Church Outreach: How To Uncover Viral Outreach Ideas For Churches

Table of Contents

What Is Church Outreach?

At its most basic level, church outreach is the act of going out into the community and sharing the love of Christ by serving people and building relationships.

If we want to build the kingdom, fulfill the great commissions, and grow our local church, understanding how to get the best church outreach ideas is critical for the future health of the church.

But if church outreach is such an important element of the Christian life and the life of the local church, why does it seem so difficult to put on outreach events that actually produce fruit in our communities and local ministries? 

If church outreach events are so important, it would seem we should have this down right? 

Before we get into the best article you will ever read on outreach ideas for churches, I first have to break some bad news to you. 

Ministry leaders generally approach church outreach in the most ineffective way. If you’re reading this post on outreach ideas, that means you (i’ll tell you how I know later on). 

But the good news is that by the end of this article you will know exactly how to put on effective church outreach programs with less work and more results. 

The Bad News: Why 99% Of Church Outreach Ideas Don’t Work

Okay, this is the part that’s going to sting a little but it comes from a place of love. I want to see your ministry make a difference in your community, and that means you need to hear this. Ministry leaders (myself included) are always trying to come up with good ideas. We have amazing, Biblical intentions behind those ideas to reach the world. 

But our outreach ideas stink. And we know they stink. If we had outreach ideas that had consistently worked there would be no reason to look up a blog on church outreach ideas. But that is not to the discredit of ministry leaders.

The reason I say that 99% of outreach ideas don’t work is because 99% of ALL IDEAS don’t work. What I mean by that is that nearly all ideas do not produce the results that we hope to see in our lives and ministries. 

Flourishing outreach programs seldom begin with “an idea”.

Trying to generate fruit of any kind by trying to find the right “idea” is a losing game. It’s like playing a game of darts in the dark. You will be lucky if you hit the dart board let alone the bull eye. And you will certainly never hit a bullseye twice in a row.  

Here are a few people that didn’t look for “ideas” to do great reach: Jesus, Paul, The Disciples, Rick Warren (Saddleback Church Founder), and serial entrepreneurs.

When you read the examples below, I think you will undergo a paradigm shift in how you begin thinking about new church outreach ideas, or church programs in general. 

Jesus Didn’t Look For Church Outreach Ideas 

 The most powerful influencer in all of recorded history never had to have a brainstorming session to come up with ideas that people in Israel might buy into. Jesus just met people’s needs. When Jesus saw Peter, James, and John without fish, he gave them fish. When Jesus came upon a blind man, he gave him sight. When he spoke to the paralyzed he said, “get up and walk”. He healed the leprosy of the 12 lepers. He cast the demons out of the possessed. 

All Jesus did to build a following of thousands of people to follow him was to meet their needs. Consider this passage to see it in action: 

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matthew 4:23-25

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Let me break that passage down just a little. 

  1. Jesus is going around teaching and healing people (meeting needs).
  2. People are so excited that they are healed, they walk across the Syrian desert to get their sick friends and bring them to Jesus to get their needs met too. 
  3. Jesus healed that wave of people, and they then went out to get even more people!
  4. Then large crowds followed Jesus. 

The even more amazing thing about this is that we know that Jesus wasn’t worried about building a following. Jesus just met their needs because he loved them. The increase in following was a side effect of meeting needs, not the main event. 

Side Note: Jesus also met needs because he knew that it made people more receptive to the gospel message. If you want to learn a crazy effective way to share the gospel, you will love this article titled: How To Share The Gospel: 4 Step Strategy That Works Every Time

The Disciples Didn’t Look For Church Outreach Ideas 

This section is short because the disciples and Paul did the same thing Jesus did. They went where God called them to go and they met the needs of the people in those places. 

The Acts Church Didn’t Look For Church Outreach Ideas 

The big church outreach idea that the Church of Acts implemented was again meeting needs. 

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”Acts 4:32-35

At first you might read this and think, that’s how the church today works right? Wrong. The church today takes the offerings of its members and tries to come up with great ideas that ultimately waste resources and leave more people in need than there were to begin. The Church of Acts just assessed the needs of the people in the church and distributed their resources according to the needs of their people. 

Of course, this doesn’t just have to be financial. We know they were helping to solve the relationship problems in the people of the early church and the honesty problems and the spiritual maturity problems as well. In every way, the Acts Church was focused on meeting needs.  

Saddleback Church Didn’t Look For Church Outreach Ideas 

Before Rick Warren started Saddleback Church he had one great idea. He decided to figure out why the people in the community didn’t go to church. So he set out on foot going door to door asking the community for the top reasons they didn’t go to church. 

