?

We have grown tremendously in 4 years.  We started with 4-5 trips and about 6 guides.  Last year we took over 100 people on the trail had 15 guides and served 3-4 different churches and had guides in 3 different countries.  We did 4 high school trips, 1 women’s weekend, 1 men’s weekend, 1 father son long weekend, 2 college trips, 1 singles weekend.  We took out 3 trips for other churches.  The goal with other churches is to introduce them to the ministry and then have them provide their own guides.  Our focus is our church.  We want to empower others to do it.

7. WHAT IS YOUR YEARLY BUDGET FOR THE OUTDOOR MINISTRY?

So here is some budget categories but it looks way different with 10+ guides then with just a few:

  • Guide training $500 per guide
  • Gear (totally depends on what you choose.  MVCC rents gear from WMI so we have not had to pay for gear.  Works great but you need $5000+ for gear to start with.  This is
  • Guide gift ($25-$75)
  • Admin (Brochures, website.  This depends on how many trips you do
  • $100 for guide recruiting, shepherding of the guides.  So I take a potential guide out for coffee or buy a guide lunch occasionally.  This goes a long way when you have volunteer guides.
  • Some churches make their guides pay for training others don’t or do 50/50.  Once our guides have done 2 years we make them pay for training

RELATED POST: Don’t Let a Lack of Money Derail Your Outdoor Ministry Vision

WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?

If you are passionate about Jesus, the outdoors, and adventure, then what is stopping you from starting an outdoor ministry in your church? If you need some help feel free to contact Wilderness Ministry Institute, and/or download this helpful Start Up Kit for Outdoor Ministry. If you need some help convincing the pastor or elders of your church of the value of an outdoor ministry in your church, feel freed to share with them this article: 7 Reasons Why Church Based Outdoor Ministry is Taking Off.

Matt Scott

Matt Scott

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Matt has worked with young people in an out of the classroom for over ten years.  He has a deep passion for developing leaders through the intense discipleship making process of wilderness guide training.  Matt is currently serving as the Wilderness Ministry Institute Colorado director, as well as the director of Mountain View Backcountry, a ministry of Mountain View Community Church in Fort Collins, CO.