Carol S. is one of the most joy-filled, grateful Christians I have ever met. Twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t have said this. At that time, Carol was an unchurched single mother with four children, supporting her family through housecleaning jobs. “That was a very tough time,” she says now. “There were lots of churches around us, but only women from the Mennonite church invited me and my family to activities such as women’s Bible study, church retreats, and Mother’s Club.” Carol not only came to events to which she was invited, she also blessed the church with her presence and the sharing of her talents. How can persons like Carol continue to be reached through special events of our women’s groups and congregations?
First of all, both the planning and the event need to be rooted in prayer. It is as we align our spirits with God’s spirit and our tasks with God’s task of redeeming creation that we have the energy and compassion needed for effective outreach.
Second, local outreach is more apt to happen when intentionality and planning is involved. The following is one possible plan:
1. Ask your women’s group or committee to make a list of special events your group or church engage in that unchurched people in the community might find attractive. These might have to do with special days in the church year such as Christmas or Easter. Or perhaps they are special annual events such as a church picnic or crafts bazaar.
2. Next brainstorm new special events in which local unchurched people might wish to participate (could be just a fun event or a service project). Ask participants to precede their idea with the words, “Can we . . . ?” Here are some examples:
Can we conduct a quilting demonstration/workshop?
Can we offer a More-with-Less cooking class?
Can we sponsor a Ten Thousand Villages holiday gift sale?
Can we plan a Bring-a-Friend event for our group or congregation?
Can we advertise a spiritual retreat or classes that deal with preparing for the holidays or living simply (or some other topic of interest)?
Can we invite unchurched friends to a cookie exchange?
Can we provide support for new moms, single moms, or two-career moms through special programs of interest and nurture?
3. From your two lists, choose two or three events (more if you have the time and people power) that you would enjoy using as a means of local outreach. Ask for a few volunteers to plan publicity for these events. Plan ways to involve as many congregational people as possible in the inviting process. Remind them that studies show that at least 76 percent of persons who attend church events for the first time come by invitation of a family member or friend.
4. Before the event takes place, talk with group members about those things that help make unchurched people feel welcome—or unwelcome.
—Marilyn Miller, Director of Outreach Ministries, General Conference Mennonite Church Commission on Home Ministries