Create a Path Not a Program: Why Faith-Based Outreach is Shifting


“In recent years, a strategic shift has begun to take place from the programs and events of traditional outreach to more organic forms of cultural engagement,” says Rob Toal of Christianity Today.

Faith-based organizations are seeking modern outreach strategies that answer the question, “How can our organization be a blessing to the community?”

Why is Faith-Based Outreach Shifting?

man outreachThe simple answer is that traditional outreach methods may not align with modern needs.  Communities find themselves struggling with some very complicated problems, from poverty rates to the crisis of addiction.

At the same time, churches, temples and other faith-based organizations may be recognizing that in order to grow themselves, they need to not only meet people outside of their networks, but also provide interesting reasons to join. Younger people, the Millennial generation, are especially looking for meaningful opportunities that are integrated with their lives, and purpose is the key to engaging them.

“In an effort to attract families and the uninvolved, many outreach organizations are relying on cultural programming, rather than religious ones, and are moving Judaism out of the synagogue and into more secular spaces,” writes Michael Elkin in the Jewish Exponent.

It may be more important than ever to create a sustainable path of outreach, not just a new outreach program.

Program Versus Path

Many faith-based organizations may start recognizing the need to create paths, both for their congregants and for the communities they serve.

A program may offer an immediate solution to a problem, such as where to get a meal or how to provide service hours. A path provides an ongoing relationship and the support that helps someone take a journey of growth. For example, getting to a place where one can feed oneself (and maybe others) or discovering one’s unique service gift and fulfilling an ongoing community need. It is the old adage of giving a person a fish versus teaching a person how to fish.

While programs tend to stand alone and have end dates, paths are constantly moving and crossing over each other, creating a great sense of community.

An Example from The Chapel at Lake Zurich

woman outreachAs the Domestic Outreach Leader for The Chapel at Lake Zurich, Denise Rasbid felt a calling to combine the church’s mobile pantry with an Operation Warm coat program. This was the beginning of a path for both members of the church and people that they served. Through their work with Operation Warm, The Chapel was able to provide brand new coats to local children in need. This helped to create an easier path for children to attend school and play outside during cold winter months, thus giving them more opportunities to enhance their education and health.  It also provided a path for families who came for the new coats for their children but left with information and access to additional programs.

The project also helped to garner local media attention, assisting in their ability to attract new visitors and members. One reporter “was truly inspired and touched by what she observed by the time she left,” she says. “Definitely, it also impacted people that didn’t know The Chapel Lake Zurich, and about the many ministries we provide.”

Interested in providing brand new coats for kids in your community? We would love for you to join us as an Operation Warm Community Partner!

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