Most people outside church life are much further from Christian things than they were a generation ago. Approaches to outreach which used to presume a prior knowledge of and sympathy to the Christian faith are much less successful in the 21st Century. So here are some basic insights to effective outreach today – Outreach 101 if you like. The ideas suggested are only examples, to start you thinking of what would work for you.
1. Outreach involves two things – sharing the message of Jesus AND making connections and building relationships with people.
Churches need more “pre-evangelism” events and activities, building relationships with existing contacts on the fringe of the church and meeting new folk on their terms on their turf. Some people call these “crossing places”. They can take place on the church premises or in neutral ground like a school or a pub or a café or in a local park. In all these we need excellence. We need to avoid any “cringe” factor. We need joined up planning, so that publicity for the next event/activity is ready to go out at the previous one. We start with prayer. We meet people’s needs where they are. It’s all about being friends; “less meetings, more friendships.”
2. To meet people “where they are” we need activities at different levels
LEVEL 0 An awareness of the church and its activities;
LEVEL 1 Purely Social;
LEVEL 2 Social with a bit of Christian message;
LEVEL 3 Event where the focus is on the message;
LEVEL 4 Events and courses for inquirers, Baptism preparation etc
LEVEL 5 Follow up for new Christians
Most of our neighbours and friends would not be ready for something like a full-blown Alpha Course. We need events at other levels to begin to build relationships and stir their spiritual curiosity.
3. We all have a part to play.
It is good for every member and friend of the church to identify FIVE people that we know we can pray regularly for, praying expectantly that this year THREE will accept an invitation to a suitable event or activity, and ONE will come to a living faith in Christ. We should all also be involved in events to extend our fringe and reach out to the community and look for opportunities to build relationships with new people, helping them to find God and then supporting them in their early days as disciples.
4. People will only come to events if we invite them personally.
It is important to have good quality publicity materials, and then to invite personally. Invite in TWO steps 1. Tell them about the event with publicity materials 2. Later, ask if they are coming.
5. Identifying our fringe
It is important to identify those on the fringe of the church who will be the primary target of many events: friends and neighbours of members and congregation; those who have attended services or other outreach events occasionally; families who come on the premises for some reason regularly/occasionally; pastoral contacts; those who live close to the church (5-10 minutes walk); those who have made contact online. Nowadays for many people “belonging comes before believing.” So our goal is to help people feel they belong to the church family, even if they have not yet come to the point of faith or commitment.
6. At the same time we need ways of sowing more widely
As well as reaching our ‘fringe’ of existing contacts we should also aim some events and activities and much of our publicity at the wider community to cast the net and sow the seed as widely as possible.
Level 0 – an awareness of the church and its activities
The aim- that every adult in our target community knows the name of the church, where we are and the kinds of things we do.
PREMISES: Permanent Signs – name, logo, web address. Special banners. External notice boards changing content / Christian posters and advertising events. Internal notice boards, rolling TV etc, Literature racks.
LEAFLETS: Seasonal deliveries (Christmas, Easter, Harvest); Invitations to particular events; Newsletters/updates; Notices in Newsagents and shop windows, library etc; Posters in members’ windows; Handing out cards in the street; Distribution through e.g. schools and other local groups ; “Teaser” campaigns of postcards, posters in members’ windows; Knocking on doors – Visiting local homes – e.g. Jesus Video visitation project. “Praying for you” (see below). (For cheap printing we use www.print24.co.uk). Email and postal mailshots. Facebook paid advertising.
LOCAL PRESS: Articles, reports and photographs; Free adverts; Paid advertising; Local radio
WEB PRESENCE: Website; Blog; Facebook; Youtube; texting/Twitter; links from and ads on other websites.
WHAT ELSE CAN WE GIVE AWAY? As well as seasonal cards and invitations: “More of The Difference Jesus Makes” testimony books; leaflets/booklets on topical issues; “Welcome to neighbourhood” packs; Easter eggs; Babysitting vouchers; Joint publicity/outreach with other churches. Give away little gifts with invitations. Regular NEWSLETTERS to contacts / fringe. We should be regularly sending home letters or literature for all fringe contacts e.g. church magazine to build up relationships and sense of belonging, on paper or via email. Folk have limited time to deliver cards and leaflets, but the church could consider paying for bulk deliveries, especially to all the new homes being built. Running deficit budgets, we have always been limited in our spending on these kinds of things. While the church is without a minister there will be ample funds available for ambitious publicity projects.
Level 1 – Purely social activities to build relationships
The days when parents would start to come to church because their children were involved in church activities have mostly gone. So events should normally target not just children but whole families, or just adults.
Parent and Toddler Group; Evenings for parents as well as children: e.g.film / dvd / games / pizza / cookery / craft/ Scalextric evenings for the whole family; charity/fundraising occasions; social events and outings; Family Fun Day; It’s a Knockout; Charity concert “_____ has talent!”; Singalong evenings; hobby gardening/crafts/knitting cookery evenings (talks or hands-on workshops); “advice-type” talks; Parenting classes; “meals with a message”; movie/book club; fitness/dieting; ladies “pamper” evening, “Ladies wot lunch”; quizzes; chocolate parties; Tabletop sales (see below); “Meet the neighbours” BBQ / Hog Roast in church car park (or in local park) for neighbours and contacts; Pizza/games evenings for children and parents; Social afternoons e.g. whist, scrabble (could be in local sheltered accommodation); Outreach events in a local pub or cafe; Craft/art/drama/music workshops; Church teams in local pub quizzes; Drop-ins on church premises – after school, senior citizens, mums and toddlers; Barn Dance; Bring and share Sunday lunches at church; “Hospitality Sundays” (guests invited to homes); Men’s curry/chinese evenings; Exercise / diet classes; Summer strawberry teas.
