20 Nov 2016 Church offers ‘unique environment’
by Sonja J. Keith
Second Baptist Church in Conway has added a new ministry – Outdoor Church.
The church is focused on people who love the outdoors and may not be comfortable in a traditional church setting. Services are 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the church’s Student Center so those attending can have weekends free to be on the lake or in the woods.
Scottie Johnson is the pastor of Outdoor Church of Arkansas.
Outdoor Church, which launched in April 2013, is now a ministry of Second Baptist and kicked off in September. The church previously met in a building on Front Street in Downtown Conway.
Johnson, who grew up in Little Rock, moved to Conway in December 2012 to start the church. He previously was in Northwest Arkansas and served 10 years as a student pastor at First Baptist Church in Farmington. He has 23 years of service in student ministry and had plans to retire from that work, but things changed.
“The Lord led me to it (Outdoor Church),” Johnson said, adding that pastoring a church was not something he thought he wanted to do because of the demands, especially being on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Just pastoring or shepherding a group of people can be difficult, but it’s the favorite part of what I do now.”
Johnson said Outdoor Church started because he had close friends and family who did not feel welcome or that they belonged in a typical or traditional church setting. “That wasn’t a good enough reason for me to give up on those people. I just thought, ‘What would it look like if we had a church that was really more geared toward that group of people that oftentimes spend their weekends in the woods or on the water?’”
Many in this group work six days a week, so Sunday, their one day off, is spent outdoors. “They are not just going to sacrifice their one day off to come to church,” he said. “We just decided that it shouldn’t matter which day of the week that we meet on.”
Johnson said that if people are going to be out of town, they typically don’t return until Monday evenings so Tuesday seemed like a good choice for a night to meet. “Tuesday has seemed to meet a need.”
The congregation numbers about 45. “We’ve seen some real growth recently,” he said, adding that there were about 100 at the launch at Second Baptist.
Johnson, who has known the staff at Second Baptist for a while, was approached in late 2015 about Outdoor Church becoming part of their ministry. “We prayed about that and felt like the Lord was leading us to do that.”
Outdoor Church is a natural fit with Second Baptist’s Beast Feast, the annual sportsman banquet hosted by the Second Baptist Men’s Ministry. It is held each winter and is open to men and boys of all ages and is a night filled with games, entertainment, prizes, live music, food and speakers. (For more information, visit beastfeastarkansas.com.)
“This is really an answer to their prayer and to our prayer,” Johnson said, adding that Outdoor Church was looking for a place to call home. “They have been praying for a long time for a way to connect the men that come to Beast Feast to a local church congregation or church body.”
As a result, Outdoor Church is very involved in Beast Feast, and Second Baptist is very involved in Outdoor Church. “I’m excited about that and they are as well.”
Johnson said an Outdoor Church service is more laid back and less formal than other church services. There is contemporary music with some traditional hymns too. Some of the illustrations used in the service also reflect the common affection for the outdoors.
“The preaching is more of a conversational approach. It’s a unique environment.”
Outdoor Church has an incredible appeal to families because all members meet together, except the very young, according to Johnson. “It’s a real family-friendly environment.”
Johnson thinks that most of those who attend Outdoor Church enjoy the welcoming atmosphere. “Everybody feels welcome. There’s not anyone judging them based on what they are wearing or not wearing, or what their background is.”
Members have also enjoyed outdoor outings organized by the church, and more activities are in the works.
Johnson said he has been asked many times that, with the name Outdoor Church, are services held outside? “We will meet outdoors some but we do not meet outdoors regularly,” he said. “The name comes from people who enjoy the outdoors, whether fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, camping. It’s more of a lifestyle for them. It’s more than a hobby or something they enjoy. It’s part of who they are.”
As the pastor, Johnson said he has goals in mind for Outdoor Church. He said there are an estimated 59,000 in Faulkner County with no affiliation with a church or religious organization. “I would like to see that number go down and to just be a part of seeing that go down,” he said. “For an individual that would come, my goal would be that when they leave they felt like that was a place where they could belong.”
Johnson encourages those without a church home to visit Outdoor Church. “If people are having a hard time finding a place where they fit or belong, come and give us a shot.”