In a world where the circumstances of life pull people apart, Adventure Based Counseling in a Christian setting can bring together diverse groups of people who are emotionally and spiritually disconnected from God and others around them. It is a means for sharing the adventure of the Christian life both with those who know Christ and also with those who have not yet taken that leap of faith. It can draw a group into an attitude of like-mindedness and unity. The exhilaration and joy one feels by being a part of a group experience such as this brings fulfillment to the heart. Christian Adventure Based Counseling as used in a ministry setting is a process of group building and of teaching spiritual truths through a series of games and challenge activities. The activities are designed for group building and are a means by which Christian Counselors, Youth Pastors, and laypersons can serve the greater purpose of ministering to people and sharing the life of Christ with their target audience. The ultimate objectives are the participants’ individual edification, as well as the group’s spiritual growth through the spiritually based lessons and applications shared (1989, Baack, Hill, and Palmer).
Christian Adventure Based Counseling was a spin off of the original Adventure-based Counseling (ABC), which is an adventure-based group approach to personal development and therapeutic activity (Neill, J. (no date). Adventure-based Counseling). ABC was developed by Project Adventure and became more widely used because of their publications, ABC programs, and training programs. Adventure Based Counseling is an approach to counseling, activity therapy, and life that is engaging, active, challenging and places high expectations within a supportive and caring atmosphere. The program’s careful selection and sequencing of activities, which are tailored to each group’s particular needs build feelings of trust, togetherness and cooperation. The program is designed to take individuals beyond their own expectations or their perceived willingness to try each new activity. Those who choose to go beyond their self-imposed limitations have more self-confidence and self-awareness and ultimately become stronger from the effort.
The overall program goals are: to increase self-confidence and self-esteem, to improve anger management, to develop more responsible behavior, to challenge old inappropriate behavior, to foster appreciation and respect for individual differences, to develop communication skills, to improve problem solving techniques, to develop and improve trust in oneself, other individuals and groups, to increase personal responsibility and social maturity, and to participate in a variety of physical activities. The specific program components of Adventure Based Counseling are: stress management, trust development, problem solving and decision making, values clarification, self-esteem and self-image, and communication skills. Adventure Based Counseling is a structured learning program that includes all the basics of an adventure –stimulation, surprise, support, and significance (Overall Therapeutic Approach). Some important principles of ABC include the Full Value Contract and Challenge by Choice (Neill (no date) Challenge by Choice). These principles, have become the most used principles of adventure programs in a wide variety of settings, including Christian adventure based programs.
“Challenge by Choice” means that individuals can choose their level of mental or physical participation in any activity. The importance of staying involved as a group member is emphasized, since it is easy to remove oneself from unfamiliar and challenging situations. “Full Value Contract” is an agreement between group members to value their own ideas and needs without ignoring or discounting others (Neil). Challenge by Choice (CbC) is an important principle in which participants are invited to voluntarily participate in each activity and challenge. While the participant may choose to sit out an activity, this right is to be respected by the group and the instructors. The CbC principle is generally explained and understood as part of the Full Value Contract (FVC), to help create a group culture which genuinely respects the right of an individual to choose with regard to degree of participation in any activity. CbC can be used to reinforce the message that individuals are to take personal responsibility for choosing their own actions. The principle recognizes that individuals may learn and grow more by refusing to participate in an activity, rather than resentfully participating.
Many different forms of group-based training and personal growth programs now emphasize CbC in their programs, which are designed to build that internal locus of control by giving individuals the choice on how they want to participate. Most groups encourage each participant to set their own goals and definition of success, emphasizing that the choice is around selecting the level of challenge, rather than whether or not to participate. Challenge by Choice’s use has grown far beyond Project Adventure’s original intent and is commonly used for Ropes Challenge Courses, group initiatives, adventure therapy programs, as well as in many Christian Adventure Based programs and settings.
The application, or the teachable moment, is the most important aspect of adventure based counseling experiences. At any time during or after an activity, an observation can be made that reveals an important truth. Group observations and discussions can honestly explore emotions, conflicts, and conclusions. The leader’s debriefing is an intrigal part of this process and should leave individuals with the desire to continue, while not allowing the conversing to drag on. The application should bring a life-changing purpose to the activity by encouraging participation and learning, and relating the activity to a real life situations and solutions. During de-briefing, Christian leaders and their groups consciously pause to explore spiritual applications. Reflection, prayer, and scripture reading is instrumental in this process. Adventure experiences are a tool, that if used properly, will help individual participants to grow in self confidence, while letting groups grow in a cooperative spirit. Setting and working toward personal and group goals allows participants to negotiate strategies and the steps to achieve them. Phil. 3:14 states I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (1989).
