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Serving others isn’t just for adults. It’s important for kids to participate in outreach, too. Ministry leaders are often seeking out fresh children’s ministry outreach ideas. Before we can talk about how to do outreach, we first have to know what outreach is. There is an abundance of ways people define outreach. To help children understand, I like to say that outreach is the practice of visiting people where they live or where they spend their time, in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ through serving and building relationships.

Outreach can, however, be defined much more simply!

Outreach is like introducing kids to the open road

I was recently challenged by the words of Pastor Tim Wilson, lead pastor of South Harbor Church in Byron Center, Michigan. (I’d encourage you to listen to the entire message via podcast here, or watch on Vimeo here.) 

Pastor Tim shared the story of a special car. This car had been a dream come true for its new owner, so protecting it was the top priority. In order to carry out that directive, the owner built a beautiful new garage just for the car. On the day the car was delivered, it was rolled into the garage, and that garage is exactly where it stayed.

Every once in a while, the owner and his wife would go to the garage, carefully take their seats, turn over the engine, and “enjoy” the car—while it remained in park. After a short time, they turned the keys and returned to everyday life.

The gear had never shifted into drive. The wheels never felt the pavement. The motor never got to roar the way it was built to do.

When the owner died, his wife chose to sell the car. The buyer sat completely amazed at the fact that this vehicle, built for the specific purpose of cruising the open road, had never even been on a road! By keeping it in the garage, the car would never fulfill the sole purpose for which it was created.

“If there’s ever been a perfect metaphor for how so many people treat the church …” Pastor Tim notes.

“If we stay in the garage, we miss the mission of the church. Christians were made for the open road.”

There it was. Outreach defined. The point isn’t what happens inside the church building. The point is what happens outside its walls.

When we leave the church building, what does it look like when we walk in our everyday lives? That is outreach.

This applies to children, too.

We often see “mission projects” in children’s ministry as bringing something into the “garage.” Pennies, school supplies, and other items collected for a specific charity or mission organization are great and necessary ways to introduce kids to giving. But it can be difficult for kids to understand when they never see the end result of their giving. What’s critical to remember is in order to teach kids to have a true heart for outreach, we must take the car out of the garage! Get children and families interacting and building personal relationships with those in need. These experiences on the open road of faith are what directly connect a child’s story to God’s story!

How to “get the car out of the garage”

Now let me go back to my original definition of outreach: the practice of visiting people where they live or where they spend their time, in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ through serving and building relationships. There are takeaways from that sentence that are important but are rarely practiced when talking about children’s ministry outreach ideas.

First, “the practice.” That means we repeat our efforts on a regular basis. Instead of choosing multiple children’s ministry outreach ideas, choose one that you can live out weekly.

Second, “visiting people where they live or where they spend their time.” Yes, you have to leave the building. It’s challenging with children’s ministry for certain! That’s where we can get creative! How can you equip and empower families to carry out outreach with children?

Finally, “in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ through serving and building relationships.” Your actions are presenting the gospel. Encourage children and families to simply make friends with others organically and give them encouraging words from the Holy Spirit.

Twelve children’s ministry outreach ideas

 Here are twelve children’s ministry outreach ideas to consider:

  1. Make muffins to hand out at a city or school bus stop each week. (If you listened to the podcast, you know about this story!)
  2. Do a weekly prayer walk through a neighborhood. Remember that kids are led by the Holy Spirit, too! Ask them what and who they feel God leading them to pray for as they walk.
  3. Deliver cookies and thank you cards to a local fire station. Ask the firemen if the kids can pray protection and blessings over them. Use this opportunity to teach kids to pray God’s Word over others by praying blessings from Scripture. You can find a list to start with here.
  4. Make thank you cards to deliver to veterans. Challenge families to deliver their cards to residents at a community veterans’ home or center. You can also purchase affordable flag pins as a small gift to give with cards.
  5. Bring bottled water to construction or road workers near your home or church on a regular basis.
  6. Serve food regularly at a local shelter and have conversations as you can with the residents. Ask them how you can pray specifically for their needs.
  7. When walking through downtown areas, our family is often asked for money by those experiencing homelessness. We never carry cash, but we do have a powerful gift we can give at a moment’s notice. If you’re ever in this situation, respond with “I’m sorry, we don’t carry cash, but could we pray with you?”
  8. Connect with a local group home for those with disabilities and ask what their needs are. There may be an opportunity to play games or make crafts with residents.
  9. Make and deliver encouraging cards to residents at assisted living facilities or senior communities. Arrange a game time with residents. Serve lunch or dinner. Give manicures. It’s possible to find a different activity to engage with residents every week!
  10. Hand out popsicles at a park on warm summer days.
  11. Host backyard Bible clubs at people’s houses in your community. Hosts of these clubs have the opportunity to reach out to their neighbors to build relationships and show the love of Christ while teaching the kids Bible stories, playing games, and doing crafts all in their backyards! Be sure to check in with attendees regularly following the event.
  12. Ask the local government where the areas of greatest need are in the community. Focus local missional efforts in that area. Consider hosting VBS in that location. Then be prepared to continue meeting needs and building relationships throughout the next year. Do things like make home and auto repairs, adopt families at Christmas, or bring Thanksgiving or other needed meals.

As you try some of these activities with the children in your congregation, notice how the gospel is shaping both the kids themselves and your city!

Shelley Henning is the facilitator for kid's ministries in the Reformed Church in America.