Outdoor Successes (Learning from the Lab)

Stories of outdoor worship and fellowship


Even before COVID-19 made us try all kinds of church activities outside, congregations enjoyed special summer worship services and fellowship activities outdoors. We asked participants in the Learning Lab:  What has been a favorite outdoor activity for your church, and what made it successful?

Here are some of their responses: 

Annual Traditions

On several Wednesday evenings one congregation has a service with a meal at a local park on a small lake. Being in nature among trees and the lake really enhances the worship service.  

Another community has an annual swim party at one of the parishioners’ homes. Around this time of year, people start looking forward to it.

One church has three activities that come to mind as favorites for both the parishioners and the community. They have a Good Friday evening flashlight Easter egg hunt, a summer picnic homemade ice cream social, and a tractor pull in September the weekend after Labor Day. The church is in a farming community and has ground next to the church dedicated for the tractor pull.

Another congregation participates in miniature golf and finds it a good activity for kids through seniors. They follow the mini-golf rounds with a pizza party.

And of course, many churches report that having worship outside last summer was a big success.

Trying New Things During the Pandemic

One pastors reports, “Bringing our Pentecost and Confirmation services outside has been not just a wonderful way to celebrate for the church, but also to engage the community. Our location puts us on a great path for community foot traffic. When we’re outdoors people often stop in to join our worship, connect with us after service.”

At another church, those who were able gathered for lunch at a local park during a virtual women’s retreat.

Another congregation had a Sunday vespers service at sunset on the lawn. It was a beautiful service. The pastor states, “I especially love being outside under the sky-canopy, sitting on blankets, practicing social distancing.”

Another pastors shares, “During April and May we offered Thursday Church at various outdoor settings as a venue for informal re-connection. BYO everything, come when you want, stay as long as you wish. We rented pavilions at parks, set up canopies in backyards, etc. I was in a given place from 3-7, people came and went as it was convenient for them. Some brought picnics. Informal worship with Communion was offered each week, s’mores in a snowstorm, kites for Ascension, and we skipped stones in the lake.”

Several groups report having Vacation Bible Camp outdoors. Thanks to outdoor space, these churches were able to set up multiple activities.

A pastor fondly remembers, “Last summer my country church had drive-in worship at 4 pm. We parked in the shade near the grove, used an FM transmitter. People liked seeing each other and it was a beautiful setting. This year we are only doing outdoors once a month around a campfire with games, hot dogs and s’mores and worship. Once again it’s the setting.”

Positive Attitudes

For one church, having plenty of people to volunteer for food, setup and take down helped make outdoor activities successful, along with praying for good weather. They shared that having good music equipment for outdoors also helps. (Other leaders echoed this sentiment.) 

Another pastor states, “My favorite is always outdoor worship with sharing food afterwards and fellowship. It has been successful because everyone there wanted to be there and wanted to be helpful. There was a lot of planning for logistics and especially for having worship handouts to use that were complete. The good planning made everything go smoothly. Attitude has a lot to do with making the event successful.”

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