Outreach: from “come” to “go”
I recently Googled the word “outreach.” I was surprised at the results: the overwhelming majority of articles, websites, and so on was mostly about church communication and/or church marketing materials. I also recently looked at several online publications that are about “outreach” and/or “community outreach” and are published by evangelical organizations. Again, I was surprised by how much of the content was all about church bulletins, mass mailings to the community, road signage, banners, and so on.
These two examples illustrate well that many evangelical organizations and churches still define outreach through the lens of “come to us.”
A short examination
Despite the fact that there has been a recent interest in everything missional, community outreach, etc., the American Evangelical Church is still in decline. Why? I think there are a couple of reasons. First, we are not making disciples through our outreach/evangelism efforts, and second, we still for the most part define outreach as “come” or “invitation.” “If we can just get them to our church event, then they will come and become devoted Christ followers.” Unfortunately, this is not happening.
To examine the difference between these two approaches, I have created a “pros and cons” list of both approaches.
- Easy first step for many church goers
- Exposure to the church and its’ ministries
- Can be catalytic – give folks vision – wake them up to what God’s heart for the lost
- Works well for children and youth ministries
- Exhausts church resources – monies, staffing, communication, etc.
- Drives an event based church culture – as opposed to a lifestyle culture
- Priesthood of the believer – can we truly become the priests that God desires when we receive the message that we need to bring folks to church so the “ministry professionals can close the deal?”
- Used as a “crutch” for not sharing the gospel with our friends and family
- Many folks who are invited will never come to a church…but they will come to your home or “hang out”
- Discipleship – can equip church goers to be intentional where they live, work, and play
- Forces folks to be more intentional in making relationships in neighborhood, workplace, and “3rd areas”
- Priesthood of the believer!
- Church Planting – House Church model
- We know few to no unbelievers
- Perceived as “hard” and “scary” – “these folks know me, and I have to live or work beside them…what will they think of me?”
- Not as easy of a first step
- Means lifestyle changes – means I might have to give up something or refocus my energies. It means I might have to play less golf, my kids might need to be involved in fewer activities, means I might have to turn the TV off more, etc.
The needed shift
Although there are some “pros” to the “come” style, and although I don’t believe that we should never invite others to church, I do have great difficulty with defining evangelism and outreach as “come to us,” and here’s why: that method is not what Jesus and His disciples modeled.
Perhaps the greatest danger in the invitational model is that it greatly undermines the priesthood of the believer. The question we have to ask ourselves is: can we truly become the priests that God desires when we receive the message that we need to bring folks to church so the “ministry professionals can close the deal?” Are we really becoming fully devoted Christ followers/disciples when we live as if other folks need to share Christ with our friends and family instead of us?
When we invite folks to church, we are inviting them into a third space. We are inviting them into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable space. Paul didn’t do that; neither did Jesus and the disciples. Jesus always met people where they were. Most of Jesus’ work was not done in the synagogue; rather, it was done outside the walls of the synagogue. Jesus went to the people and earned the right to enter their third spaces.
Let’s go to people and love them where they are. Let’s stop inviting people to church and start inviting people to a relationship where they are.
Call to action
1. How can you encourage, equip, and release your church members to leave their first space (the church) and enter into second spaces?
2. Is most of the energy in your church spent on incremental improvements in discipleship for those who are already Christians? If so, what would happen if you took much of the energy you put into those things and instead invested in helping your folks enter into second and third spaces? What would be some first steps to help you change this DNA? What would you have to give up?
Kris Eldridge lives in Atlanta is the founder of Outreach Ministry Solutions. His focus is consulting with churches to help them reach their communities.
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