Planning an Outreach Event? Start Here

If your church wants to connect with its surrounding community, an outreach event will likely be part of that connection strategy. Neighborhood-oriented events (or town or region, depending on your context) can be a great way to create positive momentum when they’re part of a multifaceted strategy to connect with the surrounding area. Outreach programs or events can help your church connect with the right people and start building relationships that lead to further connection with the life of your church.

Defining outreach

In my opinion, an outreach event is different from serving your community. Service is a response to God’s transforming gospel in our lives. Serving the community is a great way to show Christian love and charity. Community service is something we do with no expectations but to serve.

An outreach event, then, is something different. An outreach event is part of your church’s marketing strategy. You may not like to hear (well, read) this, and maybe the term "marketing strategy" feels a bit corporate, but remember—marketing is all about connection. So, while the event or program itself may provide an immediate benefit to your community, you—the organizer—hope for and expect something in return.

Your special event is a ministry to help you connect with the audience better. In exchange, and to help you connect further with your guests, you hope to receive their contact information to contact them in the future; you want the person to attend another event or participate in a program; or maybe you hope the guest will eventually attend a church service.

If your church is FOR your community, both service and outreach are meaningful and provide unique opportunities to care for your neighborhood or city.

Just about every church plans some type of outreach event throughout the year. So, as you plan your church’s next event, here’s where to start.

Start here

Start with the end in mind. Ask questions about the event’s end-game, like:

  • What do we (reasonably) expect to happen because of this outreach event?

  • What do we want people to do after the event? What’s their next step?

  • What defines success?

Your team should have a clear idea of what happens next. It would help if you understood what makes the event a success and what would determine it to be unsuccessful—this will help you all to evaluate the outreach event afterward, too.

Before you even start thinking about the details of an event, determine the outcomes. Once you have those goals in place, you can choose how best to accomplish those stated goals.

Now that you have a clear idea of the event’s end-game, it’s time to focus on another critical detail: the audience.

The audience

To make your outreach event as successful as possible, who will attend? Who’s most likely to participate in the event and then take that next step? Does this align with your church audience—or is it entirely different? How will it impact your success?

Marketing, or communication, is all about connecting with people. If you eventually want someone to do something (like taking the next step from your outreach event), you must cultivate an authentic relationship.

To connect well, you need to know your audience. So, who should attend this event? Be as detailed as possible. If the goal is to connect people to your church, you may also want to start with understanding your church audience. Look at your data, consider your existing relationships, and note commonalities. Consider gathering information from sources like:

  • Membership database information

  • Facebook Insights

  • Email marketing platform (i.e., Mailchimp) audience

  • Website analytics

To better understand your community and how your church and community intersect, consider exploring your area’s census data, local Facebook group conversations, recent news coverage, and more.

The more detailed you can be with your target audience, the more likely you will succeed at creating opportunities for genuine connection.

Live and learn

When I was in high school, I interned at my church. One of my favorite projects was planning a massive celebration for the church’s 50th anniversary. I had the privilege of helping execute the vision for the event. And we pulled out all the stops.

As a family-centric church, we wanted to mimic that personality with a family-friendly environment—essentially, a one-day fair atmosphere. But, because our church building was landlocked in a neighborhood of a busy town, we rented out the fairgrounds a ways out of town.

We planned everything imaginable for this celebration. There were classis carnival games, dozens of inflatables and activities, and even a concert festival—with popular Christian bands at the time, like Point of Grace and FFH.

As a high schooler getting to plan all the details, I was stoked. All our promotional materials looked incredible; we planned and executed every element flawlessly as possible, and I was excited for the event.

The celebration day came, and it was a disaster.

All of our energy and resources went into planning this incredible celebration. And hardly anyone came.

Why? We didn’t start at the end. We didn’t fully define success. We didn’t identify our audience or how to connect with them. We didn’t think through the essentials first.

In our minds, this celebration was honoring the church’s existence in and for the community, and the 50th anniversary provided an opportunity to show the area that we were a family-friendly church that was here to serve them.

But nobody cared.

Nobody in our town wanted to drive 25 minutes so their kids could jump on a bounce house. No one wanted to sit through the concert of a Christian artist and listen to music they’d never heard before. Nobody in the town cared that the church had existed in the community for 50 years.

A few years later, we tried a different approach—no more big events with shiny ad campaigns.

Instead, the church looked at the surrounding community and its needs. Many families in the town were single-family homes or households with two parents who worked outside the home. Summertime could be rough on middle-class working families when kids were out of school, but parents still needed to work.

So, the church looked at the surrounding community’s realities and needs and how we could best fill the gap. And we decided to take the traditional approach to Vacation Bible School and flip it on its head. We changed the model to provide a day camp for kids. Each day of the week had a different theme or activity that lasted the whole workday.

This outreach ministry provided answers to a real need in the community. But it started by asking the questions I posed earlier in this article. It began by creating a shared understanding of success, learning the audience’s needs, and finding the best way to connect with the right people.

Before you start working on the details of your event, stop where you’re at and start with the end in mind.

Additional resources

As you get started planning your next outreach event, here are some free downloadable resources to give you a jump start:

Outreach Idea Book

Identify Your Target Audience Workbook

Finding Your FOR

Be part of the church marketing community.

Sign up now to get the latest updates from Church Juice delivered to your inbox.