How many options do congregations have for reaching out to the community? The researchers who designed the National Congregations Study (NCS), tried to answer this question. They developed six broad categories of outreach. Looking at their categories helps us grasp the full breadth of what American congregations can do. Congregations can:
- Provide social services. Start community development and neighborhood projects. Offer food, housing, clothing, homelessness, or health care.
- Support education for the community, and not just religious education. Offer their own elementary school or high school. Host a professor as visiting speaker. Hold small groups or mentoring programs whose purpose is education related.
- Participate in dialogue or joint action in religion. Hold a group or class to learn about another religion. Participate in joint worship with another congregation from a religious tradition different from their own.
- Contribute to culture by hiring singers or other musicians to perform at a worship service, or by having visitors view the building’s architecture or artwork. Organize a group or class to discuss a book other than the Bible. Permit outside groups to use the building for rehearsals or performances of musical or theatrical works.
- Decide as an institution to contribute to the community. Permit outside groups to use or rent space in the building, or hold an event to conduct an assessment of community needs. Discuss community issues such as the environment or race relations.
- Though barred by law from supporting specific candidates and political parties, congregations can contribute to politics by holding a group meeting or event to discuss political issues. Lobby elected officials or take part in a demonstration or march. Register people to vote or distribute voter guides.
 Mark Chaves, “Religious Variations in Public Presence,” in The Quiet Hand of God, ed. Robert Wuthnow and John Evans (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 108-28.