Years ago, many churches operated with a Field of Dreams mentality: “If you build it, they will come.” (I was in a church business meeting one time when the topic of building a new sanctuary was being discussed and that line was quoted!) The problem is that this attractional ministry imagination proved flawed. People are not standing by waiting for a reason to come to our churches. Rather, we need to have a missional, or incarnational, ministry imagination—one that drives us into our communities to love our neighbors and serve them.
Many times, we as kids ministry leaders are asked to spearhead community outreach. Perhaps because we tend to be the uber-creatives on a staff team. Perhaps because the pastor thinks we have tons of free time on our hands. Whatever the reason, if you have been asked to plan a community outreach, here are six questions you need to ask before you do anything else:
- Why are we doing an outreach?
This question will require you to pursue honesty—perhaps brutal honesty—from your fellow staff team and church. Why do you want to do an outreach? Really? The knee-jerk answer will be to love the community. But sometimes that isn’t the real reason. Sometimes we do outreach for ourselves. We do outreach to grow the church, not for God’s glory, but for our own. We want to be in that church—the one the other churches talk about and are jealous of. Or we want more people so our budgets can increase so we can in turn have nicer things. It isn’t hard to see how God will likely not honor whatever outreach we do if this is what drives it. If you really want to get to the heart motivation of an outreach, ask this: “What if we are successful and we have tons of new families start attending. But all of these families have little money to tithe. And all these families would be of a different socioeconomic, political, ethnic, etc. background than the core of the church. How would we feel about that?” If that thought excites your church, you are ready to proceed.
- What does our community need?
At the risk of asking the obvious, if your outreach event doesn’t meet a need, why do it? If your church cannot answer this question, it also might reveal that you don’t know your community well enough. Maybe the step you need to take is getting to know the community more by being a bigger part of it. Or perhaps, that leads you to the type of outreach event you need, one that gives you an opportunity to foster meaningful relationships.
- What kind of impact are we looking to make?
Are you looking to “wow” your community? Are you looking to show your community that you care? Are you targeting one part of your community or all of it? Answering this question will help you determine what resources you might need (I served at churches in central Florida where “wowing” required a whole new level with a little place called Disney up the road) and what type of outreach event to do.
- Are we looking for one-time or recurring outreach?
Related to the previous question, are you looking for a one-time, stand-alone outreach or a recurring one? You would want to be very careful about setting expectations for a recurring outreach if you are not committed and able to meet them. Helping a school one time is great, but not if you promise to come regularly and never show up again. Your outreach to those kids, teachers, and families likely just made them out of reach.
- What win are we going after?
This question might feel crass and utilitarian, but it is important. You need to have a win, or a goal, in mind to give the outreach event purpose and help you evaluate its effectiveness to consider for future outreaches. Is the win the number of people who participate? The number of gift cards given away? The depth of relationships developed? The different way the community sees your church or Christ?
- What lead and lag measures will we use?
A lead measure is an action we take that we can control. A lag measure is a result of the lead measures we take. So for example, if your outreach event is a sports day camp for kids, the lag measure—your win—might be having 100 kids from the community participate. (By the way, you would want to exclude your church kids from that count to be true to your goal.) But you cannot control that number. You cannot make anyone attend. So what can you control to help reach that goal? Perhaps the number of personal invitations, the number of ads you run on a local radio station, and the number of fliers you hang. These would all be lead measures you can control and evaluate to determine why you reached your goal or why you did not and what you can do better for the next one.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.