Below are some lessons our church of more than 2,000 has learned about planning outreach year-round.
Schedule one long, off-site planning meeting. Map out the entire year’s outreach initiatives. Consider dividing the meeting up between a couple of days. We’ve learned that it often takes time—frequently not available in shorter meetings—for great ideas to emerge.
Evaluate the impact. Revisit last year’s feedback and recall stories to determine if you should repeat the event and if so, what changes could be made for better success. Did you hear: “I can’t wait to do this again” or “I got to share my faith with someone for the first time”?
Brainstorm. And then brainstorm again. When planning long-term, we ask two key questions: “Who in our community needs to experience Jesus’ love?” and “What haven’t we done?” Then we jot down ideas, discuss them, scratch some out and jot down more.
Be flexible. Planning ahead also requires last-minute flexibility. Three years ago, Grace planned the Incrediblitz—volunteers passing out thousands of donuts, pop and water at major intersections. But when Hurricane Katrina hit, we canceled the event and instead, took a large group of volunteers to Mobile, Ala., to help storm-ravaged neighborhoods.
Even some of our most popular initiatives, such as the Valentine’s Hershey Hand-Out Blitz and the 25,000-Easter Egg Hunt, are not sacred. They can be canceled or changed if we determine time or resources would be better spent elsewhere.
Pay attention to the seasons. Use the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter to your benefit. Because our area is known to have ice storms, we decided to pass out 5,000 ice scrapers in an Ice-Breaker Blitz last December. Also consider local or national events, such as community celebrations and elections. For maximum attendance and participation at your outreach, be sure to schedule around these events.
Use the time. Planning a year in advance allows for plenty of time to develop and execute advertising and promotion. We’ve seen that the more time we have to plan and promote the event, the more successful it is. Plan and promote externally and internally months—not weeks—in advance.
—From Outreach magazine, November/December 2008