MARSHFIELD, Mo. (BP) – The first day of autumn may have officially come on Sept. 23, but the season associated with cooler weather had already started for ministries set in the outdoors.
Webster County Baptist Association in Marshfield, Mo., held its 17th annual Outdoor Sportsman Event on Aug. 26. Admission was free with a $10 fee for shooters over the age of 10, bringing approximately 800 to the people event that included entertainment, food, kids’ activities and most important, a Gospel presentation.
“We started this to reach a demographic of men who love the outdoors,” said the association’s appropriately named director, Mitch Fisher. “They love to hunt and fish but aren’t churchgoers. We gear it toward that. These guys are very capable with their crossbows and compound bows.”
Such skills aren’t uncommon in rural counties like his.
“It’s a way of life for us. So, to reach these people we speak their language. The speakers we get are usually local, too,” he said.
There are various subgroups for whom these types of events are held.
“We have people who don’t know Christ as their Savior. Or maybe they are a Christian but have fallen away and need to get back in church, to reconnect with their family and become better husbands and fathers,” Fisher said.
The most recent national statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service state that nearly 104 million U.S. residents at least 16 years old participate in some kind of wildlife-related recreational activity. That includes 11.5 million hunters, 35.8 million anglers and 86 million wildlife watchers.
In addition to being a pastor, Chuck McAlister’s career has centered around introducing others to the Creator through the outdoors, whether that comes with wild game dinners or inviting war veterans to his private fishing pond. In those efforts, though, he stressed that it’s important to know who you’re talking to.
When it comes to wild game dinners, for instance, he advises against praise music that may be good for churchgoers, but for others not so much.
“Play some non-cheatin’, non-drinkin’ country songs,” he said. “I was at one not too long ago and the band broke out in “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The whole place erupted.
“I told them stories about my daddy and grandaddy, then moved quickly into the greatest lesson they ever taught me. That was how to have a relationship with the God who made the great outdoors.”
That connects naturally into a Gospel presentation and invitation. McAlister, senior pastor of Dutch Fork Church in Irmo, S.C., uses those same principles on his 200-acre farm.
His farm serves as the setting for HomePlace Ministries, which offers a variety of ministries including those addressing evangelism, church/pastor consultations, sermon preparation assistance and marriage encounter weekends.
Soldiers, like those from nearby Fort Stewart, in Georgia, often take part in retreats.
“We hosted 9 wounded soldiers from Fort Stewart for a weekend of fishing, fun, fellowship, and worship,” said a Sept. 17 post to the ministry’s Facebook page.
“A lot of people don’t realize that these aren’t grizzled, old veterans,” said McAlister. “A lot of them are young. I’m talking 19, 20, 21 years old.
“We get wounded warriors who have never been fishing. They may have grown up in a city and don’t have much exposure to the outdoors. So, it’s a wonderful opportunity to give them that and teach them to fish.”
One soldier – while pulling in yet another fish – learned from McAlister of a direct connection between the activity and the Bible.
“I said, ‘Do you know that Jesus said if we follow Him, that He makes us fishers of men?’ That amazed him, so I presented the Gospel to him right there on the edge of our pond,” McAlister said.
“And he prayed and gave his heart to Jesus.”