By Kent Anderson
A rural church must find practical ways to reach and serve their community. A change from an inward to an outward focus is only part of the solution. If a church wants to influence their community, the most effective way to do so is the Jesus way- to serve and then share their way into the life of the community. Mark 10:45 says, “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve”, and this should be our model.
The following are 10 practical outreach ideas that rural churches can implement to reach their communities:
1. Assess the needs of your community. Pastors can uncover needs in their community that others are not addressing. Websites such as epodunk.com, census.gov, and dataplace.org will help you assess your community. Ask members of your community what they feel are the most pressing needs. Ask the question, “In your opinion, what is the best thing our church could do for this town?”
2. Meet with community stakeholders. A rural pastor must be intentional in developing solid relationships with community leaders. Stakeholders can include the mayor, school principal, high school coach, and others. Community leaders know firsthand the issues their community is facing.
3. Become a friend to your community’s school system. The question every rural church must ask is, “How can we wrap our arms around our local school?” In a rural setting, the school is the hub of the community. Some churches bring cinnamon rolls to the teachers’ lounge and deliver coffee and donuts to bus drivers. They provide reading buddies to students, conduct after-school programs, honor teachers and staff, provide supplies for classrooms, and assist with projects around the school.
4. Become active in community events. How can the church plug into the community calendar? What events are taking place throughout the year that your church could join? What sporting events and holiday celebrations can the church be involved in? What does the community offer in the way of meals on wheels, senior center activities, etc., in which your church can partner? Offer an event for your community such as a Kidsfest in the park, mega sports camp, hunting clinic, horse-riding clinic, etc. Connect with your firefighters and policemen and women and host a hero day for them and their families.
5. Develop a community group adoption program. What groups, places, or organizations could your church adopt? This program could include adopting teachers, social workers, firefighters, sports teams, classrooms, the senior center, or the local park. One church in Kansas adopted the town’s main street and the youth washed all the windows of the downtown businesses. A rural church in Iowa painted the benches on Main Street.
6. Become a specialty provider. Many rural churches do not have the capacity to run a food pantry, clothing closet, or thrift store. Become the church that has a specialty item — diapers, baby formula, underwear and socks or hygiene products. One church in Montana offers firewood during the winter for people in their community. Another church in West Virginia designated a Sunday School room for teachers and offered them supplies for their classroom.
7. Offer a need-based program. Offer a program based on the findings of your assessment. Programs like Celebrate Recovery, Marriage Encounter, Financial Peace, Angel Food ministry, single moms ministry, and MOPS can be a way to reach out to people in need in your community.
8. Create a helping hands ministry. Organize a Sunday School class or small group focused solely on outreach. The class or small group can pray, plan, and implement ministry opportunities within the community. One church asks each individual department to conduct one service project each year. This way, the church has outreach focused ministry going on in its community every month.
9. Prepare your church for emergency response. Partner with organizations such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Red Cross, emergency personnel, etc. Train church members to be first responders when disaster hits.
10. Conduct a one-day outreach. Plan a day of outreach that might include distributing school supplies, clothing, shoes, coats, etc. to the people within the community. A rural church in Illinois conducted a one-day outreach called Sharefest and had over 600 people attend. The town’s population is 2,000.in
The impact of a powerful rural Pentecostal church in a community will greatly enhance community life and pave the way for strong connections between the church and the community. As General Superintendent George O. Wood has stated, “We must have substantial evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, our prayer should be, “Let my heart break with the things that break God’s heart – and then let me do something about it.”
Kent Anderson serves as the Church Care Network Coordinator for Convoy of Hope – Rural Compassion Ministries. To learn more about Rural Compassion, please visit www.ruralcompassion.org.