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4 great Advent outreach ideas

By Jeremy Steele

Most people want to make the Christmas season about more than decorating, shopping and parties. Many want to reach beyond their families, friends and themselves to share God's love. Gathered from throughout the church, these ideas can help your congregation and individual members reach out to the community in new ways this Advent.

Scavenger hunt ministry

Most youth scavenger hunts focus on collecting clues or pictures and using a lot of gas while having a great time with friends. The youth at First United Methodist Church in Port Saint Joe, Florida, transformed this good time into an opportunity for outreach. They made it a "Random Acts of Kindness" game. Youth meet at the church and are divided into teams (cars) and receive instructions for eight to 10 activities to complete. The acts of kindness range from taping quarters to machines at a coin-operated laundry to helping someone carry groceries to their car to picking up trash at the local park. The teens run all over town serving in small ways.

Pitching a tent for worship

Almost every church offers a Christmas Eve service. The reality is many people cannot attend because of work schedules. Others are hesitant to walk into the church down the street but still feel called to celebrate the birth of God's son—in church. In Longview, Texas,  the people at Grace Crossroads United Methodist Church take a page from the Old Testament and pitch a tent for worship on the Sunday before Christmas. They set up a tent in the parking lot of the local high school, plug in microphones and worship without pews. The Rev. John Whitehurst says 25 percent of people who show up each year are not a part of the congregation!

If tents aren't feasible, you might consider using the gymnasium at your high school or the meeting room in a local business. You know best how to take your service into the community.

Christmas Eve goodies for people who must work

The people at Trinity United Methodist Church in Waverly, Iowa, decided Christmas Eve would be more than a time to have a special Communion service. They knew many in their community were working on a night many reserve for worship and gathering with loved ones.  Early on Christmas Eve day, the Rev. Deborah Wise gathers with youth and college students to make and bag Christmas treats (usually chocolate-covered pretzels). After Christmas Eve worship, families attending take the goodies and hit the streets. They stop at hospitals, fire stations, gas stations—anywhere they know people may be working—and share the  expressions of God's love with everyone they meet as they travel home.

Advent is enough

In the small town of Salem, Arkansas, Viola United Methodist Church is the only mainline church and the only that follows the liturgical calendar. During Advent, they add extra community-building opportunities before and after worship. Rather than playing down their traditions, they celebrate them and focus their advertising on the unique voice they offer in their community. The Rev. Cherie Baker says many people in their community who have come from more traditional church backgrounds attend the services simply to connect with  long-standing expressions of faith. Follow the lectionary, she advises. Meditate on peace, joy and love, and maybe even have a 12th Night celebration. Celebrate your traditions, and you will find people who love them as much as you do!

Try these ideas—or come up with others of your own—to reach into your community and embody the very thing we celebrate: God's love coming in human form as Jesus Christ is born!

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