When you know what people’s problems are, you then know their needs. Rick Warren simply tried to meet the needs of the community by eliminating the problems they perceived to be in the church, making it easier for them to meaningfully engage with his ministry. (Of course, we don’t alter the gospel or engage in bad theology to appease the masses.) 

As a result, Saddleback Church is now one of the largest churches in the world. 

Successful Entrepreneurs Don’t Look For Good Ideas

After attending ministry college and being a Youth Ministry Director for three years, God called me into a time of sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship. I felt I had amazing ideas that the world would love. Based on this method of thinking, I successfully failed 4 business startups that were based on these so-called “good ideas”. Not only this, but I also spent three years writing my first book that was based on a good idea. After years of effort, I’m pretty sure my own mother never read the thing. Why? Because 99% of “good ideas” don’t work. 

After minimal success with my youth ministry ideas, multiple business ideas, and a book idea, I was crushed. But only after I was open to what God wanted to show me did I hear a speaker say that the best way to create growth in any area is to meet the biggest need of the most people in that area.

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What I came to discover is that nearly all successful entrepreneurs ALREADY KNOW THIS! It is basically impossible to have even 2 “good ideas” that hit home with your audience. 

Successful entrepreneurs know how to assess the needs of their audience and meet them in the most impactful way. 

The rest of this article is going to discover INSANELY effective outreach ideas for church through the framework of identifying and meeting the needs of your audience. 

To begin, let’s look at Jesus’ 5-step process for influencing his audience. 

How Jesus Did Outreach

I’m going to summarize Jesus’ 5 step process for influencing his audience because I have written in-depth on this process in numerous other articles including our post titled, Church Marketing Online: The Biblical Way To Grow Your Church.

I also discuss this process in our 200+ page ebook titled, The Digital Ministry: Reaching The Ends Of The Earth Without Leaving Home

The five steps Jesus used to influence his audience were:

  1. Jesus knew his audience (and their needs)
  2. Jesus went to his audience
  3. Jesus met a non-spiritual need (healing an illness, food, water, education, purpose, etc)
  4. Jesus shifted from the non-spiritual need to the spiritual need (Jesus shifted from fish to “fishers of men”, from water to “living water”, from food to “I have food you know nothing about”, etc)
  5. Jesus called his audience to action. (Follow me, go and sin no more, sell all your possessions and then come follow me, etc)

Not only did Jesus live out this lifestyle of meeting needs in the day-to-day, but his earthly life itself was also a way to meet needs. Jesus knew we were unable to meet the requirements of the Law so he humbled himself in the form of man (He came to us). Then He died in our place to offer perfection to us, fulfilling the problem that we were unable to solve. 

Discovering The Best Church Outreach Ideas

So let’s look at our new thought process with which to begin looking at new church outreach ideas. 

  1. People go where there needs are met
  2. People stay where their needs are met consistently

Start by clearly identifying who your audience is. Learn who they are and what the biggest needs and problems are in their life. 

If you want a much more detailed guide on how to clearly identify your audience, check out this article titled: Digital Marketing For Churches: The World’s #1 Church Marketing Guide. If you believe your audience is “everyone” or “the whole world” then you definitely need to clarify your audience.

Once you know who your specific audience is, don’t guess what their needs are, ask them what their needs are. 

For the first time, I recommend asking your audience 3 questions in person with a pen and paper in hand. And you should do this with as many people as you can possibly speak to. I would make it your goal to speak with NO LESS than 100 people who are members of your target audience. 

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  1. What is the biggest problem you are facing in your life right now (in any area)?
  2. What is the biggest unmet need that you have in your life right now?
  3. What is the most positively impactful experience you have ever had with a church?

When you begin asking those three questions to a large enough group of people, you will find that the same answer keeps coming up over and over again. 

The answers to these question are now your your list of outreach ideas

The beautiful thing about this is that there is no guessing if any of them will be successful because your audience just told you they wanted it. 

So now you will have between 5 and 10 amazing church outreach ideas that have real POTENTIAL to reach your community. But the question now is which one do we select to move forward? 

Choosing Your #1 Church Outreach Idea

Now that we have a short list of ideas that your specific audience cares about, we need to filter these ideas through a few decision making models before you choose the right idea to test. 

Even now that we have narrowed down your possible church outreach ideas to 5 or 10, DON’T GUESS WHICH IDEA YOU THINK IS BEST! 

The decision making process below will help you to identify which ideas have the highest potential for success. Once you have rank ordered them, then you can begin trying them one at a time. 

So here are the qualities of what a successful church outreach idea will look like with your church.

Requirement #1: A Vision Centric Church Outreach Idea

The first and most important factor to consider when identifying a successful church outreach idea, is to know if it aligns with your church vision statement. 

