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3 ideas for connecting with your community this summer

Connecting with your community can be as simple as distributing water at a local event. Image by herreid, iStockPhoto.com.
Connecting with your community can be as simple as distributing water at a local event. Image by herreid, iStockPhoto.com.

It is time to think seriously about summer! Now is a great time to do some out-of-the-box outreach. Here are three great ideas to inspire you to try something new to connect with your community.

“Before I Die…” Wall (Christ UMC, Kettering, Ohio)

“What do you want to do before you die?” The question is powerful and inspires reflection. It was even the subject of the popular movie “The Bucket List.” Kate Smith’s imagination was sparked when she heard about this idea during a seminary class. She started dreaming how she could use it to connect her church with her community.

The idea is simple: Construct a wall coated in chalkboard paint with the phrase “Before I die I would like to…” prominently painted in white. Attach buckets for chalk. Invite the community to share responses with one another.

Smith’s team of guerrilla artists dug holes, nailed framing, painted diaper-wipe boxes to hold chalk and built the wall for the community; but they didn’t stop there.

Several people started a blog to extend the wall’s reach. They shared stories of people who completed their goals because of writing them on the wall and logged entries before erasing them a couple times a week. They made sure to include hashtags on the wall for people to tag their photos when they posted them online.

The response was incredible. Hundreds of people shared their hopes and dreams; thousands accessed the blog. The church helped a community dream together. All it took was some wood, chalk, paint and space on the front lawn of the church.

Mega Kids Camp (Cornerstone UMC, Caledonia, Mich.)

Several years ago, the people at Cornerstone decided to do something different with vacation Bible school. Rather than buying expensive curriculum and teaching the Bible with felt boards, they decided to use art and sports.

Each child who comes chooses an art or sport such as soccer, photography, treasure hunting (that’s right — maps and shovels and the whole thing!) or dancing. Over the next four nights from 6-8:30 p.m., they experience the Bible and the body of Christ through that medium.

After opening worship and Bible story time, each child joins an art or sport group and plays, paints or digs. During the sports and art time, they stop a couple of times for discussion to re-engage with the story and have a snack.

Volunteer recruitment is different, too. BethAnn Fernandez says they recruit “coaches” to plan and lead the sports or art activities as well as small-group leaders for groups of 12 during discussion times.

The number of children attending has risen, and a group of adults who typically did not volunteer provides leadership. During camp, many of those adults discovered a passion for children’s ministry and are now among the weekly ministry volunteers.

Fernandez’ advice is to start small with three or four options and build from there, recruiting more volunteers along the way.

Celebrate Jesus! (First UMC, Stuart, Fla,)

With another burst of creativity, the people at First UMC in Stuart, Fla., decided to reach out though water bottles and hamburgers. During a week of activities to “Celebrate Jesus,” they went into the community each day bearing a different gift.

They delivered pizzas to parents picking up children at a preschool; they distributed water to people at the beach. They accompanied each gift with an invitation to a block party at the church. They also asked those receiving the gifts if they had any prayer concerns.

At the end of the week, the congregation opened the gates to the church grounds and an event to share Christ’s love and experience God’s prevenient grace. The event featured inflatables, live music from church musicians and, of course, free hamburgers. All over the grounds were signs offering another gift. Each said, “We’re praying for you.”

The people of Stuart First UMC discovered that reaching out did not require a hard sell. All it took was love and grace – and a little food.

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He is an author, blogger at jeremywords.com and a frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications.