Community outreach events can go off like fireworks—everyone oohs and aahs, attendance is high, visitors return for church services and you receive great feedback. But sometimes your efforts go over like a lead balloon and you may even think, Why bother? Yet outreach is important to Jesus—the church going into the world to draw the unsaved into a place where they can hear the message of God's salvation. Simply put, outreach is initiating a point of contact, and it's really about "attraction."
Can your ministry attract the world without sacrificing God's message? If so, community outreach can be a powerful, effective way to grow your children's ministry. Here are six essentials to consider in planning every outreach event.
1. First things first: PRAY! Cover your outreach ministry in prayer. Pray for your creativity, your community and your volunteers. Ask God to bless your efforts, and thank God in advance for success in reaching your community.
2. Plan your year strategically. Look over your yearly children's ministry calendar and the church calendar. I try to plan four large events each year, with four to six smaller ones in between. Too many events burn out your volunteers; having too few doesn't solidify your presence in the community.
3. Create a great theme. Consider whatever is popular with your target audience—holidays, movies, music, toys, TV shows, etc. We recently staged a Bible-themed "Are You Smarter Than a Creeksider?" pitting adults against our local elementary school students. Carry your theme as completely as your budget and ability allow. Using decorations, prizes/giveaways and snacks all based on your theme makes your event unforgettable. Also, make sure you provide each attendee the opportunity to meet at least one church staff member.
4. Build a team. You can't do it alone. Appoint team leaders to share the load. Event-related work, for instance, can be divided into publicity, registration, station leaders, setup, teardown and follow-up. Provide detailed job descriptions and encourage team leaders to recruit their own volunteers. In case the weather doesn't cooperate, have a backup plan and be sure that every team member is up to speed with both plans so that either one can be executed with ease and success.
5. Boost your budget. Few of us have the luxury of an unlimited budget, but there are ways to supplement yours. Visit neighborhood and corporate businesses to ask for donations. Many are more than willing to contribute items as prizes and giveaways. Church members are often willing to contribute to special causes. You just need to ask!
Publicity is extremely important. Many TV and newspaper community calendars are low-cost or even free. You can print fliers for schools, grocery stores and libraries. Put up a banner, or rent a windsock display to put in front of your church.
6. Follow up. You will need a good registration process for good follow-up. Appoint your friendliest people to the welcome table for handling a simple family registration card. This will give you names and addresses so you can send out a quick "Thanks for coming!" note the following week. Holding a smaller event a few weeks after a large one also gives you a reason to send out postcards inviting attendees to return.
Are you ready to put your ministry on the map? Your community is waiting for you!
Butch Hunter joyfully serves as the children's minister at Deer Creek Christian Church in University Park, Ill. For more information on community outreach, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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