Pam S. Sheppard
Nearly 100 million people in the U.S. haven’t found their way to church. These proven outreaches provide a clear path.
Churches have tried countless methods to initiate relationships with people who don’t yet know their need for Christ. Some have been successful, many have not. A successful outreach builds meaningful relationships with people who previously had no reason to interact with you.
Some outreach activities provide a one-time or annual opportunity to introduce your church to the community. Others provide a regular service for the community, and so build long-term relationships with people. Every church should be challenged to evaluate the effectiveness of their outreach activities. Here are five strategies that have worked for others.
Daily Service to Parents
Thirty years ago, Connection Pointe Christian Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, started their mission to reach the next generation by offering a kindergarten program for families in their community. It wasn’t long before their outreach grew to a complete daycare program called Lots-A-Tots.
The decision to expand into a full-scale daycare came after the local school system started a competing kindergarten program, explains Sherry Perkins, business administrator at Lots-A-Tots. The church had the space needed to accommodate more children, so they thought an expanded daycare program would be a great outreach to the community. Now, 255 kids from two-year-olds to sixth graders attend the daycare. The church also provides daily transportation for 120 kids.
Many families have decided to attend the church because of the caring environment their children experience every day. And although Perkins says monetary gain was not the purpose for starting the daycare, the outreach has been blessed from a financial standpoint.
But isn’t running a daycare operation a risky venture these days? “There are liability and risk factors associated with everything you do,” says Perkins. “However, we feel that bringing people to Jesus is so much more important than living in fear that something might go wrong.” Still, you must be intimately aware of all the liabilities and risks associated with a daycare program.
You will also need to spend some money. Perkins notes that some of the ongoing expenses include facilities maintenance, utilities, insurance, food for two meals a day, kitchen equipment, and employee wages and benefits. She also stresses the importance of a good daycare director to make sure things continue to run smoothly.
One thing is certain—churches need not worry about this type of outreach going out of style or not meeting real needs. “There will always be a need for childcare,” says Perkins. “And what better way to serve the community then to provide a safe and secure atmosphere for children.”
Weekly Bible Lessons
Every week more than one million children and youth are challenged to memorize God’s word, learn important biblical lessons, and have a lot of fun at the same time. 12,000 churches in the United States and more than 4,000 internationally operate a weekly Awana (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) program, a Bible-centered children’s ministry.
For close to 60 years, Awana has helped kids know, love, and serve Christ. As a non-denominational ministry, they have worked with churches from more than 100 Christian denominations. According to Awana representative Don Beehler, Awana is the only organization with fully integrated evangelism and discipleship programs for children and youth from ages 2 to 18 that actively involves parents, church leaders, and mentors.
Each weekly program tailors the content to different age groups, combining Bible teaching, Scripture memorization, and games—all of which point kids to the gospel and teaches them a biblical worldview. Awana also ministers to inmates and their children, provides spiritual development resources for families, and offers leadership training.
Through Awana programs, unsaved children, youth, and family members have been led to know the Lord, families have begun attending church, and a new generation of believers is being equipped with the knowledge of God’s Word.
As Awana mother Jane Stein said, “Children who hide God’s Word in their heart and are willing to show Jesus’ love can help change the world around them.” She experienced this with her own daughter who befriended a boy who continued to treat her unkindly as his parents were getting a divorce. As a result of the young girl’s kindness, the boy’s family started asking questions about God and later started attending their church.
Starting an Awana program at your church is easy. The Awana website (awana.org) outlines the process. You start by downloading and printing a registration packet, filling it out, and mailing it in. Within a couple of days, your church will be officially registered with the program. A local Awana missionary will be assigned to your church to help you get your program started. The Awana Orientation Training Kit provides many practical suggestions for churches to help with recruiting, supervising, and training leaders.
Help Those Who Hurt
Sometimes an outreach program is part of a church’s vision from the very beginning, as was the case with Grace Fellowship Church in Florence, Kentucky. Senior Pastor Brad Bigney’s desire to plant the church was matched by his desire to feature biblical counseling as one of its key elements. After a nouthetic (Bible-based) counselor helped him resolve some issues in his own marriage 15 years ago, Bigney was convicted to help couples experience that same breakthrough in their lives. He wanted to see biblical counseling offered to hurting people, both inside and outside the church.
During the 12 years Grace Fellowship has offered biblical counseling, Bigney says he has seen numerous unsaved people come for counseling. “Some have come to know Christ as they have experienced the power of God’s Word to provide answers for their specific struggles,” he says. The goal of Grace Fellowship’s biblical counseling is “to come along side a person who is struggling and seek to apply the principles in God’s Word in such a way that the person responds in an obedient and godly manner to the problems they are facing.”
Not only has Grace Fellowship’s biblical counseling program served as an outreach to the community, it has also served as a bridge to other churches. When the counselors meet with someone from another church, they ask the counselee to bring their pastor, an elder, or a Sunday school teacher so they can see what they are doing. “Hopefully, they get excited about having this kind of ministry in their own church,” says Bigney.
