Church planting is a contact sport. I heard that over and over from Jim Griffith, a coach/consultant who trains church planters.
Proverbs 29:18 says that without a vision, the people perish. Griffith says the corollary for church planters is that without people, the vision will perish. It is all about people, making contacts, and finding and keeping people. Without people you do not have a church, you do not have the possibility of living out God’s vision, and you have limited ability to transform a community or a world. It all starts with people.
So what have our new churches learned about reaching new people?
A key strategy is to offer “just for them” events. Many of our churches invite neighbors to church events, but usually they are “just for us” in that we are trying to raise money for one of our projects, worthy though this cause may be. A ‘just for them” event is something we offer to the community simply as a way to bless the community and to build bridges and relationships on neutral ground.
Go to the people
One great example of a “just for them” event is one offered by New Day United Methodist Church, our new congregation in Big Lake. Because this community is filled with families and children, New Day offered a trick-or-treat night for families at the nearby school.
To advertise the event, church members stood in front of the local grocery store the week before the event and handed out 1,000 chocolate bars with the event information on the label. The following week, 200 people showed up for trick-or-treat night. The church arranged to take pictures of the children and asked for e-mail addresses so they could e-mail the picture to the family. A key piece of a “just for them” event is finding a way to gather contact information in order to follow up with those who attend.
New Light Church in Baxter offered an Easter-egg hunt in a community park. They advertised it in the town community-education flyer. Spirit River Community Church in Isanti held a Mardi Gras party and told those who attend worship regularly that they could come to the party only if they brought someone with them. That is a great way to build a culture of invitation into the church.
Good Samaritan Church in Saint Peter went door-to-door in the neighborhood to hand out batteries for smoke detectors. Both Good Samaritan and New Day gave away, at their community parades, beach balls imprinted with their logos.
These are just a few ideas “just for them” practices that bless people and build connections in the community. Note that these should be that neighbors perceive as “normal,” things that anyone might do, not just Christians.
Make it fun, do it in the places where people normally go, and make sure you have ways to follow up—and you are well on your way to reaching new people.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church