STRATEGIES FOR CONGREGATION OUTREACH
By Ben Johnson
The church of Jesus Christ must reach out to new persons and incorporate then’ into its life. In the first place, God wills that every individual be given an opportunity to hear the good news and respond to it. Second, persons outside a community of faith often suffer from emptiness loneliness, and lack of direction. The church has something to offer them. And third, the continued life and ministry of the church depends upon enlisting and training new members. Everyone who comes into a congregatb0 brings gifts, insights, and a history which 5 and enriches the life of the community. These new persons, equipped and trained, serve God through the church’s mission. Without them, present members eventually burn out. For these reasons the church requires a deliberate, intentional strategy of outreach.
This emphasis on outreach to individuals must be understood in the context of the church’s total ministry. Because evangelism stands at the heart of the church, it pulsates through the worship of God, the nurture of the community, the serving hands of the faithful, and the intentional efforts of believers to reach out to others. These functions affirm God’s unconditional love and passion that all persons have fellowship with the Deity. A balanced expression of evangelism evidences itself through worship, nurture, service, and outreach, and requires strong leadership and administration.
Several decades ago evangelistic emphasis focused on nurture. The images and strategies for evangelism were informed by a nurture model almost exclusively. In more recent years the focus has switched to service. Strategies for serving the world, being a redemptive presence, and working for justice have been the evangelistic emphases for mainline denominations.
Without minimizing the importance of these two thrusts, I believe the church must now concern itself with intentional outreach. While the ideas set forth here aim at growth and outreach, this focus does not diminish the importance of nurture nor of service. Rather, it presupposes the vitality of both, along with worship, as complements of out reach. This summary underscores the necessity of a holistic approach to evangelism. The particular emphasis of these strategies will be to reach new persons and to incorporate them into the life of the congregation,
The function of outreach includes five irreducible tasks: attracting new persons, identifying new persons, cultivating new persons, inviting new persons, and assimilating them into the church’s life. This chapter aims to define each of these tasks and to provide concrete examples of how it can be done.
Attract New Persons
The word “attract” immediately suggests three images. A man beside the road frantically waves his arms to get the attention of passing motorists, lest they plunge headlong into a ravine where the bridge has washed out. A magnet attracts. Picture metal filings on a table with a magnet swinging slowly above. The magnet draws the filings to itself. Attract also suggests romance. A man and woman meet and are immediately attracted to each other. To attract means to get attention, to draw toward, and to evoke affection for. We want to get the attention of unchurched persons, draw them into the fellowship, and see them develop a new affection for Christ and his people.
How can a congregation attract new persons into its life? The church attracts through its membership, ministry, publicity, and visitation. Efforts in each of these directions will attract new persons. All these strategies have been effectively used by other congregations.
Attract Through Membership. According to Church Growth research, 85% of the persons who visit a congregation come because of “kinship” or “friendship.” The dynamic of personal invitation depends upon the depth of nurture and the vitality of worship. Members invite friends out of the overflow of their lives. If the bulk of visitors to your church come because someone specifically invited them, then it would be a wise plan to capitalize on this fertile source. But how?
1. Sponsor Friendship Sundays. Properly prepare the congregation; set aside four Sundays in one month; request the members of your congregation to invite their friends to worship with them.
Since church attendance peaks in October and at Easter, the months of September and/or March provide ideal times for friendship Sundays. Take advantage of the natural interest in the church.
One church of 250 members planned a Friendship Sunday. They asked each family to bring a friend; they wrote all visitors for the past year. To designate the visitors, they bought 100 red carnations. On Friendship Sunday they had exactly 100 visitors.
2. Plan special events. Festive occasions provide your members a specific time and a legitimate reason for inviting friends to worship. A Valentine’s Day party, a Christmas party, etc., provide excellent opportunities.
3. Make use of all special services. Marriages, baptisms, and special programs provide times for your members to invite their friends to church. For example, when the pastor baptizes a baby, ask the family to provide the names and addresses of half a dozen friends whom they would like to share in this significant occasion. The pastor can extend a personal invitation to them to share in the baptismal service.