“Good Life Cafe” (see below). Events “off-site” in cafes or pubs or schools.
Looking at the make-up of our community, we may need to create up new groups to reach particular strata of the community. Many of these ideas can be tailored to specific groups of people e.g. couples without children, single folk, commuters. Many could be adapted to meet the needs of groups such as the elderly, unemployed, disabled, depressed, single parents etc.
Level 2 – Social activities with a bit of Christian message
“Good Life Cafe” (onsite or in local pub) Christmas “Carols by Candlelight”; Carols and Cake; Epilogues at e.g. Toddler Groups. Regular newsletter to fringe. Give away DVDS or booklets, bought in or home grown: “More of The Difference Jesus Makes” booklet or DVD of testimonies– testimonies.
Level 3 – single events where the message is the focus
Concerts and Dramas. Suitable Guest services. “Grill the Vicar” and “Praying for You” (see below). “Church in the High Street” (Open air services / Open air witnessing / Tracts etc). Evangelistic Bible Studies; A “pre-Alpha” enquirers’ course, shorter, more simple e.g “Y Course”, Christianity Explored. Outreach events in a local pub or cafe. Healing services. Visiting local homes e.g. Jesus Video visitation project, Praying for You cards (as below)
Level 4 – events and courses for serious inquirers
ALPHA Course; Christianity Explored; Y Course; Meet Jesus video course; Evangelistic Bible Studies, Baptism classes etc. Discussing the topics in the first part of Prepared To Give An Answer.
Level 5 – follow up for new Christians
Church membership course, discipleship course, Home Groups, 1-2-1 meets. Using the 1-2-1 for New Christians course in Making Disciples One-to-One.
Churches with ministers usually leave it to the minister to run Level 4 events for serious inquirers and Level 5 activities as follow-up for new Christians. In the time without a minister the Deacons will need to take responsibility for inquirers’ activities and for follow-up. Bear in mind that they are not usually considered to be among the tasks of a Moderator.
Some specific events and activities to consider
You might consider CAFÉ CHURCH or MESSY CHURCH. The following might be less daunting.
TABLE TOP SALES (Level 1)
Saturdays 10am-1pm, monthly in the church hall, with a variety of stalls including a good table of Christian books, cards and gifts, and other hobby, craft and quality second hand goods stalls arranged by outsiders. Good quality refreshments, to encourage church members and community to mix and chat.
“THE GOOD LIFE CAFE” (Level 1-2)
OVERVIEW: A café style evening in the church aimed at our existing fringe with worthwhile activities designed to build relationships. Thursday or Friday evenings open 7.00-9.30 pm focal point activity at 7.30 or 8 pm. Monthly on published programme / invitation cards.
AIMED AT: church members and congregation bringing their neighbours and friends; fringe contacts thro organisations etc; anybody else brought in through publicity, programme cards.
FORMAT: a café (with customers paying, members probably treating their guests) serving good coffee and teas, smoothies, and desserts possibly with a “health food” and/or fair trade flavour. Somewhere you go after evening meal at home for a dessert and good company. Relaxed café ambiance, background music, pretty images on the screen etc.
POSSIBLE VARIATION: “The Good Life Lunch” – different clientele, 12.00 to 2.30 pm – café style simple lunch (customers still pay), similar themed activities. Could run lunch at lunchtime and cafe that evening or previous day.
FOCAL POINT: something worth listening to. Performances of live music. Film/DVD evening. Scrabble / chess/ board game evening etc. Talks, workshops etc as below.
Possible kinds of themes for TALKS:
• “Helping children ….” to enjoy reading / to understand maths / to settle into school / to be creative / choose a secondary school / with their homework / with discipline.
• “First Aid everybody should know”
• “An evening in ….” Uganda / Bulgaria / New Zealand / Russia etc etc etc.
• “Helping a friend through …” (better than being called, but actually also “How to cope yourself with … ”) …. Illness / depression / Redundancy / bereavement / caring for a relative / etc.
WORKSHOPS – short talks followed by people chatting/helping each other/ sharing a passion.
• “How to get started with …” OR “How to get the most out of ….” the internet / email and messaging / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / WhatsApp / digital cameras / making movies / your new IPAD / Sudoku / tracing your Family Tree.
• How to cook demonstrations of different cuisines.
• Art, crafts, sewing, gardening workshops and demonstrations.
• “We all love …..” Doctor Who / West Wing / The Soaps / Snooker / our pets / etc.
Some topics lend themselves to a “GRILL THE VICAR” format. On the day, the Minister gives a 10 minute introduction to the topic and then referees the discussion. You can start by inviting all Christians – in time you will be confident to invite not yet Christian friends too. It all depends on the topic and what you want to achieve for the occasion. Suggest your own topic, or start with one from this list e.g.
• “Science and faith”;
• “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
• “Do all religions lead to God?”
• “Can we prove God exists?”
• “Do miracles happen today?”
• “Is mercy-killing always wrong?”
• “What happens to us when we die?”
• “Does prayer work?”
• “Why was Jesus special?”
“PRAYING FOR YOU”
When we care for other people and listen carefully to their needs and aspirations, then we will naturally begin to pray for them. “Praying for you” simply encourages us to TELL people we are praying for them and INVITE them to suggest subjects for prayer.
We can by pray for specific individuals, peer groups or geographical groups (my road). As we pray for these folks we give them a postcard like the ones already produced for NSBC to tell them we are praying for them and invite them to suggest subjects for prayer. Nobody can object when we offer to pray for them, if we do it with sensitivity, humility and genuine love. Praying for you” involves much more than praying, of course. As we pray for friends and neighbours God will also lead us to show his love for them in everyday practical ways. “Praying for you” does not replace witnessing for Christ. It is something we do alongside our witness.