Approximately 1,500,000 Americans now serve in the U.S. military. Of that number, there are approximately 1,138,000 serving on U.S. soil at any given time (some are single, some are married, and some have children). They have unique circumstances, and because of their mobile life they can often fall through the cracks if they are not purposefully targeted. Here are some thoughts about reaching this needy segment of our society:
1. Pray for Them
Pray for their salvation, their safety, and their moral. We must also pray for their families, their leaders, and their responsibilities.
2. Look for Them
Look for men and women in uniform and thank them for their service and sacrifice. If time and circumstances permit, introduce yourself. Find out if they are stationed in your city. Find your reserve headquarters and your National Guard armory, introduce yourself, and ask if there is anything that you or your church can do to assist them.
3. Invite Them
Use many ways to invite the military to your church. Not only should we be aware of their presence all around us, but we should discover the places where they congregate and are accessible to the civilian population. Where do they enter and exit the base? Is there off base housing?
Have tracts and church invitations directed towards the military. Include the military on your website. Advertise in the base paper. In your ads emphasize your appreciation for our military personnel and your commitment to serving them. If possible, get permission to place your flyers on the base bulletin boards.
4. Meet Them
Try to arrange a meeting with the highest ranking officer that will grant you an appointment. This should be a non-chaplain officer. It would be appropriate to bring a gift with you. Protocol may not permit an officer to receive the gift, but you should take one anyway. However, a gift should only be offered after a conversation so there is no appearance of buying favor.
Over the years, I have presented several new commanders with a nice grade Bible with his name and rank inscribed on it and a personal handwritten note assuring him of my support and prayers. Books on leadership are also great gifts. At the meeting invite him (if he is the commander) to your church so you can introduce him to your congregation. He is the military base “mayor.” In your meeting, assure him of your commitment to keep the base rules and regulations while ministering to the base community. Ask if you can pray for him and his responsibilities before you leave.
5. Go Get Them
Run a bus route. If you cannot get on base, arrange a pick-up location as close to the main gate as possible. Put your phone number, pick up time, and location on your website as well as your printed materials.
6. Prepare for Them
Integrate them into the church family as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence because they will not be with you as long as civilian members. Pay particular attention to the children and teenagers. They have moved many times, and have had to make new friends each time. Have special fellowships for military wives as well as single soldiers. Recognize the deployed soldiers from the pulpit and on some type of display in the church.
7. Win Them to Christ
They are one of the most receptive segments of our society. They need the Lord. More than they need body armor, they need Christ. More than they need advanced weaponry, they need salvation. More than they need better health care, and they do need that, they need Jesus.
8. Disciple Them and Involve Them
They are away from their home, family, and church. Get them before the world does. I have heard many, many testimonies from service personnel who have said they did their most significant growing as a Christian while they were in the military. I believe statistics would back me up when I say that the largest percentage of full time Christian workers come from the ranks of the U.S. military.