I imagine that if you are reading this you have a heart to reach your community with the gospel. It won’t happen by accident. We must get creative. We must think outside the box. We must be willing to try things that fail to arrive at things that work.
Pastor Craig Groeschel says, “To reach people that no one else is reaching we have to do things that no one else is doing.” Here are 10 creative ways to reach your rural community.
1. No second-time guest left behind.
What’s better than a first-time guest? A second-time guest! When people visit our church it is awesome. But when they return that means they had a positive first experience. This is the perfect opportunity to connect with them.
Make it your goal to invite every second-time guest over for dinner. Think about the benefits. You get to connect with and meet these people in the most positive and beneficial way – around your dinner table. It is the perfect opportunity for them to get to know you and have their questions answered but also for you to get to know them and discover the people and opportunities that they would connect with best.
2. Make the news.
We can’t assume that people are going to automatically know we exist and know why we exist. What would happen if we were to make the local news by putting our best foot forward? What if we did a newsworthy event that the community couldn’t help but notice? It would be an opportunity to be known for the right stuff. Let’s show the community what we’re all about. Don’t overlook advertising.
• Project One: A one-day serving event doing home improvement projects/yardwork/cleanup for families in need.
• Giant egg drop: Drop thousands of candy-filled eggs from a helicopter on a local park and let kids go wild collecting them.
• Concert: Organize a concert with a big-name band.
• Kids carnival: Rent bouncy houses and inflatable games and set up in a local park during the summer for a can’t-miss family outing.
• Rake the town: In the fall after the leaves fall organize an event during which every yard in the town is raked and cleaned up.
3. Get “schooled.”
Most rural communities center around the schools. Often, the largest gatherings of people in a rural community happen when the football team has a home game. If your church is not plugged in with the school, you may be missing out on being near the heartbeat of your community.
When people see that you care about their kids in the same way that they do it can completely shift their perception of your church. So make it a priority to get to know the school administrators and principals. Offer to help and serve as often as you can and make sure that your goal is to give and not to get.
• Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer.
• Offer to put together a team to clean bleachers after a game.
• Host a monthly free lunch for students.
• Volunteer to coach.
• Start an after-school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program using robotics or model airplanes or a science club to connect with students.
• Chaplain for the sports team.
• Hold a community tailgate at football games.
• Help direct a musical or play.
• Volunteer to give after-school music lessons.
• Volunteer to help with elementary reading.
• Organize an “adopt a student” program where volunteers check in with and stay connected to and encourage at-risk or underprivileged students.
• Offer to fund and bring in a well-known group like Fellowship of Christian Athlete or Kids Hope USA.
4. Be offensive (but not that kind of offensive).
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Do an event that’s goal is not to preach or teach, but simply to serve. Go on the offense. Serve. Love. Give. Challenge the perception that the church is only about what they can get from you. We exist to serve. So ask the question, How can we meet a need that no one else is meeting?
The goal is not to have an hourlong Sunday morning gathering; the goal is to reach people with the gospel. How do we do that best? Realistically look at your community. Are there shift work jobs (prison guards, mine workers, railroad workers, etc.)? Are there jobs that have odd or irregular hours (agriculture workers, hospital workers, oil and gas workers)?
Does your community engage in lots of weekend activities (children’s sports, hiking, fishing, hunting, recreational activities)? Then you may provide a huge service to your community by rethinking your service times. It could be that the only reason that people are not attending your church is because they don’t want to give up their weekend.
What about locations? Are there people who have to drive a long way to get to your church? Is there a need to have a service in a different location to serve people who have to travel a long distance to connect with your church? Perhaps there is a need to have a service in a different location. Maybe it could be a video location.
Look around. Are there any churches that are providing midweek or evening services? Are there any locations in your rural community that are unconnected because of distance? There may be a huge need for your church to rethink its service times and locations.
6. Be a regular somewhere.
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came …” It has been said that foundation of all relationships is time and shared experiences. With that in mind, think about the value of being a regular somewhere.
Consider the following ideas:
• Eating lunch every day at the senior center.
• Going to the local coffee shop every other day for an hour to drink coffee and visit.
