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Tap emotions to keep eyes open to big issues

SUMMARY: It can be challenging to find new ways to promote ministries that address ongoing and seemingly intractable community problems such as homelessness, hunger, violence, etc. One place to create new ways to raise awareness is within existing church activities.

You want to increase awareness about ongoing social issues among church and community members and subsequently boost involvement in your ministries addressing these big issues. Incorporating fresh ways to get the message across is vital to prevent your audience from tuning out. Consider these ideas for using existing church resources to keep the congregation’s and public’s attention.

Arouse emotion with works of art.
You could use this tactic for any number of topics when raising funds or calling for volunteers. Ask church members to create artistic expressions of their feelings about the issue. For example, use violence as the subject when raising money for a domestic violence shelter. Invite church members create art about what violence means to them: Have they been a victim? Have they felt helpless and overwhelmed? The resulting artwork will be powerful and attention grabbing. Encourage using photography, drawing, painting, and even poetry when you:

  • Ask Sunday school teachers to incorporate the assignment into their lessons.
  • Dedicate a room to use as a studio after Sunday services. Stock it with paper, pencils, markers, paints, etc.
  • Welcome contributions made at home.
  • Ask groups, such as quilting or sewing ministries, to create an item dedicated to the issue.

Once you have gathered the works, create a display in a church gallery or in a corner in a well-traveled part of the church.

Tell individual stories with video:
Go onsite to church-run soup kitchens, food pantries or other places where church volunteers are working. Interview them as they work using an inexpensive recording device such as a Flip camcorder. Ask questions that will elicit compelling responses, such as: What has been your most memorable moment as a volunteer here? Years from now, who will you remember helping? How has volunteering here deepened your spirituality?

Interview those served with similar questions: How is your life different because of these volunteers? Do you think you will volunteer to help others someday? Do you feel differently about God because of this experience? (Be sure your interviewees are willing do not feel pressured to do so.)

The goal of the interviews and recording is not to show what is happening but how the lives of both volunteers and others are changed because of what is happening.

Post the videos on the church website, Facebook page or embedded in a newsletter. Play them in the sanctuary before or after church. Seeing how others are helping can motivate more members to volunteer.

Create a poignant public display.
If your church program is in need of donations from the public, create a simple but striking display to grab attention. Place the exhibit on church property if your church is on a busy street; otherwise, seek permission or a permit to put the display in a public area. Make video recording of the display and post it on YouTube.

For example, if a group of volunteers is seeking donations for a mission trip, put super-enlarged photographs of the location and its residents on stands with written explanations of what is needed posted alongside: This mountainside is littered with the remains of about 100 homes that were destroyed by mud slides and need to be rebuilt. This farmer needs help rebuilding his silo to store grain he will later sell to feed his family.

Also, post a brief statement about why you need donations. For example: Wayside UMC volunteers will travel to Haiti in June to assist hurricane victims. We need donations to pay for the travel.

Use props.
If collecting items for the church food pantry, borrow a grocery cart from a local supermarket to roll down the aisle during a service at which you are collecting the goods. If the cart isn’t as full as it should be, it will be a stark visual reminder to bring a donation for the next collection. If one of your outreach efforts is to collect school supplies for children who cannot afford them, place a few school desks in a church lobby for people to “fill up” with supplies.

Host guest bloggers on the church website.
Ask a church volunteer and/or someone who is benefiting from an outreach ministry to be a guest blogger. Perhaps your church helps a local shelter for women and children who have been victims of violence. Ask one of the residents to blog anonymously about how she is rebuilding her life with the shelter’s help. Her words can add a timely and persuasive element to a fund-raising or volunteer campaign.

Similarly, a church volunteer can blog about his or her experiences helping this family by referring to specific accomplishments, such as: Today we moved “Laura” and her three children into a new apartment close to a new school in a new community.