Christian Adventure Based Counseling is a powerful ministry tool in which messages on faith and trust are used alongside physical activities to create bonds of caring, support, and cooperation in order to draw people closer to one another and to Jesus, while also emphasizing experiential learning through direct group encounters. It employs a holistic approach, involving participants physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. One of the aims of these types of programs is to enhance one’s self-concept, and in turn lead participants into a more enriched lifestyle. During the course of the activities, participants interact socially, assist each other physically, use their intellectual abilities to solve problems, face their own and others emotional responses, and draw spiritually based connections and conclusions.
Participants of Christian Adventure Based Counseling encounters must function as a group by working together and using the various abilities of the individuals within the group to attain a group goal. They see a vivid illustration of how the body of Christ should function, as portrayed in I Corinthians 12:27. As in the church, each member of the group does their individual part and the entire group is strengthened. If an individual does not fulfill their role, the group will not be as triumphant, nor as edified, as they would otherwise be. All the activities and initiatives lead the members of the group to trust and depend on one another.
Through adventure based encounters, churches, classrooms, troubled teen youth programs and ministries, peer advocacy groups, addictions counselors, family therapy groups, physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged groups, sex offenders groups and others have ministered, educated, counseled, and equipped countless individuals to better handle the stresses of their particular life settings. Executives use the activities for enhancing staff teamwork, schools use them for added excitement to P.E. classes, various groups with particular challenges use them to restore and build self-esteem for self and respect for others (1989). Adventure based counseling experiences provide appealing and enriching activities which are a good means of recruiting, reforming, and ministering to many diverse groups, but are usually selective in the group that a particular program targets, such as a group encounter counseling experience for victims of sexual and domestic violence. There is a dire need to increase these survivors’ self-concept and esteem, along with their sense of trust.
Some necessary attributes of counselors are mental and physical endurance and a zeal for the outdoors. But mostly counselors need to have a great capacity to love and a passion for caring and sharing. “Adventure-based counseling requires a lot of interaction with other people. And depending on where you apply your talents, you could be working with a population that hasn’t been afforded much love or positive attention (Adventure-based Counseling. (no date). Insight Magazine).” There’s no greater privilege to have a positive Christian influence on another individual while illustrating to them the love and acceptance of Jesus. This allows counselors to demonstrate the positive, active, and fulfilled life God intends for everyone.
In Christian based encounter groups, persons are saturated with the ideals of God’s love and Christian support. In these settings, the joy and excitement of a life in Christ can be shared quite naturally. Life is full of risks, hurts, and disappointments, but through an adventurous Christian based encounter group experience, participants feel the love and support of God through the caring and support of others. As companions break falls, lift up, and cheer on, friendships are created and make the mutual journey of life a bit less painful and quite a bit more pleasant(1989).
Adventure based counseling is a great equalizer. Less active and non-athletic members of the group may still participate and succeed in most or all of the activities. Initiative games incorporate both physical and mental challenges, and everyone has an equal opportunity to provide input and suggestions. As the group develops in unity, members begin to see allies and friends, rather than differences in personal makeup. In an environment of acceptance, participants are much more willing to admit a weakness and to ask for assistance when necessary because they know help will be given readily and without reproach. Though conflicts and disagreements may occur, while participants work to resolve differences, and still attain a goal, they often become more accepting and appreciative of one another. Group experiences like these clearly illustrate the following spiritual truth as well as many others. If any of you are encouraged from companionship in Christ, if any are comforted by His Love, if any are connected with His Spirit, if any have tenderness and compassion, then my joy is complete knowing that you are of the same mind, and have the same love, and are one in spirit and purpose. Yet, you should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but rather in humility consider others needs more important than your own. You should tend not only to your own interests, but to others also. You should have the attitude displayed by Jesus Christ. (Phil. 2:1-5 Authors paraphrase)
Baack, S., Hill, H., and Palmer, J. (1989) Adventure Recreation: An Adventure in Group Building. Convention Press, Nashville, TN.
Neill, J. (no date). Adventure-based Counseling (ABC). Available:
Neill, J. (no date). Challenge by Choice. Available:
Overall Therapeutic Approach. (no date). Available:
Adventure-based Counseling. (no date). Insight Magazine. Available: