The Small Church Idea Exchange

A few months ago, Outreach magazine editors sent a mass e-mail inviting leaders of smaller churches averaging less than 300 attendees to share their best outreach ideas for an article in our annual Small Church Issue (July/August 2010). And the responses poured in. 

Not only did we receive creative, effective and inspiring ideas, we were also privileged to hear your stories of impact behind the ideas. Below, we’ve compiled more smaller church ideas and extended details from some of readers’ e-mailed ideas and stories:


Pre-launch Buzz
Two weeks prior to its launch date of Feb. 21, 2010, Celebration Church gave away $4,200 in free gas and groceries at local gas stations and grocery stores. Church volunteers stood in front of the participating businesses and passed out $15 gas cards and $30 grocery cards with a note: “Compliments of Celebration Church of Lawton” and the church’s website address.

A gas station manager told volunteers that people called the store for hours afterward asking about the church. “Our town has 50,000 homes. We launched in the cold and rain with 143 people in attendance, including 30 children,” says Brandye Goudeaux, founder and lead pastor with her husband, Steve. “It was a great day!”
                                                                                           Celebration Church, Lawton, Okla.

Top-Down Approach
When Ambassador Church first came to Brea, Calif., 18 months ago, it employed a top-down approach to community outreach, working with city government, then schools, then local businesses, then families. Pastor Ray Chang met with a city council member to determine the city’s needs; partnered with a local school to volunteer and donate supplies; and joined with local grocery stores to provide Thanksgiving meals for several families.

“This broadened our reputation and influence in the community,” Chang says, “and we continue to keep in touch with some of the first families we helped.”
                                                                                             Ambassador Church, Brea, Calif.

Extreme Home Makeover
Each year, The Father’s House chooses a home in the community to receive an extreme home makeover. Volunteers gut the house, repair damage and renovate. 
                                                                                    The Father’s House, San Saba, Texas

School Partnering
In late 2009, Restoration Church began engaging with a nearby elementary school. So far, volunteers have provided a Christmas breakfast for the school and given small Christmas gift cards to the faculty and staff. “We look forward to serving them in many similar ways in 2010,” Pastor Tim Culling says. “This connection has resulted in other ways to impact the community and make the church’s presence known.” The church also works alongside a tuition-free preschool and local shelter to provide repairs, childcare and sports mentoring. 
                                                                                  Restoration Church, Long Beach, Calif.

City Makeover
As part of the Faith in Action initiative, Hagerman Christian Center solicited its small community of 650 for assistance, donations and labor, then remodeled the local police department, painted park bleachers and spruced up the town’s Main Street.
                                                                     Hagerman Christian Center, Hagerman, Idaho


Fourth of July Parade
“One of the most effective outreaches for us has been our town’s Fourth of July parade,” says Pastor Shane Frazier. “Here in our county of 55,000 people, the parade is a big deal, and 25,000-30,000 people attend. Knowing this, our church goes all out and participates in the float-decorating contest, tying it in with an upcoming message series. For a $10 entry fee and the cost of the giveaways we pass out, we’ve seen a lot of people give church a try.

“Last year, the parade theme was ‘Lights, Camera, Boone County,’ and we just happened to be launching a new series called ‘At the Movies’ the following Sunday. We made a huge rotating movie reel that showed what looked like movie scenes, which actually were pictures of Freedom [Church] attendees. We attached a large popcorn box imprinted with the date of the message series. About 50 volunteers passed out microwave bags of popcorn with an insert in them about our church and the new series. It was a huge hit! We won first place in the overall floats. Now, we have a sponsor this year.” 
                                                                                               Freedom Church, Lebanon, Ind.

Space Alternative
First Baptist Church partners with the local elementary school to assist with space limitations. The church building serves as the location for early childhood vision and hearing screenings, preschool and kindergarten screenings, and as the school’s emergency fire location in inclement weather.
                                                                                First Baptist Church, Lake Crystal, Minn.
Back-to-School Bash
“Our Back to School Bash had the largest turnout of everything we did all year,” Senior Pastor David French says. “We had a cookout, provided worship and gave backpacks filled with school supplies to every child. We are a new church of 80, and we had about 115 there.” 
                                                                         Freedom Fellowship Ministries, Paris, Tenn.