Reflect on this principle of working through your members to teach new persons. See how many creative ideas you or a special committee can generate.
Attract Through Ministry
Nothing attracts persons to your church more readily than your response to their needs. Robert Schuller correctly urges, “Find a need and meet it; find a hurt and heal it.” To meet the needs of persons in your community, you must first know their needs. Genuine ministry begins with their agenda and not ours. We respond to their needs as they understand them, not as we understand them. Jesus always began with the concerns of the persons who came to him. Thus, the community sets the agenda for the church’s ministry.
If we do not intentionally seek to know the needs of outsiders, we will tend to impose our agenda upon them. Consider these strategies as illustrative responses to persons’ needs in the community.
1. Sponsor a Saturday play day for children. The play day offers parents a few hours to shop or be free from caring for children. The event exposes them to your church and suggests that the church cares for them.
2. Plan an event that has a focal point in the community. A community-wide barbeque, for example, brings persons from the community together to meet and fellowship.
3. Begin a group for divorced men and women. These persons need fellowship. Hosted in the church or in the homes of church members, this service speaks of the church’s concern.
4. Plan a Bible School. Churches that have very few children often discover an overwhelming response from nonmembers when they offer Bible training for children.
5. Sponsor choirs for children and youth. Choirs provide an opportunity to teach children the gospel, involve them in the church, and provide a bridge by which their parents may find a relation with Christ through the church.
6. Develop a sound educational program. Focus on the needs of persons in the community as well as members of the church.
These six ideas for service to the community do not intend to be exhaustive, but illustrative. To minister to your community requires that you explore the specific needs which persons have. Effective strategies come from responses to felt needs. For a church to use the above strategies without investigating firsthand the community needs would be committing the sin of assuming that you know the needs before you ask. Protect your service from being a membership gimmick. Unless you really care for the persons in your community, your service will be recognized for what it is—a shallow, manipulative trick.
Attract Through Publicity
Some persons take the initiative to find a church. Thus, keep the name of your church and its ministry constantly before the community. Make it easy for people to find you.
1. Submit pictorial stories of church activities to the local newspaper. New and creative ministries will particularly interest the editor of a small paper.
2. Erect signs directing persons to your church. Remove the ones that are rusted and those which hang crookedly.
3. Use the media. Especially take advantage of public service announcements offered on radio and television,
4. Each media time for spot announcements when you have a ministry of community interest. Creative spots are available from the audio-visual department of your denomination office.
Attract Through Mass Visitation
Develop an intentional strategy to visit every home in your area of ministry, to acquaint the residents with your 0 and to offer a warm, personal invitation to attend your church.
A small suburban church sponsored a community barbeque. The men of the church divided the area of ministry and knocked on every door, issuing a personal invitation to each family. As a consequence persons visited the church worship service for months following the barbeque.
A medium church sponsored a similar visitation emphasis for four weeks in the fall and spring. The visitation took place on Saturdays. Each visitor carried two items: a brochure describing the church and its ministry, and a bulletin for the following Sunday. When the knock on the door was answer they asked, “Do you attend church regularly?” if the reply was no, they said, “May I invite you to worship with us tomorrow? They gave the resident a bulletin and a printed brochure and went to the next house.
Large churches can employ this strategy. As a consequence, one church had several hundred lay persons trained to knock on thousands of doors n their area of ministry. Scores of persons visited the church for the first time because the church took the initiative.
Attract Through Special Programs. Design special programs which appeal to select groups in your area of ministry.
1. Plan an emphasis for retired persons. Begin by approaching retirement associations in your community and indicate to them your intefltl0fl to conduct a service of worship appealing especially to older persons Follow that up by offering regularly scheduled activities for this age group.
2. Have a Scout Recognition Sunday.
3. A musical program involving high school choirs will attract many who are unaware of your church.
These strategies aim to attract new persons into the fellowship of your church. Each has been used successfully by numerous churches.
Identify Prospective Members
Identification’ means recognizing those who are not yet members of your congregation, obtaining their name and address, and organizing the information in a manageable form. Nothing takes precedence over getting the name and address of a new person. Without a name and address, the church can take no initiative to develop that person into a committed, responsible member. Intentional evangelism begins with the name and address of a new person.
