True story here about a lost opportunity to share Jesus:
In our area, one church frequently does a compassionate outreach at a Laundromat in an area of town where many homeless people do their laundry.
My husband, who is a bi-vocational pastor and who does handyman work to support our ministry habits, was on a job recently with a homeless young man. When he overheard him talking about "some guy who paid for my laundry," my husband asked him who did that and what they talked about.
The young man responded, "He didn't say anything—he and his wife just sat in a corner for two hours. I would have talked to him if he wanted—he put in ten bucks for me."
How sad! To pay for washer and dryer use for people who sometimes must choose between clean clothes and a decent meal is a fantastic way to demonstrate caring in the name of Jesus—IF people know you are doing it in the name of Jesus. If not, you may be considered nice, but perhaps a bit strange.
How different it would be if the group brought along a big assortment of snacks, plus gospel tracts, Bibles, and business cards telling people who was doing this, why, and inviting people to find out more. My husband did a similar thing in the past, with the support communications AND the team he was with intentionally talked to the people they served.
Application for church communicators
When your church does things in the name of Jesus, whether it is a one-time service ministry or a big holiday outreach YOU MUST tell people who you are and why you are doing it. Those of us who are church communicators must often remind the people who focus on the ministry part of outreach to do this. For example, my husband is great at gathering a group of people to do the outreach—I make cupcakes and outreach ministry business cards for the team. We've worked together long enough now so that when a holiday or outreach event comes up, he asks for support materials—many of the things I modify for this site started as practical tools we've used.
No matter what you size of church or structure, you many need to educate the rest of the staff on the importance of supportive, clarifying, identifying communications.
At a minimum you can give them a business card that says something like:
Thank you for this opportunity to share with you the love of Jesus. We are from YOUR LOCAL CHURCH and are doing this to show you how much He cares for you. We have Bibles with us and more to help you learn about Him. Let's talk about it!
And then be sure you have people ready and willing to chat. Munchies are always really nice. Homemade cupcakes and cookies are great. In addition, the pre-wrapped snacks are nice to give out as additional goodies from you for them to take after they leave.
What else you include depends on your church. Don't lie and tell them they are welcome to attend if homeless people really aren't welcome at your church—be honest—at many churches a dirty, smelly person really would not be welcome. A shopping cart filled with all someone's earthly possessions might not look good in your church lobby. If they are welcome, let them know and be clear about when and where you meet. Offer transportation if you can. You might consider an outreach service near the Laundromat.
If you can't honestly welcome them—you might refer them to a homeless ministry that can help them. Or perhaps you have some events, a potluck once a month, a food pantry, a clothes closet, a counseling program that may be helpful.
How this applies to bigger events
Whether it is a compassionate outreach or a larger event at your church such as a Fall Festival, Halloween Outreach, Christmas Event for Children—whatever it is, you MUST clearly tie in what you do with your identity as followers of Jesus and let people know how they can find out more.
People are not mind-readers and just because a church puts on something, without clear communication people don't know why you do what you do and what else you do. You must work to create communications that tell them.
This holiday season I'll have lots of ideas on the website to help you create these communications, but the bottom line is—don't be a secret service Christian—communicate clearly so that people can come to know Jesus!
Here is a practical article that will help with Invitation Card creation: