When you get the feeling that you are being called by God to do something, and you don’t quite know what, you may feel as if you are being pulled in many different directions and don’t know where to start. It can be confusing, and if you allow it, the confusion can escalate to frustration and stop you from answering the call at all. There are a few effective, doable outreach ministries, however, that can propel your call into real action.
Idea 1: Established outreach
If your group wants to start out simply, without too much obligation at first, organize a rotating team for the local outreach already established in your area. Workers are always needed and it will be a good way for your church or other groups to get their feet wet, get training, and see how things work.
Have a team of at least four. Get times and dates from your town or city’s soup kitchen, thrift store, or distribution center. Find out whether your group will be needed serving or cooking food, sorting clothes for sale, or packing boxes to be sent overseas.
Carpool as a group at least the first couple of times. Everyone will feel more comfortable and you will not have the stress of one member not showing up or getting lost.
Your group will be truly helping in areas where there can never be too much help. Your group will also have a feel for what it is suited to, where its interests lie, and where it may want to attempt in a more ambitious way later on.
Idea 2: Sidewalk Sunday School
This is a ministry that can begin as a simple, one day every two-week excursion and can lead to more and more involvement in the community that is served. Begin by deciding on an apartment complex, mobile home park, or neighborhood in your area. Lower-income housing where there are families with children is the type you are targeting. If it is a rental property, you will need to clear your idea with the appropriate owner or county agency.
The aim of Sidewalk Sunday School is a time when your group will provide an easy meal, have several art and play activities, incorporate a Bible lesson, question and answer time, and basically get to know the kids and families through continued contact.
You will need at least three or four participants. You will also need several folding tables, art supplies such as craft paper, stickers, washable paint, brushes, markers, etc., for pictures. There can be several stations such as face painting, monster bubbles, ring-toss, twister game, or jump ropes. If there is a basketball goal and someone to play a few best-two-out-of-three games, so much the better. Allow yourself at least two hours per session.
A tried and true crowd-pleaser is to have a helium tank and balloons to give out. You will attract kids, moms with babies in strollers and teens to help blow them up.
The most cost-effective and convenient, as well as most kid-friendly, is corn dogs with the condiments for dipping, individual bags of a variety of chips, individual juice boxes, and ice-cream pops for dessert. Corn dogs are easy to make en masse at home in the oven, packed immediately into insulated chests for transport and to be kept warm. Your juice and ice cream can be packed in another ice-chest to keep cold. Don’t forget napkins, wet ones, and paper towels. No need for plates with this meal and they love it just as much the next time. Of course, there will be no charge.
Set up in a central location and start pulling out the food, bright-colored crafts, and balloons. Have a sign telling who you are and that everything is free. Allow about an hour for people to gather, everybody to get fed, and do some activities. Tell them there will be candy (or fruit packs) during lesson time.
Layout quilts on the grass for lesson time. Have a picture board if you can. Ask a few questions to feel out where your audience is with their Bible knowledge and keep everything simple but real. You will be astounded how many older kids and even adults will want to participate. Give out your small candies or fruit packs for the right answers or just for good behavior as you go along.
As you visit every few weeks, you will begin to see the same families. You will begin to learn their needs and family circumstances in some cases and will see in what other areas outreach is needed.
Idea 3: Meal
Mid-week meal at your church building. This is a good venture even if your church does not have regular mid-week service. Many churches’ education buildings are not used during the week and can house several different group meetings for the community. Providing a meal before their meeting is a great draw and also a help for those struggling financially in the area.
Contact your local AA or other sobriety group and offer your building for a meeting place. Flyer any apartment complex or neighborhood nearby to announce times and dates. Be sure to mention on your flyers that there will be a Bible lesson and crafts planned for after the meal for the kids, older Bible study for teens and adults. Enlist your local health department or county Family and Children’s Services to set up parenting classes or even CPR classes after the meal.
You will not know when you first start how many people you will have for your meal. This is one of the intriguing things about outreach, and also can be nerve-wracking. Have a team of at least five for kitchen duty. Have another three members for each children’s or teens’ Bible/art class afterward. Adjust the numbers as you see how things go from week to week.
Have your meals simple but of home-cooked quality. Realize that you may be feeding some people the one good meal they have all day, prepare it with care and serve it with a welcoming attitude. Chili with a salad and garlic bread is a good start. Spaghetti goes a long way. Chicken placed in big roasting pans, covered with barbeque sauce, and cooked in the oven turns out almost as good as that on the grill. Be sure to always have, in addition to the main dish, at least a salad, or cooked vegetable, and hot bread or rolls. Dessert is nice, but, strange to say, many times will be passed over.
Your church building will be used effectively throughout the week for many good causes. You will also be more in touch with the needs of your particular area and can expand to meet these needs on a case by case basis. Your church will also be known as a place where all are welcome and where people can turn in times of crisis.
Outreach is challenging. Outreach is taxing, even exhausting. It is also exhilarating, rewarding, and necessary. Choosing how to start, with so many needs out there, can seem daunting, but it is far from impossible. On the contrary, it is imperative.