Who is a prospective member? Anyone who is not currently, actively engaged in the life of the church is a prospect for your church. None of us aims to proselyte members from other churches, but we do care for the unchurched, whether they’re Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, or have no church preference. We are concerned to reach these persons for Jesus Christ.
According to Lyle Schaller, a nationally recognized church consultant, of every twenty adults who join your church six will come from other Protestant churches, three from the Roman Catholic Church, and three will make a first-time profession of faith. Only 40%, or eight of the twenty, will come from your own denomination.
To develop a potential membership list, examine the following sources for names and addresses of persons:
1. Obtain the name and address of every visitor in your services of worship. To get this information, use a register in the foyer, an attendance register in the pew, cards that are handed out either in the bulletin or especially to visitors. Visitors at worship form the group most likely to unite with your church.
2. The spouses of regular and occasional visitors should be considered as prospects for your church, if they are not actively participating in another congregation.
3. The baptized children of members constitute another source of prospective members.
4. Sunday school students who are not members of the church should be cultivated for membership. Identify the parents of Sunday school children as prospective members.
5. Include on your prospect list persons who use the services of the church for funerals, weddings, baptisms, and counseling.
6. Identify those who attend special functions of the church like Christmas programs, musical presentations, and vacation Bible school as prospective members.
7. The friends of members of your church who are not actively involved in another church may become prospects. Invite the congregation to provide the names and addresses of such persons.
8. All new residents in the community are prospective members. Sometimes newcomer services, utility companies, and real estate agents will provide information on new residents. Your own membership offers the finest source of new names. Alert members to notify the church office when a new family moves into their neighborhood. The more active the membership becomes in generating the names of prospects, the more alert they will be to visitors.
9. Usual, personal contacts, both by the minister and the members of the congregation, generate names and addresses. Sensitize the congregation to this opportunity. Develop a system for every member of the congregation to feed names and addresses into the church. North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, has an excellent pro gram.
10. Patients in the hospital listed as “unaffiliated” may become prospective members for your church. Obtain their names and ad dresses from the file. Visit them and communicate your message of concern to them.
11. Scout troops often involve boys and girls who are not members of the church. Consider them and their parents as prospective members.
12. If your church has a play school, a nursery, or a mother’s morning out, consider those persons who use the service of the church as possible prospects. Obtain their names and addresses. Place them on your mailing list.
Organize Your Prospect List
Obtaining the names and addresses of persons is the first step in an aggressive evangelistic outing. What, then, is to be done with the names and addresses once they are accumulated.
1. Make a permanent file of the name, address, telephone number, and other pertinent data on the person.
2. Add the names of all visitors to your attendance list. (The attendance list should have every member of the church listed with lines properly drawn to create squares so that a simple check can tell you every Sunday which members were present for worship.) By adding the names of visitors, you can easily study their pattern of church attendance over several weeks.
3. Enter the name of every visitor on columnar sheets or on computer. This record becomes the basis of the membership cultivation.
4. Always maintain your permanent prospect record at the church. Do not give a church visitor the only prospect card which you have. You risk the danger of losing it.
To do creative church growth you must attract new persons to your church, and when they come, take special care to obtain their names, addresses, and other pertinent data. Only by having this data can you proceed with creative membership cultivation.
Cultivate Prospective Members
Cultivation refers to the intentional contact which the church makes with prospective members to increase the depth of their relationship with the church and to enlarge their knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The farmer tilling the ground provides an appropriate image to describe the cultivation of prospective members. By clearing up their questions and nurturing them with care, we may facilitate the Spirit’s creative, redemptive work.
Cultivation of prospective members must begin immediately upon their contact with the church. Every week that passes after a prospective member’s first visit to the church reduces the likelihood of that person joining the church by 50%. Experience demonstrates repeatedly that the faster the church responds to the visitor, the more likely that person is to become a regular participant in that church.
