By Emily Drayne
Growing up in a small town, it was easy to look beyond the borders of my community and dream of big cities and far-off places. I never considered my town to be a mission field. Missionaries who came to talk and put up displays at our church were always from a foreign country; I never thought of reaching out to people of my hometown to talk about Christ. But, in reality, there are many outreach opportunities specifically beneficial for rural churches. Here are some ideas for how rural churches can engage in outreach.
Look Around You
The first thing to do when starting a new outreach program is to look around. What can your church do in your own town and community that isn’t being done? It isn’t necessary to start big. Sometimes it takes a while for a program and ideas to develop, and then new aspects can be incorporated after the program is in motion. Kids’ programs are among the easiest to start. Think of the people you’re serving. Is your community established? Is it a lower-income area? What can be done for the kids in your town?
Providing school supplies to children has become popular the last few years. My home church, Hazelwood Christian Church near Clayton, Indiana, is among the churches that do this well. The area is diverse with many families who are struggling to make ends meet. The church acted on this need. They threw a “Back to School Bash” for the kids in the community. The event provided not just school supplies like pencils, notepads, and backpacks, but also services that families may not be able to afford. Hair stylists gave free haircuts to children and nail stylists provided manicures to girls. There were even free pony rides and a meal!
This type of event shows your community you care about them even if they don’t attend your church. It also helps involve local businesses, which can donate goods and money or serve as a collection point for donated items.
Think About Partnership
Consider partnering with other churches in your area, especially if you have similar goals or activities. Why not work together to make the events bigger and better? Are churches of other nationalities meeting near you? If so, you can probably find some ways your church families could support each other.
Among churches I’ve attended, I’ve seen partnerships form to send kids to camp, sponsor dinners, host VBS, share a cultural experience, and combine youth groups for a special activity (like bowling or a go-kart night). There are opportunities for adults and children. Many people within a church have similar passions. I know of one church that ministers to the homeless; volunteers come twice a week to put together meals that teams distribute later that week. It’s a massive effort to give away food each week. In the winter, they hand out coats and blankets. And while they’re meeting physical needs, they’re also showing the light of Christ.
Find Ways to Go Global
Don’t forget to think globally. What missionaries are you supporting? Try to bring some international flare to your church family. A mission trip to a foreign country is a fantastic way for your church to see how people live outside of your town. Consider adopting an unreached people group and commit to praying for that country, town, village, and people. Maybe someday you can visit the people for whom you’ve been praying. God is doing amazing things all over the world. Don’t miss out on seeing it!
Never Stop Dreaming
No matter the size of your church or town, the possibilities are endless with the Lord’s help. Pray about where God may be leading your church, and be specific about opportunities that interest you, be they near or far away. And be bold with your outreach goals.
Whenever I wanted to make a new goal or change something in my life, my dad always told me to pray about a plan, create the plan, and carry out the plan. That is true with missions, as well. Set priorities for your church, create a plan, and then carry it out. God will see you through if you plan according to his will.
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.