What makes an outreach event successful?
This past Sunday, our church held a picnic outreach at Ft. Halifax Park in ‘downtown’ Winslow. We held a church service at our regular time, then enjoyed a picnic and some fun in the warm, summer sun. This is the 3rd year in a row we’ve done this event in the park. In previous years we had our picnic on a lakefront; it was a difficult location for some to find and not well attended compared to a normal Sunday, but it was usually fun and helpful to fuel our sense of fellowship.
We decided to move the event to the park in order to turn the event into more of a community outreach. The first year was cold and rainy; we had one guest who happened to wander through. The second year (last year), we invited residents from the homeless shelter and clients of a local food program to be our guests. Many accepted the invitation! The weather was great. Our members showed hospitality. Guests judged our dessert contest. Some trusted in Christ and became part of the church. It was a success; a real milestone for our outreach.
But what happened this year blew us away.
First, it seemed that almost all of our regular attendees came to the picnic. During the worship service, several guests joined us. By the time lunch was served, even more guests arrived and received our hospitality. Some others just visiting the park also joined us. Our counters lost count. We made an emergency hamburger run. Our members showed compassion; our guests showed gratitude. Some even revealed that the meal we shared was the only they would have that day. Kids had a blast as members stepped up to serve at the dunk tank, bouncy house, cotton candy machine, popcorn popper, and snow cone maker. And they did it all in Jesus’ name. It was fun! It was ministry! It was awesome!
Most encouraging to me was the way I heard members excitedly talk about the impact on the community they knew we had made. They made a difference for a Jesus and they loved every minute of it. Our sense of fellowship was stronger than ever as we both communicated and demonstrated the Gospel together.
So, why was our picnic a success? OK, sure, the weather was fantastic. We couldn’t have asked for a better day weather-wise. But there was something else going on too. I think our picnic demonstrated some important outreach principles:
“What makes an outreach event successful?”
Location, location, location – We went to where the people are (or could be) and didn’t expect them to travel to us. Our church is a few miles down a major road; too far and dangerous for walkers. They key wasn’t just an invitation: We went to people rather than expecting them to come to us.
Selfless, sacrificial service – Many gave up their own ‘experience’ to provide one for others. This was the heart of the event. It’s also the biblical definition for all ministry, I think. I was amazed at the way people chose to serve rather than simply enjoy – only they enjoyed even more by serving!
Resources, meet needs – We provided what was needed by those we were trying to reach; a delicious meal, genuine acceptance, compassion for those hurting, and a good dose of fun. Maybe I’m stating the obvious but when kids have fun, parents have fun too. (Just think of how little fun parents have trying to keep kids entertained. That bouncy house rental was worth every penny!) I think we got a glimpse of just how much our church has to offer the community in the name of Christ.
Those are my thoughts, I’d like to know what you think. Were you at this year’s picnic outreach at Ft. Halifax Park? Why do you think it was a success?