Arkansas Church Uses Out-of-the-Box Outreach to Connect with Students

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Loving and Serving, Southeast

By Julie Campbell

Thinking of out-of-the-box ways to share the love of God is one of the biggest challenges for any church. But Oaklawn Church of God in Hot Springs, Arkansas, recently rose to the challenge with a unique outreach event. In October, the church hosted a tailgating party at a local high school’s homecoming football game.

“My wife Cheryl and I share pastoral duties,” said Pastor Bill DeYoung. “We try to do an annual fall community event, and she had the inspiration of ‘tailgating’ as our fall event.”

With the school’s permission on the Friday of homecoming, the church set up grills, tables, and trucks at the edge of its property, which is right across from the high school. About ten to fifteen members of the church family helped with the event.

“Once we had the school’s blessing, we promoted the event using our large digital sign that is facing the school, as well as word of mouth with students and parents who park in our parking lot—many park in our parking lot to avoid the traffic of the school,” explained Pastor Bill. “Our property sits between the school’s largest parking lot and the football stadium, so there was quite a bit of foot traffic.”

Although the church is mostly retirement age and doesn’t have any youth enrolled in either the junior high or high school, the congregation has wholeheartedly supported all of the outreach opportunities.

“Every Monday several from our church hand out water and snacks to kids as they pass our church leaving school,” said Pastor Bill. “It’s been a great way to build good will, but it hasn’t allowed us to really get to know the students.”

Though the goal of the event was to meet the students, Pastor Bill said meeting parents and faculty was a bonus.

“We fed over 100 kids during the event, and we had time to sit and get to know them so I say it was a great success,” explained Pastor Bill. “But probably more important was that it helped our congregation exercise that muscle of ‘loving our neighbor.’ It helped us be braver and bolder about sharing our faith. I hope it becomes an annual event.”

The DeYoungs are confident that God has placed their congregation across from the school for a reason.

“The school enrollment is wonderfully diverse. We believe part of our mission is to engage and support the school and its students/faculty in whatever ways we can, while also dreaming of someday having a congregation as diverse as our community. That starts with relationships.”

Julie Campbell is an editor at Warner Press and a freelance journalist. A former city girl from Chicago, she enjoys country life with her husband Russ on a five-acre apple orchard in Madison County, Indiana. She is a blessed mom of three wonderful young adult children and one very spoiled red Doberman.

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