When Joanna and I were getting started, we were really focused on singing in churches or at church events. I’m sure most artists who have had a churched upbringing, either consciously or sub-consciously, have made the mistake of equating ministry with church concerts or worship leadership. This is where we were. Our driving thought became, what churches can we get into and will these churches be able to help us pay the bills? Unfortunately this mindset perpetuates the cycle of singing primarily for the saints, so to speak. It’s like breathing in without ever breathing out. Of course if we were to stop breathing out we would die. Even in seemingly healthy churches there can be an attitude of gathering people to a place and not a focus on going out to seek the lost or to care for the marginalized in the area. I think most of us have been affected by this, we get good at doing church, but we lose sight of how we can impact the community we live in. I hope that this post will help you move outside of church walls and into some cool mission opportunities.
Scheduling missions and outreach events
Take some time to make a list of all the missions and outreach organizations where you live that reach out to those who are considered the least of these in your community. Find out who the ministry contacts are in mercy ministries, or places where people are in crisis, in your area and give them a call. If they aren’t used to musical groups calling and offering to play for the people they are serving, ask them some questions about how something like what you are proposing could be arranged, offer to send them an .mp3 of your music or a video of your band playing live (whatever you have that can give them an idea of your style and sound) and follow up by phone or email to see if you could set an event date. Setting a date may take some email correspondence over a few days if they agree to have you come.
Here is a list of organizations or venues to consider when thinking of outreach based events
Nursing homes, prison or juvenile detention center chapel devotions, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, rehab programs, programs that help underprivileged teens or children, women’s crisis shelters, hospitals, outreach programs run in local area churches, military chaplaincy programs, foster children programs, mental disability programs, emotional behavioral hospitals, adult daycare, etc. I’m sure there are many other opportunities, but hopefully this will be a help to get you moving in the right direction. We can also add in addition to these suggestions bars, pubs, and coffee houses depending on your comfort level with these types of venues. With each venue listed above it is important to consider the audiences you are singing to and pray for discernment in your strategies to connect with them.
One thing that keeps people from filling out their schedule with these types of events regularly is the fundraising aspect of mission events. When you play for a church an artist will typically receive a donation or love offering, an honorarium or an agreed upon fee, or a combination thereof. For people who are making a living or supporting their family from their music ministry financial contributions are necessary to sustain their ministry occupation. Financial needs naturally work against a person’s regular follow through or involvement with mission or outreach events-especially if a person’s income is low to begin with. It should be noted that many of the organizations listed above may have entertainment budgets and provide some compensation for your time, but most of the time this amount is relatively low.
Join a Non-profit Christian Arts Ministry
Since Joanna and I made the decision to have a ministry that had a large focus on outreach we chose to become part of a non-profit ministry and began to raise monthly partnerships for a portion of our income. These monies have freed us up to do more outreach events and also to have more time to create and produce our music. This is central to the idea of our interdependent ministry model. We have non-profit status through Artists in Christian Testimony Intl. an arts and missions sending organization designed to help and encourage artists impact the world by better communicating the Gospel message through their art. We have chosen the non-profit model because we wanted to raise ongoing tax-deductible financial partnerships among other reasons, but this can also be done in for-profit models through crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indigogo as well. The main difference is that crowdfunding gifts aren’t tax-deductible and are typically geared around projects and not ongoing financial partnership.
The only other option for funding to do ministry events is self-funding. I’ve met people who are great artists who have a husband or wife with a stellar income or maybe their own job that supports their outreach. There isn’t anything wrong with this, however, I’ve seen people delay ministry for years with the hope that one day they will be able to self-fund their ministry ideas. If this is you or even if you are able to self fund your ministry currently, I encourage you to consider enlisting the help of others. If your following God’s leading and people believe in the ideas you have for ministry they will support you-especially if you are able to communicate your ideas to others in a tangible way. If God one day chooses to bless you through income produced through the sale of your music and media-awesome! This does happen. Several well known artists are funding mission around the world, but if your reading this blog and you are like me, you aren’t there yet. The good news is that doesn’t have to be our goal. God can use us as we are, right now, with the help of others.
Many of these mission opportunities may strike fear into your heart. This is normal and totally understandable. This is all the more reason you should do it. A friend of ours once told us not to wait until we weren’t afraid but that “you gotta do it afraid”. In fact, my favorite place to play is the juvenile detention center in our community. The first time I played there, I was fearful. Not physically fearful, but just afraid of what they’d think, disrespect, or lack of connection or common ground. Some nights I am still fearful of these things, but it has been surprising how well we have connected with them and how receptive the vast majority of them have been. Living by faith means we put ourselves in opportunities where God has to show up. It is also totally ok to mess things up every once in a while. Quite often I feel humbled or even humiliated by our inability to connect or by the lack of response in these types of places, but this humbling makes me realize more and more the need for the Holy Spirit’s guidance during these times. When people respond and connect and things go really well we have no room for boasting. It typically means that God just showed up. I only say typically because I’m sure sometimes I mistake nights where I think things went well but I was operating out of my own talents and abilities. With God’s help I hope to become better at discerning this difference over time.
I hope this information has given you something to think about. With each how-to post I want to challenge you to action. Make a goal to secure an artistic mission or outreach opportunity next month. Most of my remaining blogs will focus on ministering at church sponsored events. My desire was not to negate our need to encourage the church in this post, but to remind us that we are called to develop a breathing in and out rhythm as artists in the world who are following Jesus.
In the comments area below answer the question, “What are some ways you’ve used your music in outreach and mission?” I’d love to hear about the unique opportunities or stories you have!