Starting a biblical counseling program requires careful thought and planning. First, Bigney says the senior pastor needs to be on board and needs to lead the way. He should be constantly mentioning the counseling program from the pulpit. “There also needs to be a mindset of equipping every believer to use the Bible to help real people with real problems, rather than just another ‘program’ that’s added to the list and offered to those who are interested,” says Bigney. Grace Fellowship has hosted numerous training conferences for those wanting to become counselors, in accordance with their goal of equipping others to offer hope to people with sound biblical counsel.
Thirty years ago, Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana, started offering biblical counseling as a tool for evangelism and outreach. Many people attending the church today are there as a result of the counseling ministry. The counseling program has now become a ministry that trains and equips other churches in starting counseling ministries. Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries (FBCM) recently held their first conference and drew 160 people.
“To some degree, every church is a counseling ministry,” says Rob Green, pastor of counseling ministries at Faith Baptist. “The only question is whether they are intentionally seeking to use Scriptures in both pulpit and house-to-house ministry.” Green says FBCM encourages churches to be intentional and to see counseling as part of the disciple-making process.
FBCM looks for six signs that a particular church is ready to consider a biblical counseling ministry:
1. The pastor-counselor is committed to Christ-like growth in his own life
2. The church is wholeheartedly committed to the pastoral task of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry
3. The church is committed to evangelism through both personal ministry and community-based outreach
4. The pastor’s preaching demonstrates the sufficiency of Scripture through sound doctrine and practical life change
5. Disciple making occurs at every level of the ministry (e.g., new believer, mature Christian, deacon, pastoral staff)
6. Biblical stewardship of life is emphasized.
Assuming a church demonstrates all these signs, the next questions will likely concern liability and costs of the counseling ministry. When it comes to liability issues, Green says churches and counselors need to explain to all outside counselees exactly who they are and what type of counseling they are providing. “The law has been quite friendly to churches—as long as churches do not pretend to do something they cannot,” he says. “For example, language that mentions providing mental health services gives the impression of license or state-controlled counseling.”
Green also suggests that a church contact its insurance company and make sure they have good counseling liability insurance. As far as costs go, Bigney says the initial cost is minimal. He suggests that churches buy some good biblical counseling books and put money in the budget for the pastors and church leaders to attend some counseling training conferences such as ones offered by the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) or FBCM. After the program gets going, Bigney suggests churches budget money for hosting their own conference so more people in the church can be trained.
Neither Grace Fellowship nor Faith Baptist charge for counseling, nor do they pay their counselors. They use their own church office building and counsel where they can. Green says depending on the amount of advertising (theirs is mostly word-of-mouth), a church can run a counseling ministry for as little as hundreds of dollars a year.
For more information on providing safe counseling through your church, order the download, “Safe, Sensible Counseling” in the safety section at yourchurchresources.com.
Fun For Free
When their traditional annual community outreach event stopped being effective, Kingsway Christian Church in Avon, Indiana, looked for an alternative. Church leaders looked for an outreach event that would give every member an opportunity to connect other people to Christ by inviting them to church.
One of the church members proposed the idea of holding a festival on their church campus. It would consist of carnival rides, food, and other entertainment. And it would all be free—no strings attached. The annual Funfest was born, an event held the weekend after Labor Day. Now in its sixth year, the only money people spend at the event is on food and snacks provided by local food vendors. Everything else is free.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people are totally blown away by this,” says Kevin Carr, involvement pastor. “‘Free’ is the last thing people expect at church. And that’s exactly the point.” Carr says the Funfest is also an excellent outreach to the local business community. In addition to working with the carnival vendor and the fireworks provider, the church now works with local businesses and individuals who help financially support the event through sponsorships. The list of sponsors has grown to include banks, local hospitals, area restaurants, local and corporate radio stations, a major national furniture chain, and more.
So how does a church measure the effectiveness of such a large yearly outreach? Carr is convinced that hundreds of Funfest guests have attended their worship service as a direct result of the event. But he points out they have no way of knowing the numbers for certain, since they don’t solicit this information anywhere. Feedback cards indicated an overwhelmingly positive response. Attendees gave the Funfest an average rating of 4.74 out of 5.
Carr says he believes that, over the years, tens of thousands of people have come into contact with the church because of Funfest. Many of these people would otherwise never be caught on a church campus. “That’s a significant success in and of itself,” he says. In 2006, they exceeded their goal of having 12,000 people in attendance.
Carr says the Funfest has also been successful in creating opportunities for church members to be involved in the outreach event. A congregational survey found that nearly 70 percent of their church members and attendees used the Funfest to reach out to unchurched friends and neighbors. In addition, Carr says it’s easy to recruit volunteers to work for Funfest every year.
