The East Salem Seventh-day Adventist Church has been thinking hard about how they can better connect with their surrounding community. As head elder, LuDell Parrett, told the story, “Our team of elders had a retreat together last fall, and we determined that we wanted to do more to reach out to our community. Where we’re situated, one of the largest demographics in our sphere of influence is divorced single parents with kids.”
The elders used this information to put together some ideas for what would start to build stronger relationships in their area. “One of the questions we asked ourselves was, ‘If our church closed down tomorrow, would anyone in the community care?” said LuDell. The East Salem Church has been involved in providing food every Sunday for their homeless neighbors and have been blessed to work with numerous members of the community through that ministry - but beyond those they’ve been working with, they wondered how many of their neighbors still didn’t know much at all about the East Salem church family. “We wanted to get to know people,” said LuDell, “So we planned this ‘End of Summer Bash.’ We wanted to socialize with people and just give to them. We didn’t want to do this and just say, ‘Ok, now sign up for Bible studies!’ We wanted to do it with no strings attached and just let people get to know us.”
The End of Summer Bash offered all kinds of activities, especially for families with kids. “We had a bouncy house, a 20ft. blow up water slide, football toss games and all kinds of things,” said LuDell. “The fire department came and did demonstrations, we had a barbecue with Big Franks and kosher beef hot dogs - and fed everyone lunch for free.”
LuDell says the church learned a lot about what her community responds to for events like this. “We did a social media ad for two miles around our church and mailed out flyers about it,” she said, “But we found that most people that came did so because they either lived right around the church or had personally been invited by someone. It seems as though it was us personally inviting the cashier at the supermarket or the teller at the bank or whoever we each interacted with that people really responded to best. People respond to relationships way more than advertisements. The reality is that we all have these spheres of influence, but a lot of times we’re hesitant to invite someone to church. But with something like this you can say, ‘Hey, we’re putting on this free lunch, bring your kids!”
LuDell shared that quite a few of the church’s neighbors who aren’t Adventist showed up, but that they hope to continue improving on their ideas. “I think in the future we’ll want to do more personal invitations. We want to do things like give free oil changes to single parents and have cooking classes for people that want to get healthy. We want to do things in our community that actually meet the needs that people have.”
As for the thinking behind East Salem’s approach to community relationships, LuDell said, “We want to touch people and give them the reality that people do care about them - even if we don’t know them yet, because God cares for all of us. That kind of approach touches people and they’re like, ‘Wow, you guys are really nice!’ We just want to show them that Jesus is there for everyone - they just don’t all know it yet.”
Click on any photo below to open a gallery of larger images...