#ChurchPlanting Hack: 18 Proven Ideas for Engaging the Community and Planting Seeds
When starting a new church or wanting to impact a community for Christ through evangelism, scattering seeds should be one of your primary missions. On Church Planter reports we ask for the # of contacts made each month. No coincidence that often the church plant with the most salvations and baptisms is also the one with the most contacts made in the community over the course of a year. That’s not always the case at first, because some communities will take more of the spiritual work of cultivating the ground through prayer and serving before seeds can be planted and harvest gathered. But if a church planter aggressively devises a strategy of seed scattering and planting, eventually a harvest can be expected (Psalm 126:6).
What is scattering seed for a church planter? Seed scattering is any activity that intersects believers &/or the gospel with the lives of people in the community. The more directly evangelistic the better. But considering that it probably takes 20 touches for someone to become a Christian, plan for activity that cultivates, plants, and draws the harvest.
Here’s 18 Proven ideas for engaging the community and increasing your contacts and seeds planted in your church plant:
- Invite Cards. Always have something to invite people to and a card with the time and place with you. Print hundreds at a time and make sure your core team and congregation take a stack with them to give out or place on community bulletin boards as they go each week.
- Direct Mail. Direct mail can be done on a small, affordable scale. You’ll need a Bulk Mail permit and someone who can do at least basic graphic design. Keep it simple. It’s the two color postcards that stick out in today’s mail boxes. Get to know Vista Print and Outreach.com for affordable starting points. Even better, get to know a local printer and include seed scattering to building relationships in the community. Also, check out the Mapping Center for Evangelism to get your communities addresses plus much more.
- Facebook Page – likes and shares. Facebook is a great tool for spreading seeds about the gospel and your church. Start a Page, post regularly, and encourage your core team to like and share, which spreads the message to their network. Love what the Church at Addis did with Facebook. They found out one of the biggest needs in their community was help with blended families and they started a Facebook Page called Blended Family Help to connect Gospel resources with the need in peoples lives.
- Facebook Ads. For $5 you can get your message to 1,000’s of people in a small town or neighborhood. Facebook Ads are easy to use, simple as posting about an event, then hitting a button to “boost” it and make sure it gets out there with a little bit of cash. Check out this helpful post from Outreach Mag on 6 steps to a Facebook Ad.
- School Newsletters. Few people subscribe to newspapers anymore, everybody hates spammy email advertising, direct mail is a low % read for most. How can I get into the home of almost every young family in my community? Consider an ad in the local elementary and Jr. High newsletter. Goes home with every student. Even if it reaches no one, you’ve done something that supports the local school & administrators won’t forget you for that. Our local schools allow a business card size ad for about $25 per issue.
- Radio Spots. Average commute times in Louisiana are from 15 to 40 minutes. For most of those, the radio will be on for at least some of that time. Many radio stations offer some type of free bulletin board for community events, so if you doing something worth inviting the community to, give them a call. And radio ads can be surprisingly affordable with local stations. It’s a great way to support the local Christian radio station, but don’t just do Christian radio. On second thought, send a check to Christian radio and run your ads on the local secular stations.
- Door Hangers. Door to door is still a great way to spread info and plant seeds. And studies in Louisiana have shown that a majority of people are open to door to door visits from churches. We’ve found a printer in our area that will print ready to hang door hangers for us. We’ve also ordered clear bags to put info in for hanging on doors, which makes them a little more weather proof. Works best for the time commitment in densely populated areas. Rules of thumb: Beware of dogs. Don’t be a jerk and ignore posted subdivision loitering rules. Expect at least one call from somebody that says, “HEY, DON’T EVER COME ON MY PROPERTY AGAIN OR I’LL @&%$#?…” Shake your head and move on. There’s always one.
- T-shirts. Well-designed, eye-catching T-shirts can create more conversation than most other forms of advertising. Nothing else I can do in outreach gets more people to come up to me and say “Do you go to that church?” – “Is that church around here?” – “That looks like an interesting church” – “Where is your church?” Make T-shirts that people will want to wear and give them away if you can. And don’t forget to train people on what to say WHEN, not if, they are ask about your church when wearing a T-shirt.
- Service Projects. Finding a need and meeting it has ripple effect potential for your ministry. You find someone that needs help & serve them, that’s a great kingdom contact in and of itself. And a kingdom win, is a win period. You also have to get others involved in using their gifts and abilities for ministry which helps them grow their kingdom eyes. Our church has used Wheelchair ramp building in this way. When you get a good service project you can also increase the ripple by inviting the community to join in. We’ve even ran radio spots (see above) about upcoming projects inviting others to contribute and participate. Continue the ripple by posting pics on Facebook, sharing the story with a follow-up video, etc.
- Block Parties. A great way to gather people, cultivate relationships, plant seeds, and share the gospel is to throw a party. Mix free food, loud music, and an inflatable or two & you can be about meeting new people in almost any neighborhood in Louisiana. Another popular variation of an outreach friendly Block Party would be an Outdoor Movie Night in a city park, subdivision common space, or backyard. Also, you can use holiday’s, big national sporting events, and birthday parties to throw a party, invite everyone you know, and find ways to cultivate relationships & move them closer to experiencing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Check out this post on Why Block Parties and the How to Manual for Block Parties that our church put together.
