7 Reasons Why Church Based Outdoor Ministry is Taking Off

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out… (Luke 8:22)

Jesus intentionally used adventure to get to the hearts of his disciples. And having led youth ministries for over 24 years and trained youth workers from over 50 countries, I am more convinced than ever that there are specific and compelling reasons why churches today should double their efforts to get people out into the wilderness. I recently wrote the book, Christian Outdoor Leadership as a tool to help youth pastors and leaders see the importance and value of outdoor pursuits. Many churches are leading the way, setting up models for how  local churches can get more young people encounter Jesus in a meaningful way in the wilderness. There are also hundreds of camps and outdoor ministry programs (click here to see a list) that have a long history leading groups in the wilderness safely and effectively.

church bsed outdoor ministry program

Uncompahgre Peak – Sky Ranch Ute Trail Wilderness Program


Different from mission trips or traditional church camps, wilderness ministry programs offer:

  • The ability to spend focused, intentional time together as a group
  • A retreat from the distractions of our over-connected lives (or 100% creation, 0% distractions)
  • The sharing of Life Stories, where masks come off, facades drop and everyone gets real
  • Deeper relationships – with Jesus and with each other
  • More trust built within the group – carrying each others’ burdens physically translates into also doing so emotionally
  • The opportunity to be more like Jesus – Jesus had a rhythm of retreat in His ministry, using the outdoors for renewal, teaching, trials, and trust-building (paraphrased from your book)


As a fellow pastor, mission leader, and dad, I want to share 7 reasons why youth pastors, men’s and women’s ministry leaders who want to be on the cutting edge of reaching the culture will prioritize wilderness trips:

1. In our ‘over-connected’ world, there is a great need to escape to the wilderness – to places where God’s creation is clearly evident and unscathed, and He can get our attention.

2. God’s creation of the wilderness offers unprecedented beauty and perspective.

3. Combating busyness with more programs is not going to transform the souls of people. Developing Jesus’ rhythm of retreat will.

4. Experiential learning offers natural decision-making scenarios that teach young people how to avoid trivial emotional distractions that can consume them. Wilderness journeys draw out the best in people by confronting their fears and exposing the traps of entitlement. The wilderness helps sever the entanglements that strangle away God’s epoch vision for our lives.

5. When the stakes were high, the Wilderness was one of God’s favorite instruments to make sure that permanent community transformation took place.

6. Jesus chose a group of young people to turn the world upside down, he used the wilderness as his primary classroom, and he employed adventure to produce radical commitment toward his mission.

7. If Jesus chose the wilderness as a favorite setting to shape his disciples into dynamic leaders, then is it not equally critical in our increasingly urban world for people to encounter Him through wilderness adventure?


With some existing camps and programs all you have to do is show up and they will lead your group. Or if you are a church with an established youth ministry program, then take the plunge and read my Wilderness Ministry Start Up Kit to see how you can launch a church-based outdoor ministry.  Or if you aren’t ready to to start your own program, then check out these quality existing programs on my Recommended Outdoor Ministry Programs List.

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