Community Outreach - Ideas
Start With What's Already In Place
As mentioned in my last hub, one of the most practical suggestions in the book, "The Externally Focused Church" was to partner with existing organizations. By not reinventing the wheel, your group can use the time, energy and money that would have been spent establishing themselves, to further a cause already in operation. Let's take a closer look at some of the possibilities:
I also mentioned that my church's first foray into outreach didn't get us too far out of the building, but it still made an impact. We held a food drive the entire month of March that culminated on Easter Sunday. During that time, we collected over 700 pounds of items that ranged from staples like rice, pasta and canned goods to personal care products including shampoo, soap, and feminine products (something that both the food bank and the Salvation Army have indicated are much needed but not often donated). The food drive is now part of our annual calendar - this year will be our third.
The food bank near us is actually a hub that distributes food to many food pantries and school meal programs in the area. Another way we got involved with this organization was to have some of our life groups take a Saturday morning to sort and distribute foodstuffs in their warehouse.
Dress for Success:
Our second outreach got us out in the community. We contacted a number of organizations and Dress for Success was the first to respond to our offer of 'doing whatever they needed'. Dress for Success is a national organization that is dedicated to helping women get back into the workforce - or get into the workplace for the first time. These ladies can't afford an interview suit or the accessories they need to make a great first impression with a potential employer. DFS collects used, in- fashion clothing and accessories from individuals and corporate clothing drives to create a 'boutique' in which the women, along with volunteers who serve as their 'personal shoppers', can shop for an interview suit. If the woman is able to land a job, she can then return to the boutique for enough additional pieces to create a wardrobe for an entire workweek.
Our local DFS was in desperate need of a coat of paint and better storage. Cramped into 3 small rooms in the basement of a building, they couldn't serve their clients as well as they would have liked. Boxes covered their conference room table, there was no reception/waiting area and they really wanted to create a Career Center with computers for resume writing and job searches. While this portion of the outreach didn't put us face to face with clients, we were able to be a witness to the staff of 3 who just couldn't believe that a church they'd never heard of, with people they'd never met, were willing to help out...just because. And in creating an inviting, functional environment, we were ultimately assisting the clients.
If you have a DFS in your area, you can assist them in other ways too. The boutique often needs volunteers to sort and merchandise clothing, personal shoppers to assist the women in finding appropriate, well-fitting suits, and speakers for their monthly empowerment meetings.
Look for Opportunities
The outreach that really flipped the switch in the hearts of our church members was the one that has grown the deepest roots and thrived. We were made aware of a local family shelter when one of our congregants found herself having to live there with her grandson. After touring the facility I was depressed. While it provided families a roof over their heads and a warm bed to sleep in, the surroundings were utilitarian at best. I walked away thinking that it was bad enough to be homeless, but it was worse to be without hope. The plain white walls had no pictures. There were no closets in any of the rooms, so clothes and food were stored in bins. In one room, the children's clothes were tacked to the wall so that each day didn't become a foraging expedition through the bins. Rooms no bigger than a standard dorm room housed 3 people - more if the children in the family were infants or toddlers.
The "Adopt-a-Room" outreach was born that day. Different life groups in our church took responsibility for painting and decorating each of the 17 bedrooms. Home Depot donated paint and supplies, but everything else was purchased by the group that adopted the room, and each room cost approximately $300 - $400 dollars to fix up.
Down came the bed sheets held in place with thumbtacks over the windows. Up went curtain rods and curtains. Gone were the white walls, replaced with a pale yellow that blended nicely with any color scheme the groups chose - teal, brown, maroon, blue or green. New linens and towels went into each room. To combat the close quarters and lack of storage space, risers were purchased for each bed frame, underbed storage bins were brought in and shelving with clothing bars were hung. Clocks went up on the walls...and pictures...and bulletin boards for the children's artwork.
Previously, the only lighting in the room was one overhead light, so if someone wanted to read, they couldn't do so without disturbing everyone in the room. Desk lamps were purchased to provide additional light and they were put on 3 drawer plastic storage units which served as bureaus (wood was not allowed because bed bug infestation is always a concern, and the bugs burrow into wood.)
Each room was done in a day, and as residents moved back in, there were tears of disbelief and joy. "It looks like a hotel!" "I can't believe you did this for us!" "I can hang my clothes!" The pleasure in their eyes was so rewarding!
But it wasn't just the residents who benefitted. As I said, this flipped a switch in the hearts of our congregants. Some groups did 2 rooms because they enjoyed it so much. Others asked what we were going to do for Thanskgiving...and for Christmas...they couldn't wait to go back and interact with the residents.
We've gone back for our second Thanksgiving dinner there - and this year, it was totally handled by our youth group. The "job" of the adults was to sit and eat with residents so we could talk with them and get to know them better. We have been given carte blanche at this shelter - to start Bible studies, life skill classes and more. The door is fully open.
To stay in contact with those who leave the shelter, we have instituted a "house warming gift basket" ministry which provides residents departing for their own housing with basic cleaning tools like a mop, broom and dust pan, cleaning supplies, kitchen products/utensils and hygiene items as well as a Bible and information on our church should they desire to attend.
These three outreaches took place in just a 10 month span. In our particular case, no fund raising was done. We simply made the needs known and people stepped forward to donate the goods or funds. They were all simple ideas that impacted our community, allowed us to get to know one another as we worked side by side and fellowshipped together, and were "non-threatening" platforms on which to invite friends, neighbors and co-workers who may not be believers, to participate and be exposed to the concept of giving without expectation of return, and loving as Christ loved.
Next hub post...But Wait, There's More!