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Community Outreach - How to Choose an Outreach
Is My Church Big Enough to Make a Difference?
Churches come in all sizes, but no church is too small to impact their community. I was first introduced to the idea of community outreach when I was part of a congregation of 30 people. We did everything from planting flowers on the grounds of a local school to painting and refurbishing the apartment of a woman moving out of a shelter and into her own housing. The upside of a small congregation was the lack of "red tape" - someone got an idea, proposed it to the congregation and we went out and did it.
I now head up a ministry called CommunityConnections in a church of over 600. With a larger congregation, there are more 'approval levels' in place, so implementation of an idea is not always instantaneous, but the benefit of a larger congregation is more manpower and more finances with which to conduct outreaches.
What Kind of Resources Are Out There?
One of the best resources I have found is a book called "The Externally Focused Church" by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson.
My favorite practical suggestion from this book was that the church did not need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the authors suggested that churches partner with organizations already making an impact in the lives of others. Employing this tactic allowed my current church to quickly and easily develop outreach ideas.
For example...one of the most popular outreaches we engage in is something we've dubbed "Meals and More." Several times a year, we go to the local Salvation Army Drop-In Center and provide a hot meal, a warm smile and "more" - new socks, hygiene kits, etc.
If you are looking for more "random acts of kindness" ideas, Steve Sojgren has a web site called Kindness Resources. Kindness Resources
In addition to thought-provoking articles, there's a great online resource you can download for free. It's The Best Externally Focused Ideas for 2011. I'm quite honored that the 'adopt-a-room' program my church initiated at a local shelter was chosen for inclusion in that resource (more on specific ideas in another hub article).
If you are looking for more "random acts of kindness" type ideas, Steve Sojgren has a web site called Kindness Resources.
This web site offers a variety of great books, resources, videos, messages, training kits and more. You can also sign up for their ezine - Serve! It was from Kindness Resources that we got the icon for the t-shirt you see pictured in this article. Whenever one of our groups "leave the building" to serve, we wear our shirts and get tons of positive comments. If nothing else, they are a conversation starter!
While books and web sites are great for brainstorming ideas, don't sell your own ideas short. When we formed our ministry team, God brought in people who not only had great compassion for those hurting, but a knowledge of civic and governmental agencies available as resources. One of the first things we did as a team was create a list of those organizations in our area with whom we could partner - organizations that probably exist in your area too, such as Dress for Success, Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army, a women's shelter and a local food bank. Other possibilities for involvement might include schools where mentoring/tutoring programs are needed or colleges where providing power snacks during exam time might be a way to make a connection.
Assessing Your Strengths
So you've prepared your heart and mind to do what God would have you do. You've looked over some of the resources to get outreach ideas. Now what?
Now you've got to do something! While not every idea will work with every group, many simple ideas can be a good jumping off point for just about anyone. My vision for our ministry was to get congregants to physically leave the building...after all, it's called outreach for a reason! But getting out of the pew and getting involved one on one wasn't something common to the culture of our church. They were great at opening their pocketbooks, and I knew they would be just as good at opening their hearts, but the pastor asked me to start with an idea that would involve everyone and move them out of their comfort zone slowly.
The First Annual Food Fight Food Drive was born.
When choosing an outreach idea, you too need to be mindful of your congregations strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you've got a lot of elderly congregants, a community car wash probably isn't your best idea. What are the passions of your people? What are the demographics of your church? We try to find opportunities that have 'multiple layers' so that everyone, regardless of age or ability, can participate in some way. Sometimes that takes a lot of creativity, but over and over again I've begun to hear that it is the community outreach aspect of our vision that has attracted people to our church, that has caused long time attendees to get involved and is the thing that congregants are most proud of - often inviting friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to join in because being involved in this way just speaks to the hearts of so many.
Ideas are only limited by your imagination, because trust me, I've seen first hand that God needs nothing more than a willing heart to make the miraculous happen. It may sound like I've been doing this for years, but God first laid it on my heart to go to my pastor about outreach in January of 2010. In less than 2 years (our first outreach began in March of 2010), God has used us in unbelievable ways, blessing everyone involved. You don't need to be an expert, you only have to be willing to be used. I believe the quote from the Externally Focused Church is: "Critical Mass is one person with a vision." Go be that person!