In 1998, Greg Weisman, an avid outdoor enthusiast and pastor at Bayside Church in Sacramento, California, launched Bayside Adventure Sports (BaysideAdventureSports.com) as a way to use adventure sports to attract and attach people to Jesus and his church. Weisman had found that adventure sports is an ideal hook because people—especially men—are far more relaxed, receptive and transparent when they’re engaged in an activity they love out in God’s creation.
“There are many people turned off by organized religion, but they still have an interest in God and Jesus, and want to be outdoors with good people,” says Weisman, who often asks new participants about their background with church/religion before sharing his own personal story about not growing up going to church.
“I have an opportunity to steer the conversation to Jesus,” he says.
Bayside Adventure Sports, with a tagline of “God created the Earth. Ride it. Climb it. Catch it. Explore it. Protect it,” offers folks the opportunity to engage in land, water, snow and motorized sports that include dirt biking, fly fishing, snowboarding and hiking the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.
The sports ministry concept is lost on many church leaders, says Weisman, who would like to see that change.
“I’ve learned how hesitant churches and Christian leaders are to trying something outside the box,” he says. “For all the hype about how ‘cutting edge’ our large, contemporary churches are, they’re basically all very similar and all do the same ministries.”
According to Weisman, as long the church that’s running the adventure ministry is accepting of visitors and does a great job teaching, it’s a seamless ministry to start.
“Most churches have lots of potential volunteers who don’t want to do children’s ministry or youth ministry or be an usher, but if you ask if they’d like to teach people how to shoot guns or take folks mountain biking or run a camping trip, they’re all over it. It’s the easiest ministry to recruit volunteers for,” says Weisman, noting that all volunteers really need training on is how to bring Jesus into their adventure sport.
“We create devotionals for each sport that are downloadable from our web app,” says Weisman. “That’s what we do on these trips is devotionals that bring people back into God’s Word through the medium of their chosen adventure sport.”
Through the years, Weisman has worked with participants who have signed on not only for an epic sports adventure but also for unforgettable moments with Christ. In 2005, Carolyn Alves set out to complete the summer trip to Half Dome. Weisman had climbed to the top of the steep rock formation when he noticed that Alves was only part of the way up and sitting down. He told her that she didn’t have to go farther, but she was insistent that she finish.
“I have to do this. This is my only chance. I start chemo next month,” she told Weisman, who climbed behind her, whispering words of encouragement. When she reached the summit, she burst into tears. Alves, who has since passed away, told Weisman that that trip was the highlight of her life.
Another participant was a rebellious 10-year-old boy named David. He, too, was petrified of climbing the Half Dome, but after doing it, he had a new lease on life. Fast-forward 12 years, and now David is attending Bible college.
Kara Read-Spangler is an attorney who came to Christ after going to the Grand Canyon. “She’s on our board of directors now and is trying to reach her agnostic husband,” says Weisman.
“We all have this common denominator, and that’s a love for God’s creation,” he continues. “Our goal is to love people the way Christ loves us. That’s the common theme for our adventure sports ministries.”
In 2019, Weisman launched G1 Outdoors (G1outdoors.com), a Christian organization with the same mission as Bayside Adventure Sports.
“I’m 62 now and in good shape, but I knew that if I put it off any longer, there was a risk that everything that we had done with Bayside Adventure Sports would come to a screeching halt when I became too old to keep doing it. It has always been my dream to pass on what we have developed,” says Weisman.
G1 Outdoors will host their first Adventure Sports Ministry Conference on Sept. 9–12, 2021.
“We will gather the top people in the country and begin an adventure network that will help us design the way forward so that we can see adventure ministries used all over the world for missions,” says Weisman. “If we can train churches how to use adventure sports to attract and attach people to the church, I can guarantee a church of 500 to 1,000 that we can grow their church by 5% to 10% within two years.”