It’s 70 degrees and sunny. After a long week of work, household chores, and childrearing, I have a choice: spend my Sunday morning sitting in rows inside or get outside, enjoy a playground, hike, or brunch on a porch.

But what if you didn’t have to make that choice?

In this article, you’ll learn about the expressions of church members who meet outside and the people they reach.

Forest Church

Revd Cate Williams of Forest Church in Gloucester says, “Increasingly, I find that I pray better outdoors, that being in the natural world is what best helps me to slow down from the busyness of daily life in order to reconnect with God and to earth myself in what is truly important.”

Inspired by the Celtic and Franciscan traditions, Forest Church is a multigenerational expression popular in the UK and often gathers in public spaces and churchyards.

You can learn more and read a simple guide to starting your own HERE.

River of Life

For seventeen summers, River of Life has gathered at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in the mountains of western North Carolina. Led by former Olympic paddler Wayne Dickert, groups gather at the river where they share “God sighting” stories, spend time in silence, and sing “Amazing Grace.”

Members of Wayne Dickert’s River of Life Congregation. Photo by Mike Dubose
 Originally published at https://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/go-outside/down-to-the-river-to-pray/

“I think it’s a really cool way of envisioning what church can look like, what a community of faith can look like, kind of centered around an outdoor activity, around the river,” he said. “Being out here and getting to share everybody’s appreciation for the peace and quiet, and the community that has been built up around this place is pretty incredible.”

You can read more about River of Life’s story HERE.

Battlefield Farm & Gardens in Knoxville

Led by Chris Battle, a pastor with three decades of experience in the Black Baptist Church, Battlefield Farm & Gardens in Knoxville not only invites volunteers to work in the garden, which provides produce for nearby food-insecure neighbors, but also to Sunday campfire gatherings.

“People, when they come to the garden, they’ll have conversations with you,” Battle says in an interview by NPR. “But you tell them you’re a pastor, and the conversation changes. They hide their liquor. They stop cursing. I mean, everything changes… But you tell them you’re a farmer, and they start telling you what color their thumb is. And I’m like, wow. Developing relationships with people in the garden. And it’s not happening in the church. People are running away from the church.”

You can read about this church and others HERE.

To find out more about Battlefield Farm, their “Veggie Van,” and how to volunteer, visit their website.

River Church

Nita May, an ordained Baptist minister, didn’t set out to start a church. One weekend each summer, she and her husband Wayne would invite the young adults from her congregation to their cottage on the Rappahannock River. On Sunday mornings, they would go out on the water, tie together three pontoon boats, and worship.

The sounds of worship traveled across the water to the neighbors, who began to ask, “Next time you do that, could we come?” So in 2006, they invited folks in their neighborhood to worship on the water – right on the river banks.

You can read more about who their River Church has been able to reach and baptize HERE.

Loon Mountain Ministry

Loon Mountain Ministry has gathered outdoors for non-denominational worship services for over twenty years at the summit of beautiful Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire. They gather on the slopes during ski season and at the amphitheater during the summer.

Read about this unique and fun expression of Church HERE.

Outdoor Church: Where to Start

So you love the idea of an outdoor church, but you don’t know where to start? You might start by asking a few simple questions:

  • Where in my community do people gather outdoors?
  • What would it look like to be a blessing to them?
  • Who in our congregation has a passion for the outdoors, and how might they invite other people into their passion?
  • What is something that I don’t currently do, but would love to learn more about?

The Fresh Expressions journey provides a clear path for exploring alternative forms of Christian community.

Want to learn more and discover how you might experience your faith outdoors?

You can join Luke Edwards, author of Becoming Church, and Wayner Dickert, Pastor of Bryson City UMC and the River of Life, for a weekend retreat at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) that will prepare you to start a fresh expression of church.

Over the course of the weekend we will build relationships while learning about the six steps of starting fresh expressions, a process called “The Fresh Expressions Journey.”

We’ll participate in group activities including prayerful listening, a group hike on the Appalachian Trail, a Pub Theology conversation, and rafting down the Nantahala Gorge. You will receive a copy of Becoming Church: A Trail Guide for Starting Fresh Expressions and we ask that you read it ahead of the retreat and jot down any questions that come up as you read.

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Chris Morton
About the Author

Chris Morton

Chris is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communications, working across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He guides our online publishing, email, social media and other digital communications. Chris helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, serving for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. A graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary's M.A. in Global Leadership, Chris lives in Austin, Texas with Laura, Micah, Phoebe and Dot.