For the second post today, we consider what it might mean to “reach out through community events”. This is week 7 in our 9 week blog series about ways to connect our church with the wider community. These posts are inspired by the work of Robert Crossman, Ann A. Michel, Kim Mitchel, and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., as found in the article https://www.churchleadership.com/50-ways/50-ways-to-take-church-to-the-community/from the Lewis Centre for Christian Leadership.
This section has 9 ideas to consider. I wonder how we might think about this in our context here at CHWUC. Please know that I would be thrilled to talk about any of these ideas in this series with any of you anytime while I am still working at the minister of Spiritual Care here. The thought from the original article appears in blue, with my commentary underneath as it applies to us in our context at CHWUC.
“Reach out through community events”
Step 26. Plan “bridge events” designed explicitly to draw people from the community by providing for them something they need or enjoy — block parties, free concerts, seasonal events, parenting classes, sports camps, or school supply giveaways, etc. Source: Get Their Name by Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Kay Kotan (Abingdon Press, 2013)
We have a huge parking lot on the corner of a very busy road! There is so much we could do in this space! We also have access to the wonderful Salt Marsh Trails and Rainbow Haven Beach so very close by. How exciting would it be to host something like a free family fun day complete with games, those blow-up castles etc., and a BBQ. And what about a Free Concert with some great local talent outside? I strongly recommend the book listed above as a resource to get started on as any group starts to think about ideas like this. This kind of annual event can become a cornerstone to building the church’s involvement in the community.
Step 27. Hold these events off church property or outside the church walls in venues where people feel comfortable and naturally congregate.
See above – with the beach and the trail close by we have lots of options. It’s great to host stuff in places where others feel most comfortable. Sometimes we think we have to host everything inside the church, but sometimes that is a barrier for folks who have never been inside a church or were hurt last time they were in one. Coming into our home may make them uncomfortable, but meeting us on common ground may provide just the welcoming atmosphere required for developing relationship!
Step 28. Get the word out through a well-planned publicity campaign.
In this age, there is no reason for people not to know about anything through word of mouth and social media. While it is true that not everyone has a computer, it is true that everyone knows someone who does. Sharing news about events and celebrations that our church is hosting is the NUMBER ONE FREE way to let people know about us. Another way is through inviting the media to know about what we are up to and what interesting and innovating things we may be doing – if we are doing them. In this age of bad news stories, there are plenty of outlets looking to report some good news!
Step 29. Encourage church members to invite their friends and neighbors. It is less threatening for them to invite someone to a community event than to worship.
Too many of us are shy or even ashamed to share, but if we want our church communities to be meaningful and relevant to the community around us then we have to be bold in sharing what we are up to. Sometimes our church lives are our best kept secret. Ask yourself, “why would anyone want to be a part of something you’d rather not talk about”? Start sharing and intentionally inviting people to YOUR church!
Step 30. Avoid explicitly religious themes: no preaching, prayers, pressure, or financial appeals that might turn people off or reinforce negative stereotypes about church.
Reaching out into the community is about the community, not about the church. This is an opportunity to PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH, not an opportunity to preach. If folks feel inspired to take part in worship after we show them love then that is up to them and the Holy Spirit. But, the true nature of this work is about reaching out and loving our neighbour as Jesus commanded us to do.
Step 31. Remember, the event itself is not the purpose. The purpose is to meet people where they are and build relationships. Mingle. Get to know people.
I have seen this before. Church folks plan an event and invite the community and the community comes and the church folks are too busy in the background or talking to each other to engage those they invited. We have to start thinking about church as our house. Imagine inviting people into your home and never engaging them in conversation, but staying in the kitchen the whole time and just hoping they enjoy the food? That’s no fun for anyone and certainly doesn’t build relationships. We are called to be braver than that. It’s time to make some new friends!
Step 32. Have a well-trained hospitality team. Make sure guests are enjoying themselves and know their attendance is appreciated.
Let’s say that again, “a well-trained hospitality team” – some call this a “welcome committee” – whatever you call it, it matters. Taking the time to train people to be intentional with our welcome and ensuring guests’ needs are being met makes it even easier for those not “working” on the team to engage more casually. This team can help wrangle the other church folks in attendance too and encourage them to engage with our guests!
Step 33. Gathering people’s names and information about them will permit follow up to those for whom it is appropriate.
Having someone walking around asking if folks would like to be on our mailing list is so easy. It’s an invitation not a requirement. Such a clipboard should not be at the entrance on a table as if it is an expectation or part of registration. Someone friendly who mingles and asks is more welcoming and more in line with what this is about. It can’t be pushy. It’s about a way to stay connected, not sell anything to anyone. The person collecting these contacts should also have a card (or better yet, a magnet) with the church’s contact information to hand out to everyone they talk to.
Step 34. Invite those who attend community events to another event — sometimes called a “hand off event” — planned to draw them into a deeper relationship.
This is a really important thing to consider when planning community events. All events should include follow-up ideas and dreams for what’s next so that those who attend can get excited about coming to the next thing! Never think of events as one-offs or “ifthis one works out we will tryso-and-so”. Always have a plan with the assumption that your event will be a success. Never plan for your event to fail! It might, but a positive attitude is never wasted.
Next week’s post is considering ideas to “Extend your congregation’s spiritual presence beyond church walls”.Until then, get talking to each other about this stuff. If you’ve read this, share it with someone at church and get a conversation going.
Offered in the Peace of Christ,
Rev. Kim Curlett
Minister of Spiritual Care