On Faith appears the first Sunday of each month.
The Rev. Victoria Heard wanted to provide her congregants with a religious experience far removed from any church building. So she arranged for them to go tubing on the Shenandoah River.
Heard, pastor of St. Ives Episcopal Church in North Arlington, said the 19 members who took the August trip enjoyed an afternoon of Christian fellowship in a natural setting, and she hopes it will become a regular activity.
"We're trying to integrate the life of our members into the experience of God, and sometimes what we do on Sundays is different from what we do the rest of the week," said Heard, 49. "Sunday worship is ancient, but it's also a habit, and many people who are exploring the notion of God aren't into that habit. We want to be sure there are opportunities for them to experience a Christian community . . . other than the Sunday morning 'We're all going to talk church now' scenario."
From recreational outings to workshops on parenting and financial planning, churches are involved in an increasingly wide array of programs designed to show that they are much more than a destination for Sunday worship.
At Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, more than 300 members belong to a golf ministry. The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square in Capital Heights has a ministry called Kingdom Knights for members who ride motorcycles. Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, as part of its community outreach, has a bowling alley in the basement.
First Baptist Church of Glenarden offers an aviation ministry and a drama program. Among its many ministries, Woodstream Church in Mitchellville has a 50-member dance program that meets twice a week.
Pastors and lay leaders say such activities are helping their churches build and sustain membership, drawing in people who are not attracted by traditional worship and expanding the church's role in the daily lives of people who already attend on Sundays.
From a theological standpoint, the programs reinforce the idea that faith is an asset in every human endeavor and that a relationship with God can be forged and deepened in unexpected ways and places.
The connection between golf and religion is championed not only by several individual churches but also by a national ministry -- the In His Grip Golf Association -- that teaches golfers how to apply the principles of their game to their spiritual lives. "In golf, it is key to trust your swing and in life, it is key to trust in the Lord," the group explains on its Web site.
"What we like to do is take the golfer's game to a higher level and let them take their lives to a higher level by living in his grip," said Scott Lehman, 44, the golf pro who started the ministry. "Jesus told his disciples to go out and make disciples of others. We know that if we wait for golfers to come into [a place of worship], we may never see them. We feel it's important to go to golfers where they are at."
To reach twenty-somethings, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington sends clergy into bars. The program, called "Theology on Tap," was started several years ago by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick is sometimes the featured guest and typically draws a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 as he delivers a light sermon and fields questions, said archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.
The mix of programs at church facilities also has taken on a less traditional flavor, venturing far beyond Bible studies and choir practice. Increasingly, churches are offering workshops that feature both moral lessons and secular topics.
A men's conference held last month at Celebration Church in Columbia, for example, included sessions on estate planning, winning at work and how to battle sexual temptation. A women's conference in May covered financial planning, maintaining a commitment to God and tips for making one's husband happy, among other subjects.
Celebration Church has about 50 ministries for its 1,500 members. Many of the programs seek to provide congregants with practical reasons for following biblical teachings, rather than focusing solely on the threat of eternal damnation, said the Rev. Bob Washington, 39, the church's pastor of evangelism.
For example, officials at some churches have brought in men who had affairs so they could talk to other men about the damage that adultery wreaks on a marriage or invited in women whose husbands were unfaithful to discuss the pain of being cheated on.
"The focus is not only on not doing these things, but on why you shouldn't -- the joys of doing things God's way," Washington said.
But churches also are striving to be an alternative to the public library or community center in providing classes on secular topics such as entrepreneurship, tax preparation or parenting a child with attention-deficit disorder.
The more diverse the services, the bigger the pool from which to recruit members, Washington said, adding that a church can offer some programs at a lower cost than a community center because of professionals' willingness to donate their time to a house of worship.
"If they come to one of the events or workshops and like it, we hope they will come back and check the church out," he said.
For people who want a more intimate and interactive experience than a traditional worship service can provide, a growing number of churches are sponsoring small discussion groups. The groups, typically with six to 12 congregants, meet regularly in homes to discuss the previous Sunday's sermon or other theological topics.
Small groups are a throwback to an era in which church officials believed that people "grow spiritually best in a community," Heard said -- important when mega-churches have thousands of members who don't often interact.
At Woodstream Church, participants in the dance ministry say they are reaching people who "receive the message of God through dance," said the ministry's co-director, Rosalena Thompson, 38.
"One of the main purposes is to evangelize, and God uses the art form of dance to win souls to Christ," she said.
Churches will need to continue to launch unconventional activities if they are to fulfill their outreach mission, Heard said.
"People who take their belief in Christ seriously have that belief all over their lives, and hence there is not a sharp distinction between the religious and the rest of their lives," she said. "So churches that are interested in being alive and vital in the 21st century are saying it's not just about Sunday and formal worship. It's: 'How do I live in my office?' and 'How do I raise my children?' . . . And they are giving people a way to explore those issues."