One Sunday morning each school term, Eastview Baptist Church does not schedule any Kids’ Club or Sunday School. Instead the children in primary and intermediate age groups journey outside, along with their parents and whole families. Kristin and Jono Ward tell us about Adventure Church.
Kristin and Jono Ward began Adventure Church at Eastview Baptist Church in Botany, East Auckland, in July 2018. The idea was sparked from discussions between them about when they feel most spiritually alive. For them there’s nothing quite like being out in creation and having new adventures with their family and friends.
“At times, friends have discussed with me that they would like to come to church but it’s the only day of the week that they have to enjoy going to the beach or similar with their family. All the other days are school days or Saturday sport, etc.” says Kristin.
“This is a feeling that we also have had, at times. Jono and I wanted to experiment to see if we could marry up people’s spiritual need to focus on Jesus, and families’ wholesome desire to be doing something refreshing together in God’s creation. So much of our lives and our children’s lives takes place indoors. Does church always need to be? We see that both children and parents of this generation are hungry for adventures in nature. Both kids and parents find it life-giving and soul-nourishing to get outside and have an adventure together.”
So, since their first outing two years ago, Adventure Church-goers have been on a ramble through parkland, held a treasure hunt and dodgeball tournament, undertaken various physical challenges, played outdoor games, been orienteering, and had a beachside expedition and sand sculpture competition. Ideas for future adventures include exploring one of Auckland’s volcanic craters, a weekend camp outdoors and caving.
“Each outing, we do a talk, which usually ties in with the location or activity we’re doing. For example, the sand sculpture one was about the wise and foolish builders and the foundations we build our lives upon. Sometimes we’ll send families away with a question for them to discuss amongst themselves,” says Jono.
The Wards believe that hanging out with friends is another thing that parents of younger families are longing to do and that humans are made to be social and have deep friendships with each other. But all too often the parenting years are a bit lean when it comes to socialising with other families. Often people have dropped out of being able to participate in a home group in the baby years and may not have resumed the practice.
“Adventure Church is a great ‘hanging out’ time. Families spend the whole morning together—one time everyone stayed till mid-afternoon! They love to tackle epic challenges together with other families. And we find that kids have so much more energy for walking and exploring if they have buddies with them. Parents are often thrilled about what their child is capable of, if they just are doing it together with their friends,” says Kristin.
“My favourite thing about Adventure Church is it feels so community-building for all these friends, both kids and parents, to be hanging out in stunningly beautiful places, making memories together, chatting and bantering the whole way.”
Because it is such a non-threatening environment, Adventure Church has also proved to be an easy event to invite unchurched friends to.
“We aren’t trying to replicate a normal church service outdoors. We aren’t doing anything weird, like singing in public places, or using lots of Christian jargon,” says Jono.
“We do want to be intentional that this is a ministry and we’re doing this as Christians, but we see the enjoyment of nature and building of relationships as being just as powerful and transformative as any direct teaching.”
Eleven-year-old Eden seems to agree: “I just love getting out into nature, and being with my friends, and learning more about God, outside. Somehow, I just feel God’s love more when I am outside!”
Contributor: Kristin and Jono Ward
Kristin is a social worker and supervisor and Jono is a physiotherapist. They love working together on planning Adventure Church. Their kids—aged 11, nine and seven—are key members of the team too, often being dragged off on a weekend to a new beach, river or hill, to do ‘research’ for Adventure Church!
This article is adapted from “Adventure Church” published in the Baptist Children & Family Ministries Connect magazine March 2020 and is used with permission.
Tips for running a successful Adventure Church
Kristin and Jono say they have increasingly simplified the Adventure Church format over the two years Eastview Baptist has been running the ministry. They believe the elements for a successful morning are
- choose a beautiful location locally
- plan a (manageable) ‘epic adventure’ to complete
- invite friends (the more the merrier!)
- deliver a simple lesson from the Bible, often illustrated by nature, as Jesus’ parables were
- make a wet-weather plan—this is New Zealand after all! At times, Eastview’s Adventure Church has had to re‑convene to an indoor gym and have a ‘ninja warrior’ morning or a dodgeball tournament.