Summer’s End Jam
“We are a six-year-old church plant and have done a multitude of outreach events. One of the most effective community engagement events has been what we call Summer’s End Jam,” says Pastor John Mackall. “It started as just a community carnival with a moon bounce and games but took on new purpose when we began to raise money for our local food pantry. We moved the event from a field at a local private school somewhat hidden in our community to the parking lot of a grocery store. We added live music from local artists willing to donate their time and asked community businesses to provide door prizes and raffle items. We also ask local school principals and teachers to go in the dunk tank and raise money. We have added vendor tables and community groups and asked other churches to join in.

“Our church budgets more than $1,000 to run this event, but we’ve been able to partner with our Baptist associations and other local organizations to help offset many of the expenses. Each year, we see 800 to 1,000 people come. We load a pickup truck full of donated food each year and over the past four have raised more the $14,000 for our local food pantry to help those in need. By the way, our average church attendance is about 65.” 
                                                                         CrossLife Community Church, Elkridge, Md.

Thanksgiving Meals
“We contacted a local elementary school in a very low-income area near our church, and the principal agreed to give us 10 names of families she knew were in need of assistance,” says Pastor Troy O’Quin. “A week before Thanksgiving, we took a basket filled with Thanksgiving meal items and a Bible to each family. We also began a bus ministry and started picking up kids from that local project community and brought them to church.”
                                                              River Oaks Community Church, South Holland, Ill.

Community Christmas Celebration
Host an annual Community Christmas Celebration. Serve refreshments and invite your community to contribute music and other talents. 
                                                                                First Baptist Church, Lake Crystal, Minn.

Christmas Eve Generosity
“At our Christmas Eve service, we gave away just over $6,000 to local widows, single moms and others in need,” says Lead Pastor John Weisman. “Not only was it a joy for the recipients, it also broke open our hearts as a church family to be more generous, especially in tough economic times.”
                                                                 Pleasant Valley Evangelical Church, Niles, Ohio


Fun Investment
“One year, we borrowed a large waterslide from a family, which was a tremendous hit! Not only was it fun (it replaced the game-time portion), but it was the best discipline device we’ve ever had,” says Pastor Don Teears. “All you have to do is tell an unruly kid, ‘Do you want to go on the waterslide today? Then you better listen up!’ We have since invested in our own 10-foot tall, 20-foot long slide that holds two kids at a time. We have a steady attendance of 50 kids and see 15 new kids come to know Christ as their Savior each year, many who are vacationing on the beach.” 
                                                                           Kitty Hawk Baptist Church, Kitty Hawk, N.C.

VBS Community Day
Host a minifestival community day at the end of VBS week to display the accomplishments, songs and crafts the kids have worked on throughout the week. Provide free hot dogs and soda, popcorn and inflatables. Post kids’ pictures and crafts throughout the area and host a talent show where kids sing the songs they learned at VBS.

“The turnout of parents, friends and family was just tremendous, and the positive comments received from the community folks were the greatest I have ever experienced,” says Rev. Victor Correa. “We are a Hispanic church of 35 with no budget or staff, and we reached over 250 people in the community.” 
                                                       Pentecostal Union Christian Church, Philadelphia, Pa.

Neighborhood VBS
“Over the years, our VBS attendance has declined, and there is a growing reluctance in the community to participate in activities at the church building,” says Pastor Ken Lovelace. “So now we go to them.

“Neighborhood VBS is held Sunday through Tuesday evenings at the home of a member or neighbor willing to host the outreach event. We set up tented areas and canopies to help lessen distractions and provide shade, including spaces for gathering and singing, sharing the Bible story, crafts, snacks and playing games. We rotate several groups of kids through the stations over the course of the evening. Because we may only have one shot at these kids, we lead them through the life of Christ during the three days, highlighting the important events and explaining the way to salvation.

“We also offer a simultaneous basketball tournament for teens and host a cookout for all the kids and their families. Near the end of the meal, we tell them how happy we are that they came, present trophies to the winning basketball teams, share the Gospel and give an opportunity to respond.”
                                                                                    First Baptist Church of St. John, St. Louis, Mo.

