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Ask Deborah: Ministry outside the Church
May 2, 2011

Deborah Patterson knows health ministry. As the executive director of Northwest Parish Nurse Ministries and author of Health Ministries: A Primer for Clergy and Congregations, she works daily with parish nurses, pastors, and health professionals. In this feature, she answers your most pressing or perplexing questions on health ministry. Are you hitting a roadblock with a program in your church? Are you wondering where to start with health ministry? Do you feel like you need a new idea on a specific topic? Ask Deborah!

QUESTION: What is the best way to approach and organize a ministry outside the church walls?

ANSWER: I would suggest that the best way to organize a ministry outside the church walls is to first find out what is needed. You can ask the people in the church what they think is needed, or you can ask the people you hope to reach. Best of all, you can ask them both.

You already know how to find the folks in the church, so ask them what they would like to see happen. Make up a brief survey to use online through a tool like Survey Monkey, or print out copies to use in church. People are more likely to answer if you give them a few minutes during the announcements or ask them to stay in the pew during the postlude to do this. You can also find a sample survey in Appendix B of The Essential Parish Nurse.

One good way to reach out into the community—although it is a lot of work, is to sponsor a health fair—and you can survey people who attend to find out what kind of programs they might like to see in the community.

Elizabeth Durban, who served as a parish nurse at St. Gabriel the Archangel church in St. Louis for a number of years, wrote about the health fair in the book mentioned above. She writes, “Health fairs are excellent projects to promote health awareness and they provide a wonderful opportunity for the parish nurse [and congregation] to reach out to the whole community.” (p. 103). I would really recommend her excellent chapter.

Beth has had fabulous success over the years with community health fairs because she started six to nine months out and had a theme, such as “Fall into Fitness.” Beth always included many people in the process, from public relations types to those who would be willing to solicit prizes and giveaways. They developed goals and objectives for the fair (e.g. Goal: Provide a variety of health screenings, educational materials, and referrals to community resources; Objective: have three components within each booth at the fair—education, experience, and excitement). The booths were divided into three categories: awareness, screenings, and demonstrations, and the floor plan carefully planned out. The committee spent a lot of effort in promoting the health fair, and often had draws such as free book bags, free haircuts, or displays from an emergency helicopter EMT team. Others who have planned carefully have had similar results.

What might come from your efforts? You might decide to fund a bus to drive folks to a free dental clinic. You might partner with a mental health provider to offer counseling on a sliding scale in your facilities. You might start an after school program to offer middle school kids (who are too old for many after school programs) the chance for physical activity and a supervised place to do their homework. There are churches that have done this, and more. You can, too!

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Deborah Patterson is here for you and your church. To send in a question to Deborah, send an email and write "Ask Deborah" in the subject line. Please include your first name and location.