The cultivation of prospective members should be deliberate and intentional. Do not adopt a hit or miss system! Do not depend on your memory to recall each step of cultivation of a particular family. Rather, develop a plan that enables you to regularly and systematically cultivate those prospective persons for commitment to Christ and fellowship in the church. The following strategies have worked well:
1. Write all Sunday visitors on Monday morning expressing pleasure at their attendance during worship. Issue a warm, personal invitation to worship again the following Sunday. The minister should offer any pastoral services that may be needed.
2. Add each visitor to your newsletter mailing list. If the church does not have a newsletter, begin one. No church can minister to its constituency without a communication piece.
3. Visit the prospective member the first week. If you intend for your church to grow, make personal calls. Growth requires immediate contact, so begin at once to build a relationship with prospects. In your first visit, you may wish to keep the conversation at an idea and informational level. As your relationship grows, you will seek to discover the religious experiences, concerns, and values of your prospective member.
4. Distribute helpful literature. Keep a supply of basic Christian books and booklets on hand. The quiet, reflective reading of a good book can be a helpful means of presenting the gospel. Consider John Stott’s Basic Christianity, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Keith Miller’s An Evangelism Primer, The Taste of New Wine, Sam Shoemaker’s How to Become a Christian, John Baillie’s Diary of Private Prayer, or Ben Johnson’s Join the Church.
These books present the basics of the Christian faith and offer suggestions for personal growth in one’s commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
5. Make telephone visits. The telephone may be used in two ways. First, the minister can use the phone when unable to make personal visits. The telephone enables the minister to communicate warmth, gather information, and express a personal interest.
Second, the pastor may train the laity to make telephone visits. Some visitors will be more impressed with a call from a lay person than with one from the minister. That lay person can then set up a time with the prospective members, ask them out to lunch, or arrange to meet with them at the next worship service.
6. Lay visitation is crucial. Lay visitation can take two forms: friend ship and witness. The church can most easily provide friendship evangelism. Train a core group of lay persons to make follow-up visits with prospective members. The purpose of the visit is to get acquainted with the persons to share with them the program and ministry of the church, and to leave them with a brief, personal witness of faith. Friend ship visitation is neither threatening nor difficult.
Service evangelism provides a positive approach. The training in a P.R.O.O.F. Seminar (Probing Responsibly One’s Own Faith) equips lay people to knock on the doors of strangers and inquire how the church may be of service. After an extended period of listening, these service oriented visitors share a personal witness of faith, offer a word of prayer and invite the persons visited to attend the church. Richard Armstrong describes this model in his book, Service Evangelism.
7. Remember people on special occasions. Cultivate persons in the knowledge of Christ and in the fellowship of the church by remembering them at notable times like their birthdays, anniversaries, times of illness, or certain seasons of the year. Both the minister and members of the church should follow this practice.
8. Invite regular visitors to perform a task. After persons have visited your church for several weeks, invite them to assist in the kitchen, work with the young people, or share in cleaning up the grounds. Any task in which they participate with members of the church will give them a feeling of belonging. This experience often provides a bridge for their membership in the church.
How will you keep up with all of these activities? Use a columnar pad. Down the left-hand side, list the names of all the prospective members. Across the top of the page, list all of the cultivation activities.
For example, the first column might be labeled Letter, the second column Pastor’s Visit, the third column Lay Visit, etc. Determine the time sequence of all these initiatives and enter into the record your cultivation activity with each prospective family. At a glance, you can tell what initiatives the church has taken to cultivate each new family for Christ.
Keep your record. Continue to cultivate. Never give up on persons until they die, move away, or tell you clearly, “I’m not interested in your church.”
Invite Prospects to Join the Church
Some churches demonstrate a reticence toward inviting persons into the life of the church. Repeatedly, new members say, “I had a very difficult time discovering how to join this church.” We should never place such a burden on prospective members. Instead, we should affirm unequivocally our desire to have new persons participate in the fellow ship of Christ, and we should open the way for them to join the church.
First, be clear about the meaning and manner of membership. In light of Lyle Schaller’s analysis that 60% of new adult members will be from denominations other than your own, recall how various denominations accept new members:
To join a Presbyterian church, persons meet with the session. (Not all prospective members will know what the session is.)
To join a United Methodist Church, persons speak to the minister or come forward during the singing of the closing hymn.
