One of our main goals at Cornerstone Baptist Church, and for me in particular is to reach the unsaved in our community of Craigieburn. Most of the time when people start thinking about becoming missional or starting an outreach ministry we focus on creating something large or spectacular which would draw all kinds of people to the Church.
While its always good to be organized or professional when serving the Lord, many of these massive projects don’t truly reach people. Not through a lack of energy or effort, but because we overlook an important part of effective outreaches.
Last weekend Cornerstone was able to run a booth at the local farmers market where we gave out free bottles of water, candy for the kids, and information about our services. The Lord blessed and we had lots of children along with their parents coming by all morning, with many of the kids continuing to come until we closed down the tent. But the free water and candy, or elaborate flyers didn’t bring them over, it was a game which involved throwing an Australian football through the hole in a wooden cut out. The cut out was painted like a football player whose arms formed a circle and kids of all ages come over to see how many times they could get it through.
That experience made me start thinking about why those young people kept coming back to our tent when there were dozens other activities nearby. Of course the fact that our games were free had something to do with it but I think our playing the game with them was what truly made a difference. I became the official ball retriever which meant any time it was thrown through the hole (or over the cut-out which happened quite often) it was my responsibility to bring it back. While playing the game with the kids who visited our tent I was able to get to know more about them and we were pretty good friends by the end of the day.
It wasn’t really the wooden game that dew the kids to us it was our interest in their lives and the attention we gave. All of us no matter how old desire to be accepted or loved but this is especially true for young people many of who sadly feel neglected or forgotten by their parents. So kicking a ball around with them or starting a conversation which may not seem like much to us for them is something they crave and will seek more of.
While we were putting up the tent Saturday morning we encouraged a few teens to try out our football game to ensure that it would stay up after being hit. As they played I saw out of the corner of my eye a little boy about five years old standing by the tent and watching the closely. After I asked if he wanted to play he excitedly started throwing the ball through and became our best friend for the rest of the day. Eugene’s (we later learned his name) parents were at a nearby tent selling popcorn so he spent most of the day with us bringing bags of popcorn, his scooter, toys, stuffed teddy bear, and balloon snake by for us to see. While friendship didn’t make that deep of an impact on the older kids they also kept coming back. Did they come to play the game? Probably, but the fourth or fifth time it was no longer about throwing a ball but spending time with us.
Outreach should be a focus for all Believers since we are called to share the Gospel and done in an organized way that brings Glory to God. But often its easy to become so focused on programs or systems that we forget what truly draws people is community and friendship. So as you put together those strategic plans for your outreach don’t overlook the importance of just being friendly.