When you are unclear on what the SPECIFIC vision of your church is, there is no way to decide if the outreach idea you are considering is in line with the overall direction God has called your ministry too. 

When churches have unclear visions like, “reach the lost”, or “reach, teach, send”, they often begin trying too many kinds of outreach ideas and overextend themselves into too many kinds of ministries. This this comes back to bite churches down the road. 

An unclear vision leads to overextending in to many directions, but people also DISENGAGE or Never ENGAGE from ministries with unclear visions. 

For Example: Here I will write down some needs that I personally have and the first organization that comes to mind. 

  • Cool tech gadgets that I want but definitely don’t need: Amazon
  • Phone service: Verizon
  • Food: Walmart/Sam’s Club
  • Trendy stuff that my wife would love: Target
  • A church that is completely committed to homelessness, poverty, and addiction: The Salvation Army (I would go here but my calling is to missions – digital and physical)
  • A church that is completely committed to international missions in my area: No Idea but I would go there if I knew of it. 

Personal Experience: I spent years at a multi-site ministry that has a vision claiming it is completely dedicated to missions. After three and a half years of not getting any information about missions (and getting loads of information about ministries completely unrelated to missions), we decided to just go to church with our extended family. We would go to another missions oriented church, but we can’t find one. We bought in on the church’s vision, but the church hasn’t bought in on its own vision and instead was trying to do everything else.

Nobody has ever or will ever think to themselves “I want to go to the church who does everything”. It’s like saying “I want to buy my wife a gift that everyone would like.” This would never work because my audience (my wife) isn’t everyone. If your church is supposedly “reaching everyone”, there are swaths of people who won’t even consider your ministry because you don’t even exist in their decision making process. 

When all of your ministries and programs are aligned with your church vision, you will be adding to the clarity and commitment of those around your ministry because they KNOW what you actually do, and they want to do that specific thing too. 

Action Step: Put your new church outreach ideas in order of which strategically align with your church vision.

If you want to read more about setting a church vision that gets your audience passionate and committed, check out this article – Church Vision Statement: How To Discover & Write A Powerful Church Vision 

Requirement #2: An Idea The Meets The Most DEEPLY Felt Need

At this point, you should have rank ordered which church outreach ideas are most aligned with your ministry vision. 

Next, I want you to consider what the MOST DEEPLY FELT NEED of your audience is. 

The most deeply felt need of the blind man in the New Testament was blindness. When Jesus asked what the man wanted, the blind man said sight. 

I think we take for granted the fact that Jesus met the blind man’s DEEPEST need – the blindness. Jesus could have met any need. He could have healed the guy’s hangnail, or his lower back pain from how he slept wrong. 

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Can you imagine how disappointed the blind man would have felt if he RECEIVED A MIRACLE that healed anything other than the blindness? That would almost be worse than getting no miracle at all – because if you saw that miraculous healing was possible, and the wrong thing was healed – you got hope and your hope was crushed all at the same time.

In ministry, we are often doing our best to help the people in and around our church. We have the greatest inventions too. But we accidentally miss the most deeply felt needs of our audience in favor of less important needs. 

Action Step: Rank order your church outreach ideas in order of which meet the most deeply felt need of your audience best. 

Requirement #3: The Church Outreach Is Sustainable

I have spoken with so many ministry leaders who are passionate about specific programs or ministries their church is engaged in but fail to realize that the entire system is completely unsustainable. 

Unsustainable ministries lead to pastor burnout, volunteer burnout, and toxic ministry cycles that will destroy your ministry from the inside out. 

If this sounds like your ministry then you are going to love our post titled, Pastor Burnout: The Ultimate Guide To Identify & End Pasor Burnout. This post goes in depth when discussing resource management. 

Sustainability is measured by having a clear understanding of the resources that go into making a church outreach possible. 

You will want to know how much time, energy, attention, financial resources, each church outreach idea will cost your ministry. This might look like this.

Sustainability Example 1: 

Time: Planning and execution – 100 total man hours

Energy: Requires all my energy till its done (removing my effort and energy from sustaining other areas of the ministry)

Attention: Requires all my attention until it’s done (removing my mind from all other areas of the ministry)

Cost: It will cost $1,000 for the event

Sustainability Example 2: 

Time: Planning an execution will take 20 hours

Energy: Requires minimal energy – can be almost entirely done by volunteers

Attention: Requires moderate attention – I make the plans and then touch base with the volunteer team leader

Cost: $3,000 (costs more than other outreach ideas – but saves you time and energy to use elsewhere)

Your ministry leaders will need to look over how each church outreach will affect your ministry in terms of sustainability. 

