Why Outdoor Ministry That Unapologetically Targets Hunters Actually Works
Outdoor ministry can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. I’ve been walking the path of outdoor ministry almost 15 years now, and while there’s a long way I have to travel, my experience has proven to me that when a church gives themselves permission to focus on hunters and hunters only, they will reach further into the well of lost souls than they ever would have had they chosen to take the approach most churches take, and that is to let their outdoor ministry be an “all things to all people” idea.
Outdoor ministry can, and in many ways should, have many facets to it within a church’s walls. However, I’m going to show you some brutal truths about why a “church mentality” will kill your evangelism efforts toward hunters in your community.
Outdoor Ministry By Definition Is Misleading.
When you think about the very concept of “outdoor ministry” you’ll quickly see that it attracts people who readily confess that they just “love spending time in God’s great outdoors.” In fact, the phrase “outdoor ministry” is so broad that when I’m brought in to speak at pastors conferences or ministry leadership events, I’ve stopped referring to it as outdoor ministry and have began using the term “ministry to hunters.”
I hate word games, and I cannot stand splitting hairs over the inconsequential. However, in this area of ministry, I think it’s necessary to be really specific if you want to change the way non-hunting Christians think about outdoor ministry.
Yes, camping is outdoor ministry. No, it will not appeal to hunters. Yes, canoeing and fishing is outdoor ministry, and yes, hunters do fish, but no, an outdoor ministry that incorporates anglers with hunters will not be nearly as effective as a ministry that focuses on one genre of men.
Demographic-Specific Evangelism Doesn’t Offend God
I can tell you from sheer experience, however, that demographic-specific evangelism offends many Christians who are eager to argue that the “gospel” must be for everybody. They are right. The gospel most certainly is for everyone, but when it comes to sharing the gospel, try sharing the story of Jesus with a group of CEOs using the same language and mentality that you would when sharing the story of Jesus with a group of seven year olds and just see how far you get with the CEOs! It’s absurd, right?!
So, why do so many churches insist that their outdoor ministry efforts be open to campers, fisherman, canoe enthusiasts, hikers, bow hunters, and duck hunters? That’s just nuts! Even still, I do see it from time to time, and in the end, those ministry efforts fail miserably. Oh, they felt like they were better because they were open to anyone, but in the end, they closed down their ministry platform, and thus were open to no one!
Hunters Simply Speak A Different Language.
If you hunt, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. It begs stating that if you listen to a group of duck hunters talk shop, they will use vernacular that is vastly different than that of a turkey hunter.
Listen to hard-core bass fisherman talk fishing, and you quickly realize that a man who owns a $50,000 Ranger boat is breathing completely different air than a guy with a can of night crawlers and Zebco 33.
Are they both fisherman? Yes. Do they define fishing differently? Ummm … yeah. They have about as much in common as Snoop Dog and George Strait. That is, they both live on planet earth and like music, but that’s about it when it comes to commonality.
Hunters may go camping, but they are not campers. Hunters may hike, but only if they can shoot something at some point on that hike.
Outdoorsmen Gravitate To Like-Minded Souls Because It’s Natural.
When it comes to structuring your outdoor ministry, you must remember that human nature is such that people like being around people they feel are “like me.” Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t fit in? Sure you have. You didn’t like it. So why try something so antithetical to human nature when you're trying to share the gospel?
That’s why hunters gravitate to hunters. It’s why Jerry Seinfeld says that the first thing he does as a party is try to find a comedian and stay right there. Why? In a simple word: trust.
People tend to trust people whom they feel are “like me.” This is why I believe that camo-clad evangelism works. When a hunter who is without Christ encounters another hunter who looks like him, dresses like him, owns the same gear he owns, kills things unapologetically, then that lost soul of a hunter feels a sense of trust with this other guy who “gets” who he is both in heart and soul.
The Future Of Evangelism Is In The Niche.
I believe that the future of evangelism in North America will be heavily dependent upon the niche. That is, if you want to reach a Harley rider, you dang well better ride one yourself. Does that mean you cannot share the gospel with a Harley rider? Come on … you know that you certainly can. What I’m saying is that if you want to build a ministry to Harley riders, you better give yourself permission to target them exclusively, or it just won’t work my man.
And it is about giving yourself permission. You have to realize that you cannot reach everyone.
When Paul said he became “all things to all people” he didn’t mean that he was evangelically schizophrenic.
Think about it: did Paul walk down the streets of Rome singing Jewish hymns? No. What he meant was that when he was in other cultures, he tried to translate the gospel so that it would make sense to that culture. That’s what missionaries do. They immerse themselves into the culture they are trying to reach.
After 15 years of traveling the nation speaking to hunters, seeing all kinds of churches, that are all kinds of sizes, and all kinds of flavors, I can promise you with 100% certainty that your outdoor ministry will fail miserably if you try to open it up to all the people that “love God’s great outdoors.”
Let campers reach campers. Let hikers reach hikers. Let anglers cast their own net to reach other fisherman. And set hunters free to go after other hunters. Do that, and your harvest will have a larger footprint than you ever dreamed you’d see.
If you'd like Jason's totally free ebook "Being A Pastor To A Hunter" click the cover to download.