To join a Baptist church, persons go forward during the singing of an invitational hymn and present themselves to the minister who, in turn, presents them to the congregation.
To join an Episcopal church, persons attend adult confirmation classes (if they come from another denomination) and upon completion are confirmed in the church.
To join a Church of God, persons go forward, kneel, and pray at the close of the service.
Other churches may have different practices and traditions.
When we invite persons to Christ, there are numerous ways to extend the invitation. A friend of mine said, “What do you do after the sermon?” Do we invite persons to Christ? Do we expect them to respond? Consider the following possibilities.
1. Each sermon should conclude with an invitation to respond to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I do not mean that “Just as I Am” should be sung and persons should be invited to come forward. Rather, each Sermon should enable a person to make a positive, constructive decision for Christ. That invitation should be articulated in the sermon and the minister should expect a response to the Word being proclaimed. The response might come in a moment of quiet or during prayer, but offer persons an opportunity to respond to what the Spirit has spoken through the Word.
2. The priestly aspects of worship can be used to invite persons to Jesus Christ. Moments of silence, directed prayers, and pastoral prayers can lead persons into the presence of God and to decision. Whenever we are in the presence of God, he evokes a decision.
3. The pastor’s membership class provides a structured opportunity to invite persons to Christ.
4. Person-to-person visitation offers an avenue for inviting persons into the Christian fellowship. Personal questions enable individuals to reflect on their spiritual pilgrimage and candidly admit their needs. For example, “How did you first experience Jesus Christ in your life?” Or, “When did Jesus Christ become personally real for you?” “How would you describe what it means to you to be a Christian?” Or finally, “How has the church made a real difference in your life?”
In considering the invitation, select the method or methods with which you are most comfortable. Be intentional in your relationships and do not fail to extend persons an invitation to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and to participate in the life of his church. Training provides security and confidence for both clergy and laity.
5. The New Member Brunch is a unique approach for inviting persons into the church. The brunch is a two-hour structured experience on Saturday morning, during which a group of prospective members meet with the pastor and other church leaders to explore the meaning of membership.
Invite persons to the brunch who have shown an interest in the church by their attendance and participation. To assemble prospective members for a New Member Brunch, write a letter of invitation the first of the month for the brunch scheduled on the last Saturday of the month. Following the letter, the minister or church officer visits with the prospective person/family invited to the brunch. This friendly visit provides a time to discuss the person’s faith and concern for the church.
During the week preceding the brunch, the church secretary or a lay person so designated telephones each of the invited guests. Having a lay person or the secretary make the telephone call reduces the pressure because the invited guests can say no more easily than if the minister telephoned. A no, one month does not mean a permanent no. I have never had a person to be offended by the invitation to the New Member Brunch.
On the morning of the brunch, the meal is served at nine o’clock. The church provides a nursery for families with children. All eat together and at the conclusion of the meal, the children are dismissed to a baby-sitter’s care. This does not imply that they are unimportant to the church, but the conversation generally reaches beyond their comprehension.
A lay leader opens the meeting with prayer and the reading of the Scripture. Persons attending the brunch describe their church background and experience of faith. Both the prospective members, as well as members of the church’s governing body, participate in this sharing. Following the storytelling, each person receives a new-member packet. The packet includes a pastor’s letter, the meaning of membership, a profession of faith, the opportunities for service in the particular church, a talent and preference list, a stewardship commitment, and other materials of interest such as a church directory, personal notes, and an inspirational booklet.
After the group has explored the material in the new-member packet, the prospective members are invited to make a decision to unite with the church. No pressure. Each has the right to refuse, al though those persons attending the brunch have usually already decided to unite with the church. The minister follows the appropriate denominational procedure to receive these persons into the member ship of the church. On the Sunday following, a lay person presents each family to the congregation.
Following the brunch, enroll these persons in a new-member class. My booklet Join the Church is useful in new-member orientation. The brunch and the class become a part of the new-member assimilation program of the church.
The new-member class follows the brunch because the class is not a requirement for membership. Persons joining on profession of faith, however, should attend the membership class prior to their joining the church.
