Reaching out to families in your community is central to building a healthy church. Some congregations have discovered the success of a "Parent's Night Out," where they offer free or inexpensive babysitting. Some also have made great strides in bringing back family worship. Though those types of programs are an incredible help to families, the church has an opportunity to take it one step further.
With a little extra planning, your church can help families grow closer to each other and form priceless memories that will last long after a free night of babysitting would end. The following event ideas are a great place to start and can be done at a community center or park. Remember, not every program has to be within the four walls of a church building. Break out!
1. Movie Night
Over the past several years, many churches have installed large projector screens on their campus. Those screens are almost always paired with a sound system. If you haven't already thought of sneaking in one night and watching your favorite movie on the big screen, many in your church have!
For their regular movie nights, the people of First United Methodist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri, choose the sanctuary for more than its big screen. Many times, churches and worship space can be very intimidating for a first-time guest," said Sheri Baltzer, family ministries director. By using the space for a fun event first, we are hoping that it will be easier to enter for worship." When the night is over, they simply let the people know they can come back to the same place Saturday or Sunday for worship.
2. Paint Party
What is one thing that kids love to do and parents put off because of the mess it creates? You guessed it, painting! Paint-party businesses have sprung up in cities and towns. You don't have to rent a paint-party place. Do it yourself! Gather the paints you may already have around your church and buy some paint-quality paper. Make a great evening for your community.
If you want to take this to the next level, find someone (maybe a church member) who gives painting lessons and ask him or her to come for the event and give a short lesson before they walk around and give people tips while they paint. Some painting teachers would jump at the chance to connect with this many potential clients and may do it for free! If people love this idea and want to get more involved in recurring art events, then consider creating an artisan community in your church.
3. Master Chef
Another in the category of messy things parents put off doing with kids at home is cooking. Though kids often ask to help during the week or wake up Saturday morning itching to bake cookies, the mess of little hands in all the ingredients (and the cleanup required afterward) can be too much to handle.
Whether you choose to let everyone bake a personal pizza or just make and decorate a batch of cookies, this is a ton of fun for everyone involved! To make it especially engaging for families, go the extra mile. Pre-measure ingredients and place them in containers for each family.
4. Serving Saturday
Nothing bonds people together with God's mission like serving in the community. However, many of these opportunities do not allow children to be present or to participate.
Begin with an all-ages target in mind. You might find a community garden that needs weeding or a salvage store that could use help sorting donations and straightening. Or, you might contact your conference's volunteers-in-mission coordinator. You may even choose to serve a meal for military families. Whatever the case, make sure you have people with children visit the site with you to make sure all ages will find meaningful work!
5. Box Build
Most people have watched a child open a toy, discard the toy and play with the box in which it came. Something about the limitless possibility of a cardboard box releases the imagination of children and children at heart. However, not everyone has endless room in their home to keep or even build a refrigerator-box rocket ship.
Help families in your community engage their creativity by opening your church's gym or field to a box build. All you will need to do is collect boxes and duct tape. Many furniture and appliance stores have a constant supply of giant cardboard boxes that they recycle in equally giant bins behind their store. A phone call a couple weeks in advance will give you all you need. Since they already have the bins, you have a disposal location!
"We can't afford another program!"
We get it. It's OK. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so when considering new programs you should always ask the right questions before investing.
Consider pruning programs before you add more. Besides, there may be a better way to approach community building. Think about matching community skills with community needs. That way people rely less on church programs. Instead, people become the church and rely on each other. Ministry Matters has a powerfully moving story about the death and resurrection of an urban church that did just this. We have repurposed this story in a tips-type format called Questioning charity: Redefining the role of the church.
Whatever methods you choose, the goal is the same: to help your community grow closer to their families and form priceless memories at your church. Do that and you will see the kingdom results.
When Jeremy and his wife are not playing with their four children, he oversees youth and college ministries and leads the evening worship service at Christ UMC in Mobile, Al. Jeremy is an author of several books and resources that you can find at JeremyWords.com or follow him on Twitter!