- Multi-Housing Communities. Multi-Housing Complexes offer many potential points of contacts with all different kinds of people. One easy, low cost, highly relational way to make some people smile and start a conversation is to pick up some boxes of snacks and juice boxes and setup at a common bus stop at an apartment complex or trailer park after school. Our church does this the week before kid friendly events that we’d like to promote. Stillwater Church in Hammond has seen a new church birth, utilizing the after school bus stop as a primary way to make connections in two large mobile home parks in their area.
- Community Agencies. Council on Aging, Volunteers of America, Boys and Girls Club, Local Fire Dept., Local Police Dept., Town Council, local Crisis Pregnancy Center, Mayor’s offices, local utility companies, Easter Seals, Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Neighborhood Revitalization committees, local Work Release Program. These are a handful of the community agencies that our church plants have worked with that exist in almost every community in North America. Great partners, often looking for volunteers, and often wondering why churches don’t offer to help. And believe it or not, we’ve found no problems from most community agencies with the expectation that we as a church would also be sharing the gospel with people we serve. Projects, partners, points of contact with the community is a phone call away.
- Area Daycares. Private daycares are often open to allowing churches to make contact with families they serve. We have built relationships with daycares in our area that have allowed us to come in and do Gospel centered activities with kids. We also send posters and invites to any kid friendly special event (Easter Egg Hunt, Trunk or Treat, etc.) to local daycares and have found that many of them will post them on a bulletin board & some will pass them out to parents picking up their kids. Start by making a list of area daycares & consider including them in service opportunities and invites to special events.
- Rec Fields. Another great way to both invest in the community and get some name recognition is to get a sign on the fences of local recreation fields. $200-500 can get your logo, name, website in front of a large % of unchurched people in your community. And the interaction with key leaders in the recreation programs can be a great thing for your personal network as a church planter as well. I’ve also seen churches serve rec fields in other ways: Inflatables and face painting on opening day, free snow cones, free souvenir pictures. I’ve also thought about the possibility of offering a Sunday morning worship time at our local ball field with 100’s pouring in every weekend for travel ball leagues.
- Community Festivals. In Louisiana, there is some kind of festival going almost every weekend. Festivals offer a variety of opportunities for churches to engage the people of the community. First and maybe most importantly, the impact of getting to know leaders of festivals on most occasions also means getting to know key leaders in the city or town. Getting involved lets them know that you’re on their side & want to see the community succeed. A few ways that I’ve seen churches reach out to festivals: Serve by picking up trash all day, Face Painting, Kids Games, sponsor entertainment, Free Souvenir pictures, Festival volunteers, Setup and tear down. Many other ways to engage people. Remember your Invite Cards (see part 1), go unselfishly to serve the community, and have fun! Louisiana Festivals are the best!
- Funeral Homes. Outreach to funeral homes? As a brand new church planter in the community, as I was networking, I stopped by several area funeral homes with a card and an offer to preach the funeral for anyone that didn’t have a pastor already. To my surprise, I soon found myself doing 4-5 funerals every week. Which proved to be emotionally exhausting, but served as a great way to connect with families at a time they needed the Gospel and relationships built around faith more than ever. People will NEVER forget you, when you’re able to be there with them in the valley of the shadow of death.
- Community Networks. A network is a group or system of interconnected people. They are everywhere in your community and most are ready and willing to connect new people to the group. Get your church plant involved in the local Chamber of Commerce. Most have a Non-Profit membership stream and I’ve found that they love having churches involved. Early on in the life of one of our church plants, I joined what was called a BNI, or Business Network International. People paid to join a group that commits to help each other promote their respective businesses. They loved having a church in the group. Made all kinds of connections in that network. Church planting is about networking and you don’t have to recreate the wheel at the outset. Join the community networks and relationships will lead to seeds planted & opportunities to share the Gospel.
- Local Hospitals. In the New Testament, we see Jesus often ministering to people at the point of illness, disease, and grief. There are several ways that a church plant can engage people at this point of need. Find out if the hospital has a volunteer chaplain program. In my community, our local baptist association has built this bridge to several local hospitals and pastors and lay people are trained and empowered to meet needs through chaplaincy work. Stock the Waiting rooms. Waiting rooms can be lonely, cold places. Get permission to put fruit baskets, magazines, fresh donuts, Bibles, or whatever you can in the waiting rooms. And don’t forget the gift of presence. Drop by and give the gift of a listening ear and encouraging words. One of my favorite servant evangelism projects is pick up a handful of gift cards to the nearest restaurants and drop by the ICU waiting room & give them away. Remember, this ministry is not about you! Only go if you can realistically put the needs of others first. This can be a great ministry for those with the gifts of mercy in your church plant.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Great reminder for the church planter or leader who is trying to get momentum behind the effort to reach their community for Christ. Our failure is often a failure of ideas and imagination when it comes to outreach, so I’m sharing some practical ways that I’ve seen work in Louisiana in hopes that your church will increase the number of seeds that it scatters across your community.