Beyond VBS
Together with World Impact, Christian Layman Church conducts VBS for the children of a nearby, impoverished neighborhood, hosts an annual barbecue with a band, as well as dental and optical clinics, weeklong missions trips and prayer walking.
                                                                             Christian Layman Church, Oakland, Calif.


Outdoor Worship & Church Picnic
Give the unchurched in your community an opportunity to attend a church service in a comfortable, family setting. Hold services at a nearby outdoor amphitheater, followed by a picnic with games and prizes for various age groups. 
                                                                                Vision Community Church, Stafford, Va.

Sports Inroads
Leverage a local love for the outdoors by offering a spring archery league. Meet for a few months and wrap up with a banquet and Christian speaker. The church also offers spring and fall soccer for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. Saturday morning “games” focus on beginning soccer skills and offer opportunities for volunteers to interact with hundreds of parents from the community. Volunteers teach kids the rudiments of soccer, pray with them and invite them to Columbus Road Baptist’s children’s programs. “We’ve seen whole families start at KidZone Soccer and end up making Columbus Road their church home,” says Pastor Bob Cowman.
                                                                          Columbus Road Baptist Church, Quincy, Ill.

Ladies’ Day
Part of Derby Friends Church’s vision statement is to become a “leader in meeting community needs.” In 2008, volunteers canvassed the community with yard signs to get the word out about a new Saturday event the church called “Ladies’ Day.” Volunteers provided free car washes, car maintenance (fluids check, oil change) and refreshments in the church’s Bistro while women waited for their cars. The church targeted single moms, but serviced any car that came in. The event has become a locally known biannual outreach, with the last Ladies’ Day including a kids carnival and complimentary hair styling. 
                                                                                         Derby Friends Church, Derby, Kan.

Ministry Open House
First Baptist Church spent six weeks preparing, storing clutter, replacing the outdated front entry floor and working with a graphics artist to design artwork for posters, banners and printed invitations. When everything was ready, the church asked the congregation to donate $15 each for a pumpkin pie from a local orchard, which was hand-delivered to each person’s invited guest. The Open House featured a coffeehouse, entertainment and ministry displays.

“I’m not sure who was impressed more—our own folks or our guests—with the breadth of ministry opportunities at FBC!” says Pastor Joseph Gratzel.
                                                                                    First Baptist Church, Manasquan, N.J.

Children’s Theater
“We host a drama group for first- through sixth-graders who spend three to four months rehearsing for a musical,” says Pastor Bob Cowman. “We invite their friends, family and teachers to the performance. We’ve seen many unchurched kids join the group, and we’ve had between 300 and 400 people attend.”
                                                                          Columbus Road Baptist Church, Quincy, Ill.

Desperate Housewives Bible Study
“We used the first season of Desperate Housewives as an inroad for a seven-week introductory women’s Bible study,” says ministry leader Krista Thomason. “After watching an episode, we discussed the characters’ situations and read Scriptures providing instructions for a ‘nondesperate’ life. We also found Bible stories that matched the characters’ situations and underscored the need for repentance and relationship with Christ.”
                                                                                            Lifetrack Church, Frontenac, Kan.

Churches referenced in this article (in alphabetical order):

Ambassador Church

Celebration Church

Christian Layman Church

Columbus Road Baptist Church

CrossLife Community Church

Derby Friends Church

The Father’s House

First Baptist Church, Lake Crystal, Minn. 

First Baptist Church, Manasquan, N.J.

First Baptist Church of St. John

Freedom Church 

Freedom Fellowship Ministries

Hagerman Christian Center

Hope Fellowship Church

Kitty Hawk Baptist Church 

Lifetrack Church

Pleasant Valley Evangelical Church

Restoration Church

River Oaks Community Church

Vision Community Church

For more smaller church outreach ideas, see the 2010 Small Church Issue (July/August). Post a comment below to share what your church is doing. Each issue of Outreach is designed to bring you the ideas, innovations and resources that will help you reach your community and change the world.

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