A Guide To Urban Outreach Events 2.0

I waited eagerly as the courtroom door opened and the officer escorted him before the judge. Dawning the prison-issued jumpsuit, he shuffled his feet gingerly as the shackles clang together. He was stressed, and we all could see it.

His beard grayed several shades because of the ordeal, and with his family and friends looking on, we quietly prayed that the judge would reduce the bail.

Though the evidence proved he was wrongfully accused, and it would lead to his eventual acquittal, we waited nervously for the judge to rule.

After a few tense moments the request was granted, and we all let out a huge sigh of relief. So, after scraping up the money for the ten percent needed for his release, we headed to the local bails bondman’s office.

“Oh, You’re That Book Bag Church!”

While we waited in line to be helped, I noticed that one of the attendants was looking over inquisitively at us and walked over to us.

With her hand on her hip, she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I know you from somewhere.” I told her I was a pastor in the city and that our church was across from the Ablett Village projects, and before I could finish my impromptu introduction, her eyes lit up!

“Oh, that’s the book bag church, right? I’ve gotten a book bag from there the past several years!” We all smiled.

To know that our church was making an impact in the lives of the people of the city was so encouraging, and God used it to remind people in the community that they were the center of his ultimate concern.

Over the years, we’ve learned that outreach events can be very effective in targeting specific people groups.

When organizing these events, Christians have to expand their traditional paradigms of ministry to include compassion and community development dimensions because they play a key role in the revitalization of our urban communities.

This week, let’s examine the variations of outreach events. I want you to consider three types: Macro Outreach Events, Mini Outreach Events, and Micro Outreach Events

1) Macro Outreach Events:

Macro Outreach Events are large, community-wide projects that address a variety of deficiencies in a targeted community. This is an opportunity for churches to leverage relationships with partner churches, community development associations, and other organizations within the city for the common purpose of meeting the comprehensive needs of the people within a specific demographic.

Events like these can be held in auditoriums, gymnasiums, or in outdoor spaces such as parking lots and parks. It’s a great event to get community-wide involvement.

Talk with local charter and public schools to have them set up booths and offer educational opportunities, partner with local food pantries, and if you have missionary teams that desire to serve, encourage them to have members of their church donate toiletry items to be handed out at the event. Check with local barbers in the area to see if they’d be willing to volunteer their services.

Get creative!

Practical Examples:

Book Bag Drive: We host this event in our church parking lot a few days before school starts. We work with partner churches and donors to contribute much need items for the city. We bring attention to such events by canvassing the local neighborhoods with book bag vouchers and invite cards.

Here are some of the services and goods we provide during the outreach:

  • Book Bags loaded with school supplies
  • Hygienic products
  • Shoes
  • Uniforms
  • Ball Bounce
  • Family Photo Shoot
  • Water Ice
  • Fire Truck Tours
  • Free Hair Cuts
  • Medical Mission Team (Health Screenings)

College Concert Series: Host a concert at a local college to attract the seasonal population. This event would include:

  • Worship sets
  • Spoken word
  • Recording artists
  • Local talent

Not So Extreme Makeovers: Unlike the show that does a complete overhaul on a property, we provide minor home improvements for less fortunate families. This is a great way to endear families.

School-Church Partnerships: We try to provide a myriad of services for our local schools such as:

  • Credit Coaching Classes
  • GED Programs
  • Record Expungement
  • Food Drives
  • Financial Literary Classes

The goal is to duplicate this partnership at multiple schools in the city, especially in areas where we don’t have much influence.

Practical Advice:

  • Determine a budget (You don’t want to put your church in a financial bind from these events).
  • Have a point person that can implement the vision and maintain administrative efficiency.
  • Locally outsource as much as possible (i.e. buying the food from a local grocer or enlisting the help of local organizations).
  • If you’re a suburban church, partner with a church in the city that’s already doing ministry excellently.
  • Canvas the neighborhood and pass out flyers to promote the event.
  • Build up the anticipation over the course of a few months.

2) Mini Outreach Events:

Mini Outreach Events are smaller, low-intensity events that require less maintenance, but effectively addresses the needs of the people in the city.

They don’t require as much planning, but it’s a great way to mobilize members of the congregation to evangelistic work. The teams can be as small as 2 people or as large as 8-10, depending on the location of the outreach.

Examples:

Morning/Midday Manna: This is the primary means of engaging our block on a regular basis. Here are a few steps you can follow. Also, you can refer to my post on “Street Corner Evangelism.

  • Set up on a block and serve healthy snacks to kids and parents as the walk to school.
  • Serve water ice on hot summer days to passerby’s as they get dismissed from school.
  • Because of our school-church partnership, we’re able to set up at many of the schools in the city and serve food to their after school program.
  • It take varied forms but it has been highly effective in the engagement of our city.

Street Team: A newly developed team, comprised primarily of men, who canvas the neighborhood and hand out flyers to passersby. It’s an attempt to saturate every nook and cranny of the city with flyers. This sparks Gospel-centered conversations.

Other Ideas:

  • Park Clean-Ups
  • Laundromat Outreach
  • Renovating Basketball Courts
  • Providing water for Basketball Games
  • Little League Coaching Opportunities
  • Water Bottle Giveaway
  • Random Cookouts at Basketball Courts

3) Micro Outreach Events:

These are events that are natural outflows of missional living. They are things we do on a daily basis that ultimately lead to the connection with unbelievers. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s very difficult to make inroads in the lives of people in the inner city when you’re a transplant.

I experienced the same challenge, so in order to engage people, I took part in activities that would put me in close proximity to the people I wanted to reach.

This can be done a number of ways:

Examples:

Shared Hobbies: When I first moved to Camden, I noticed that many people in the neighborhood were walking peculiar looking dogs called “American Bullies.”

Some of the pastors and I sensed the engagement opportunity and bought dogs in order to build relationships with people. That eventually led to us attending dogs shows across the country and having the opportunity to build relationships with people that we would never have before.

Shared hobbies are effective ways to build solidarity with people whose lives would normally not intersect. They don’t take much extra effort because you already do these activities. So join a running club, biking club, or get a gym membership to build relational bridges.

Other ideas:

  • Playing Spades
  • Community Dinners
  • Responsibly indulging in Christian Liberties
  • Hosting Cookouts
  • Monday Night Football
  • Fight Parties
  • Attending festivals

Takeaway

I could write about missional living in the urban context until I’m red in the face, but as missionaries, we have to diligently pray that God would give us the courage to get out of our comfort zone and engage people with the good news.

I pray this stuff was helpful for you all.

I’m looking forward to engaging it again soon.

Grace and peace. 

Ernest Cleo Grant, II

Ernest Cleo Grant, II (@ernestcleogrant) is the Lead Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church of Camden, a graduate of Reformed Seminary (D.C.), and is currently completing his Doctorate of Education from Stockton University. He and his wife Sarah have been married for almost a decade and have two children( Amaela and Chancellor). He's an avid reader, a community advocate, and has bylines in The Witness, Christianity Today, The Star-Ledger, Desiring God, and other publications

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