Action Step: Rank order all your outreach ideas in order of which are most sustainable over the long run. 

Requirement #4: Church Outreaches That You Can Back Up

So you implement a church outreach idea to the homeless community and it really makes an impact. The homeless are coming to Jesus in droves and they are lining up to come to your church! Woohoo! This is a success right? Wrong. 

When you successfully meet the most deeply felt needs of your audience, they will start lining up to come to your church. That’s true. What’s also true, is that when they step inside your church and realize you don’t actually continue to meet that need consistently – they are going to turn around and walk right back out the door they just came in (it will take them a few weeks or months to figure it out, but they will). 

In this scenario, your ministries “sticking power” is low because you can’t consistently meet the needs you promised to meet at the outreach event. This is also why all of your outreach ideas, and all of your internal ministry programs align with your church vision. 

If your internal resources are spent on international missions but your outreach budget is spent on homeless outreach – how is your ministry supposed to cope when 50 homeless people show up on Sunday and bring all of their needs with them. 

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In this scenario, you can do one of two things: 

Choice 1: Reallocate resources God intended to be used for international missions to the needs of the homeless who are now in your church. Unfortunately, ministries move slowly and by the time you get those homeless support programs set up, it’s probably too late anyway because most of them would have left because they saw you weren’t actually ready. Also, if you split your resources between international missions and your surprise homeless ministry, there is a better than average chance you won’t be able to do either of them well – and both ministries fail.

Choice 2: You keep your resources focused on the vision of international missions and don’t have any follow up resources or programs to meet the needs of the new homeless community in your church. That’s a pretty tough option as well. 

Take some time and ask yourself who the other pre-existing programs in your church will support if there were an influx of new people at your church. 

If you have lots of programs to empower single moms or children from broken families, then you should probably be doing outreach to those communities so your church outreach idea isn’t just a flash in the pan followed by broken dreams. 

Action Step: Rank order your outreach ideas in order of which ones you already have the ability to back up when those specific people show up at your church.  

So with that decision making process in place, let’s look at a list of outreach ideas for you to start thinking through. 

35 Church Outreach Ideas

The church outreach ideas I have listed below may or may not work for your ministry. This is simply a list of the most common church outreach events you will find in most ministries. 

Use the decision making process we went over in this article so see if any of these ideas are a good fit for your church. 

With that said, I would still come up with your own unique ideas based on what your audience tells you is their biggest need. There is a good chance that what will best meet their needs is not on this list. 

(One pastor we worked with discovered the biggest need of the people in a highrise directly behind his church was for the chickens in the city park to be removed. He then discovered that an impoverished community also wanted to catch those very same chickens (for dinner) and felt they didn’t have permission to do so. He also discovered that the Parks & Rec department at the state had been trying to find someone to catch the chickens for years and even had a $50,000. After the chickens were gone, good things ensued. It’s safe to say that catching chickens isn’t on the list and yours may not be either.). 

  1. Tutoring
  2. Baby Supplies
  3. Resume Writing
  4. Job Skills Development
  5. Family Friendly Events
  6. Parent’s Night Out
  7. Single Mom’s Support
  8. Coffee Shop
  9. Community Counseling
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous Group
  11. Food Pantry
  12. English As A Second Language
  13. Prayer Groups
  14. Life Skills Training
  15. Entrepreneurship Classes
  16. Apologetics Classes
  17. School Supplies Drive
  18. Clothing Assistance/ Thrift Store
  19. Parenting Classes
  20. Self-Defense Classes
  21. Finance Courses
  22. Fitness Classes/ Workouts
  23. Mentorships For Struggling Youth
  24. Mentorships For Struggling Marriages
  25. Communication Classes
  26. Marriage Classes
  27. Vacation Bible school
  28. Community Yard Sale
  29. Start a Preschool
  30. Nursing Home Visitations
  31. Book Club

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One Time Events: 

  1. Trunk Or Treat
  2. Holiday Meal Delivery
  3. Family Fun Fall Festival
  4. New Years Fireworks Show Or Countdown

In summary, the best church outreach ideas will successfully do these 4 things:

  1. Align with your vision
  2. Meet the most deeply felt need of your target audience
  3. Is realistically sustainable for your ministry
  4. You already have programs in place to back up your outreach efforts

That wraps it up for this post on church outreach ideas. 

What else would you like to read about in the future? Let us know in the comments!

2 responses to “Church Outreach: How To Uncover Viral Outreach Ideas For Churches”

  1. Hillary Avatar
    Hillary

    I really appreciated the info in this article – made me think!

    1. Brett Henderson Avatar

      Hillary, Thanks for your comment! Please let us know what other topics you would like to see us cover in the future!

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