As someone who has a heart for service, I make that a big part of my own family and my ministry at church. One of the most common outreach activities for children (especially young children) that I see in schools and churches is to collect something – money, clothes, toys, books, etc. This is a great way for children to think of others and to see their family in action. And, we need to make sure that this isn’t the only way we teach kids to help others.
Collections Can Be Overwhelming for Families
True Confession: When notes come home from either church or school about outreach collections, many of them end up in my trash. Collections which require purchasing items can burden families with too much associated cost; it can also be hard to actually include children in purchasing actions. (True Confession #2: When I buy items to donate, I often shop during the day when my kids are at school…which defeats the whole purpose!) When my family has success, it’s usually finding used items (shoes, clothes, gently used toys), because I can have my children help find what we have to pass on. In light of this reality, I’ve been thinking for years about how we can DO outreach with our children instead of just showing or being an example.
Below are some ideas for how to engage children in service as active, helping hands. For even more ideas, see the author’s full list here.
15 Outreach Ideas To Engage Children
1. Make Dog Treats – We invited a local animal shelter to come to our church. They brought several different types of animals, talked about how to care for them, why they came to the shelter, and how we could help. At the end of their presentation, we made doggy treats for them to take back and give to the dogs in the shelter. Alternatively, you could visit the shelter as a group to volunteer.
2. Make Cat or Dog Toys – On our local animal shelter webpage, it lists items that they need and ways you can help. Here’s one example of how to make homemade cat or dog toys.
Retirement Communities, Nursing Homes, & Shut Ins
3. Make Placemats or Centerpieces – Decorate and laminate placemats or create seasonal centerpieces to brighten the cafeteria or individual trays.
Note: I don’t recommend glitter for placemats (It doesn’t laminate well!) and if you are going to glue thicker items, use regular paper; the thicker the final product the less likely it will laminate well.
4. Make Birthday Bags – Put together birthday bags for church members or all residents. You might include: a birthday plate, birthday hat, party blower, birthday napkin, bead necklace, hand made card, and a candle. You can hand deliver them on a resident’s birthday, leave them in their mailbox, or send them at the beginning of the month.
5. Make or Decorate a Bird Feeder– If residents or shut ins have windows, create or decorate bird feeders. This bird feeder from Amazon is inexpensive and could be decorated with sharpies. A pinecone bird feeder would be inexpensive and easy one to make.
6. Advent Angels – Get a group together before Advent to make four gifts, one for each week of the season. Assign each household a shut in, someone who is sick, or someone who has just lost a loved one, etc. The household takes one gift (in secret) to their assigned person each week of Advent. The last week, they reveal themselves! More details here!
7. Make Pillows for Cancer Patients – For these small pillows, older children or adults could sew the outside and younger folks could fill them with stuffing. You might want to decorate cards and tie them to the pillows.
8. Snack Bags – Put together snack bags for families and friends waiting in the ICU unit during surgeries. Blankets could be included.
9. Appreciation Bags – These could be made for any community helpers (police, firemen, nurses, etc.). I asked some of my community helper friends what they would like, especially when they have to work a long shift. Here are some great ideas: mints/tic tacs, hand made cards with funny jokes about their profession, buttons of appreciation, health bars, a picture of the kids making the gift, Bible verses/bookmarks with verses about servanthood, chapstick, lotion (These can be decorated…we even made chapstick coozies once!), fruit, and water bottles (which can also be decorated).
10. Lunch for Habitat Volunteers – If there is a Habitat for Humanity group near you, you can help put together decorated lunch bags or snack bags for them – and maybe even deliver them to the site!
Homeless & Other Shelters
11. Socks of Love – Fill one sock up with toiletry items requested by the shelter, put the other sock inside, and deliver!
12. Make Fleece Blankets or Scarves – Here’s a no-sew fleece scarf idea and here are instructions for a knotted fleece blanket.
13. Creation Care – Help keep the outside of the church beautiful! Plant flowers or a garden, weed, rake, pick up trash, and remove sticks.
14. Leader Appreciation – Bless the leaders in your church by acknowledging them – secretary’s day, Pastor appreciation week, or creating cards/gifts for ministry leaders at Christmas or other holidays.
15. Support An Existing Ministry – Does your church have a quilters group? Participate in Operation Christmas? Deliver to Meals on Wheels? Have a spring cleaning day? Reach out to the ministry leaders and see what extra help might be appreciated.
Photos provided by author.
For even more ideas, see the author’s full list here.
Amazon affiliate links in this article benefit Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary.
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