• Stopping by the police station every Friday to visit.
• Taking doughnuts to the school administration office once a week and asking how they are doing.
• Having all of your lunch meetings at the same restaurant and staying to visit with the staff after your meeting is done.
Get creative. The goal here is that relationships are built through your consistency over time. Let that work naturally in your favor. If you commit to being a regular somewhere for six months, I guarantee you will be amazed at the relationships you will form.
7. Take your hobby out of the lobby.
We can get so into church that it becomes our hobby. We spend all of our free time working on it. What if instead of the church being our hobby we actually got involved in a new hobby to connect with new people? It’s a win-win. Learn the unique activities that people in your area are doing (rock climbing, hiking, hunting, rodeo, gun club, etc.) and become a student of that new hobby. You will be amazed at how a common activity opens doors for new relationships.
8. Like a good neighbor …
Connecting with people is all about creating points of intersection. We live in a world where we open our garage door, drive in, close the garage door and rarely see, let alone connect with, our neighbors. What would happen if our church got really excited about being good neighbors? It could be incredibly transformational.
We can create more neighborly points of intersection by:
• Starting a community compost pile.
• Walking more.
• Spending more time in the front yard.
• Taking dinner/dessert to your neighbors.
• Scraping their sidewalks.
• Offering some garden space to neighbors.
• Throwing a block party.
• Getting interested in your neighbor’s hobbies.
• Offering to watch their pets when they are gone.
• Inviting them to your child’s activities.
• Attending their child’s activities.
9. Turn your “wow factor” up to 11 on something.
Do something with excellence. The goal is not the “wow”; it’s that people’s expectations are exceeded to break down barriers that keep them from church. Two of the main reasons that church events often lack excellence are money and skill.
Money. Let’s be honest: Resources are often tight, budgets are not unlimited and couple that with the desire of most church leaders to be good stewards of God’s money and what we end up with are “cheap” events. What if instead of doing six or eight mediocre (or terrible) events every year, we put all of our eggs (and budget) into one event that is done very well? Do you think this might help to change some perspectives about your church?
Skill. Chances are you don’t have a professional event planner in your congregation, someone who specializes in thinking through all of the details that make a big event successful – advertising, budget, atmosphere, technology, location, marketing, etc. That’s OK. Hire them. As part of the budget for your big event plan on hiring an event planner to oversee the details. So if you are planning a big concert, a rodeo or roping, a 5K run or any other large event, realistically evaluate your skills and consider hiring an expert. You have the heart and the hands, but they have the expertise. Trust me. It will be money well spent.
10. Go “all in” on building a bridge.
Imagine that the church exists on an island and your community exists on the mainland. The people in your community may feel oblivious toward your church, like they don’t even know it exists. Or isolated, like it’s not for them. They may feel excluded, like it is only for “islanders.” They may feel confused, like how do I even get onto that island? Instead of expecting them to figure out how to make it onto our island, we need to think about ways to build bridges to them. Bridges are connecting points between our church and our community. Here are some easy ways for your church to connect with unchurched people in a positive, nonthreatening and winsome way:
• Community garden
• Special needs prom
• After-school homework club
• Movies in the park
• Computer workshops
• Senior center singing
• Homeschool group
• “Bless a business”
• Gas buyout
• Teacher appreciation
• Chaplain for police, sheriff, fire department
• Doughnuts for businesses
• Teaching English and computer skills to ESL students
• Car care clinic for single moms
This article is part of the e-book Nowhere is Now Here: Why Rural Matters written by Converge Rocky Mountain pastors Ty DesEnfants, Joshua Sorrows, Jason Ricks and Dan DeBruyn. DesEnfants is pastor of Prairie Hills Community Church in Lusk, Wyoming. Sorrows is pastor of Crow Hill Bible Church in Bailey, Colorado. Ricks is pastor of Emmaus Road Community Church in Laramie, Wyoming. DeBruyn is pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming.
Ty DesEnfants, Pastor of Prairie Hills Community Church
Ty DesEnfants is pastor of Prairie Hills Community Church in Lusk, Wyoming.