Quite often we put on events at our churches and hope that children and families will come and join us. When we think about the many stories of Jesus, where was he when he reached out? Outside. Zacchaeus was up a tree, the woman was at the well, blind Bartimaeus was sat by the roadside, the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, the crowds were up a mountain, the disciples were in a boat and I’m sure you could name many more. Jesus went to where the people were and reached out.
Should we be expecting families to come to church or should we be going to them? Jesus went to where the people were. I believe that the way to connect with children and families in the community is to be in the community where the families are.
At one of my previous churches, we held an outreach event for children and families in a local park on an estate. We took over the whole park and the community centre. We had inflatable football goals, inflatable slides, bouncy castles and games for the families outside on the grass. Inside the community centre we had burgers and drinks, craft, face painting and puppet performances on the hour.
Why did we go to the local estate? To reach out to families that we didn’t know, to let them know that we as a church wanted to show love to them and to let them know of our clubs for the children and events for the families that we offered through the year. It was incredible to see so many people from our church willing to support the day and give of their time to be there. Even more incredible was some of the conversations we had. We had made our first steps to building new relationships.
There are many statistics out there stating that the church is in decline. As I drive around my local area, walk down the high street or visit my nearest supermarket, I see family after family and my heart goes out to them knowing that many of them don’t know Jesus. It hit me that unless I tell them, how will they know? Unless we, as a church, do something, there will be more and more families that live their lives without knowing there is a God who loves them.
How can we encourage our church to take a step out of their comfort zone and reach out to the community to reach children and families?
Here are five questions to think through when beginning to plan for reaching families.
1) What are you hoping to achieve from the event? There are two popular responses to this question. The first being wanting to build relationships and the second being wanting to invite families to church on Sundays. The challenge with this is that one free burger is no guarantee that families will come to a Sunday service. Families might find it slightly easier to come to something at church which is less threatening to them like a Messy Church, fresh expressions church or ‘Who Let the Dad’s Out’ etc. The key is to begin to build relationships, to chat with the families and personally invite them to another event run by the church, whatever that may be.
2) Find out what the needs of your community are. What are their interests? How do they spend their time? Knowing this can steer your thoughts and ideas as to what you could do in order to reach them. For example, if many children are playing football Saturday mornings, perhaps you could get in touch with the football clubs they go to and arrange to offer refreshments after a practice / match, or serve hot drinks to the parents whilst the match is taking place.
3) Dream big! Don’t be put off by budget or man power – I believe that God inspires us and gives us dreams that may seem totally impossible, but with God all things are possible. If you have a great idea, get excited about it, share your dream with the church and let them capture your vision and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone in joining you to make your dream a reality. And don’t let finances put you off. There are grants available, if you can find the right one at the right time. Don’t limit what God can do.
4) Don’t be scared to talk about God. It can be easy to get carried away with the fun of face painting and cooking burgers that we squeeze God out. Sometimes it’s because fears can take over and we are scared about how families will react. We don’t want to be overpowering or throwing Christianity down their throat, but pray and ask God for opportunities to gently share His love through your conversations. For example, if a parent asks us why we are putting on the event, then be honest and say why. Don’t hold back and say because we thought it would be fun for the children (which I hope it is) but this gives us a perfect opportunity to share.
5) Try to keep contact with families. Ask families if they would like to go on your mailing list to notify them of future events (make sure to stick to the GDPR guidelines). Some may say no, but hopefully many will be open to this. Make sure to be in touch on a regular basis offering them invitations to various events.
Don’t give up if your event doesn’t bring in the numbers you had hoped for. Start small and build up. One event is highly unlikely to double numbers in your church, but even if one family sees the light of Jesus through what you do, then it’s worth putting in all your efforts.
May I encourage you to begin your outreach project with prayer and continue to pray throughout. Give 100% in all you do and serve with a humble heart.
Fiona Stutton, Children’s Ministry Advisor