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What is outreach ministry?

Outreach ministry is the practice of looking beyond yourself to the people around you and sharing the love of Christ as you serve and connect with your community. This doesn’t require a big budget or a five-year plan. You can simply start with whatever is in your hand that you can offer to your neighbor. 

Making the most of what’s in front of you

There are some days I have to really slow down in the kitchen. As I make my way around, crafting dinner, the refrigerator is always full of surprises.  Diced green peppers hide out in old butter tins and chopped onion is nestled in repurposed cottage cheese containers. (I would be lying if I didn’t admit that every once in a while, dinner has gotten interesting due to a case of culinary mistaken identity.)

When you grow up in a culture where you don’t waste anything, this kind of repurposing is common. It’s less about affording the good Tupperware, and more about maximizing every bit of what you have. It is about resourcefulness. Everything can have extended life with a little urgency and imagination! Outreach is no exception.

Outreach in the Bible

Scripture is full of outreach examples where there was a need, and God’s people got resourceful. There’s the story of  the crowd being fed by five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14).  There’s the time a group of friends figured out how to open up a roof to get their friend to Jesus (Mark 2). Throughout history, God has used the unlikely, the common, the unexpected. I would even dare to say that God delights in using the unexpected. We serve a God that is resourceful. And we reflect God’s image.

How to start an outreach ministry (or reimagine one!)

As you consider what outreach may look like for your church or ministry this upcoming season, here are a few (resourceful) things to consider.

1

Ask, “What does our community need?”

This is the number one question we ask churches to consider. We immediately follow that up with, “The best way to find out is to ask your community.” Resist the urge to start something without sitting down with parents, nurses, public safety, teachers, whomever your neighborhood stakeholders are, and asking, “What do you need?” Your instincts may be right. But you may also hear things that surprise you. Or, you may discover that something you are currently offering your congregation would also be valuable to your community if they knew about it. Then, invite your community to dream and do with you. Your neighbors are some of your best resources.
2

Look at what you have with fresh eyes (and imagination).

This is where resourcefulness gets its biggest boost! That old lobby may feel unattractive for coffee hour, but may be dynamite for community karate lessons. That old bus may feel tired for youth group trips, but experience new life as a food or coffee truck. Patch of dirt by the parking lot got you down? Not for the folks needing a neighborhood garden. View what you have with the hopefulness and creativity that the Holy Spirit inspires in all of us. God and your neighborhood are not waiting for something to be perfect before it can have great purpose. Besides, isn’t that the good news for all of us?
3

Rediscover the resources you already have.

Much like the treasures we rediscover when we spring clean, we may sometimes forget that we already have something in our toolkit that can help our outreach efforts. Maybe people in our pews carry professional capacity or passion around hobbies, or maybe it’s old props and furniture found in the dark recesses of the church basement. Do not be afraid to explore the nooks and crannies to see what is already available. Often, when staff or programs change, things get lost or put away in the shuffle, and rediscovering them feels like finding something new. Go explore.

Outreach ministry ideas to get your creative juices flowing

  • Ask at least one person in your community what they need and what they’re excited about each week. Let their answers shape your approach to outreach.
  • Partner with a local agency such as a recovery group or a fitness and health organization, to see if your building might be a good fit for community classes, meetings, or more.
  • Start a neighborhood garden.
  • Invite members of your church or community to share their expertise and hobbies by teaching others; for example, if you have an artist in your midst, see if they’d be willing to teach a painting or pottery class.
  • Reimagine an old truck or van as a food truck.
  • Consider hosting neighborhood dinners. Whether you potluck together or families bring their own meals, make it a priority to get together. Share some music, play games, or plan fun activities where you can get to know your neighbors better.

Free outreach ministry resources

Walking, Loving, Doing: Leading Holistic Ministry Guide
This guide will help your church develop and sustain holistic ministry, which is an approach to outreach and discipleship that intentionally engages the whole person (spiritually, physically, and relationally). You can access the guide online or download a printable PDF version.

Kid-friendly Outreach Ideas and Tips
Outreach isn’t just for adults. It’s important for children to participate, too. This article offers tips for practicing outreach with children and 12 great ideas for including kids in outreach. 

Purposeful Living Handbook/Una Vida Con Propósito
This free handbook guides you through a Scriptural process to discern your calling from God and live with purpose. This could be a great tool for church small groups to consider how they can engage in outreach or an outreach opportunity itself: you could invite your friends and neighbors to journey through Purposeful Living with you. 

How to Connect with Millennials and Gen Z
This article explains how the practice of listening and a grasp of digital culture can help you connect with Millennials and Gen Z more meaningfully.

What’s your next step?

The heartbeat of outreach is simply starting with whatever is in your hand, and extending that to your neighbor. Resourcefulness is saying, “How can I use this for the benefit of God’s kingdom and for the benefit of my community?” And as you think about the beauty of the season we’re in, we are excited to imagine with you as you see your neighborhood, your storage closets, your congregation, or your own dreams and think, “I wonder what God can do with this?”

Eliza Cortés Bast

Eliza Cortés Bast is coordinator for Local Missional Engagement and special projects for the Reformed Church in America.