Before planning an event of this type, Carr suggests asking the following questions:
1. Philosophically, is your church satisfied to plan an event that is truly “no-strings-attached,” and for which you may never see results in the same immediate, tangible way as those to which we’ve become accustomed? In other words, are you willing to do this event as a Kingdom investment?
2. Are you willing to allow multiple staff members to devote large amounts of time and effort to make the event a success? Keep in mind that this means less time and effort available for the current ministry programs.
3. Are you willing to budget the money necessary to put on an excellent event? If not, are you willing to ask key individuals to underwrite the event or to raise money through sponsorships? Most likely, it will be a combination of both methods, and will require a lot of faith and hard work.
4. Can you cast the vision for the congregation, win their trust, and get their involvement (both by using the event to reach out and by investing as volunteers)? Carr says this type of event ends up being less about the rides and fun than it is about the investment their own people make. He says if they’re unwilling to invite unchurched friends and are unwilling to volunteer their time, you no longer have an event.
5. Most importantly, can you do it well? It will only succeed if it counters the negative expectations and overwhelms the positive expectations of the community.
In addition to the investment of time, energy, and creativity of church staff and volunteers, Carr says there is a major financial commitment. The costs include advertising, carnival companies, entertainment providers (clowns, face painters, virtual-reality games, etc.), fireworks, food tent, table and chair rentals, volunteer T-shirts, two-way radios for staff and volunteer leaders, golf carts for staff and key volunteer leaders, flood light rentals, Port-O-Pot rentals, payment for local police for traffic control, permits, and dozens of other incidentals and unplanned expenditures—which always seem to arise. Carr says their Funfest committee has always relied on funding from one or two major donors, dozens of businesses, 15 percent of food sales, and an amount from the church budget.
The 2006 Funfest was a great example of what God’s blessing and a lot of hard work can accomplish. “Given a budget of $28,000 from the church, we spent roughly $53,000 on the event,” says Carr. “In the end, because of donations and sponsorships, we only had to spend approximately $6,000 from our budget. The rest was covered.”
The church’s leadership team has received dozens of testimonies from volunteers who have invited others to the Funfest. One volunteer shared the following story: “I invited a co-worker and her family because she would not attend church even after many invitations. She came [to Funfest] with her daughter, son, and mom. Her daughter is in church with me this morning.”
A Different TGIF
“You are now entering the mission field,” reads the sign above the exit door at Erlanger Baptist Church in Erlanger, Kentucky. Church members are reminded of that every time they leave church. Driving by this church, it’s easy to see they are outreach oriented. Signs for various outreaches appear on the church lawn: Divorce Care, Outward Basketball, Aerobics classes, Movie Night, VBS, Living Christmas Tree, etc.
But according to Jim Woolums, teaching pastor at the church, one of the best things the church offers is TGIF—Thank God It’s Free. TGIF is a free garage sale to the community that the church started in 2004. People in the community have the opportunity to pick out furniture, appliances, clothes, toys, and other household goods at no cost.
One year the church offered a TGIF at Christmas time. They served breakfast to those that came, helped people shop for Christmas, and even wrapped the gifts for them. People received Bibles and were contacted by someone at the church. At each TGIF, Woolums says people have accepted Christ as their Savior and joined their church community.
The TGIF program has impacted the church in a number of ways, as well. “For those involved (and there were over 100 people involved in the preparations), it built a strong sense of reaching out to the community,” says Woolums. “It is so easy for ‘church folks’ to become comfortable with each other and forget so many people for whom Christ died. He wants us to serve them!”
“The Big Picture” is another Erlanger Baptist Church outreach. Once a month (weather permitting), the church serves popcorn, candy, and drinks, and shows a movie on a large screen on their lawn. They promote the event through flyers and banners, as well as with personal invitations. After the movie, leaders present the gospel message.
Woolums says that regardless of event, program, or method, their goal is always the same: to introduce people to Jesus Christ. Measuring the success of a particular event or program is not always easy. “We have had baptisms, new classes, and new ministries that have all grown from these outreach programs, so those are all ways in which we measure success,” says Woolums. While the results are sometimes tangible and can be counted, other times they are purely intangible. At the very least, a successful event is one that engages people with the love and message of Christ.
Woolums offers great advice to churches considering any type of outreach program or event. First, the outreach program must be appropriate for your community and your target audience. “Just because something worked in another locale does not mean it will be well received in your community,” he cautions. “It’s about knowing what people love, enjoy, and are struggling with. That means spending time with neighbors, creating environments where people can come together in a safe place to hear a dangerous message. Whatever we do, we carry the message of God’s love.”
Pam S. Sheppard is a freelance writer from Northern Kentucky. She also serves as the National Editor of Answers magazine.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This article “Lost” written by Pam S. Sheppard, was excerpted from: www.answers.com web site. February 2007. It may be used for study & research purposes only.