The New Member Brunch offers an excellent way to receive persons into the church for these reasons:
1. It offers them a definite time within which to make a decision.
2. It outlines the immediate tasks for the minister and outreach Committee
3. It provides an opportunity to renew one’s commitment to Christ.
4. It begins the assimilation process during the sharing time with church leaders and other new members.
5. It has been used successfully by a number of churches.
Assimilate New Members
The church makes a great mistake when it does not assimilate new persons into its fellowship. Unwitting coldness and inflexibility close the entrance of new members into the church. A growing church must enable new persons to find their place and their role in the life of the congregation, a task made easier by offering them “ports of entry”—a variety of groups, activities, opportunities to connect.
Persons entering the church have these needs: to be known, to feel accepted, and to feel important, valued. In planning assimilation think about ways these needs can be met.
Persons begin to feel known when they receive a visit from the minister or a lay person. The New Member Brunch enables them to be known, as does being introduced to the congregation. A short biographical sketch in the newsletter and family pictures on a bulletin board also achieve this goal.
New members also need to feel accepted; they need a place. This desire underscores the need for ports of entry—groups, classes, teams.
Assimilation also helps when persons have a task. They feel that they belong when they are given a job. As we look at strategies for assimilation, keep these personal needs in mind.
Consider these ideas for assimilation:
1. Assimilation begins with the first image which the visitor receives during the worship service. Generally, the worship hour offers the first exposure of the church. During that hour the visitor decides whether the church is friendly or cold. The minister and leaders of worship must, therefore, project an image of warmth, openness, and concern for the family of God as it gathers.
2. Assimilation always begins before membership. Assimilation begins with the first image, but it also progresses through the relationships which the visitor has with members of the church prior to joining. Therefore, assimilation often precedes membership commitment.
3. An invitation to a Sunday school class or to a men’s/women’s group provides a point of entry into the fellowship prior to the time of joining. So does a pastor’s membership class. Persons within the membership class begin to be assimilated with the pastor, with church leaders, and with each other as they are being oriented to the church. Some churches have the new member class prior to joining.
4. If new members have not been assimilated into other groups prior to joining the church, the minister or other appropriate persons should see that they are included in a Sunday school class, a discussion group, the choir, or some other group smaller than the worshiping congregation.
5. Search the talent/interest sheet which they fill out at the Mew Member Brunch. Discover each person’s interests, gifts, or talents. Offer new members an immediate task in the church. Nothing cements new members into the life of the church as tightly as a task which they are competent to perform. Persons find a place by being given a role.
6. Involve new members in dinner groups. An assimilation strategy called “The One-Dish Date for Eight” provides a way to acquaint new members with older members. Eight persons agree to meet together once a month for four months. Two persons are responsible for the one-dish meal, and one person is designated and trained to lead the discussion. The discussion progresses from sharing personal data to the sharing of deeper Christian experiences. The four dinners help integrate new persons into the life of the church. See Appendix D for questions to use at the meetings of “The One-Dish Date for Eight.”
7. Create a variety of groups within the church. These small groups, whether they are prayer groups, study groups, exercise groups, art classes, etc., provide points of entry for new persons. If you are receiving new members regularly, the need for such groups rapidly increases.
8. Schedule regular luncheons or breakfasts for new members. Gather your new members quarterly. Invite their response to questions like: “Have you found your place in the church?” “Have you joined a group smaller than the worshiping congregation?” “What needs do you have that are presently not being met?” “What would you like to do in the church that you have not been invited to do?”
In this chapter I have outlined a number of evangelistic initiatives which any church can take to reach new persons. I have identified a variety of specific strategies which will enable you to be a more evangelistic church. These strategies made no distinction regarding the faith stage of unchurched persons. I do recognize the importance of identifying a person’s stage of faith and utilizing an appropriate means for communicating the gospel.
Do not seek to initiate all of these strategies at once, but rather select those which seem most appropriate for your church and situation. Organize them so that they can be easily managed to obtain maximum results. The ideas in this chapter offer concrete ways to respond to your community’s needs.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Which of the five irreducible tasks of evangelism needs attention in your church?
2. How does evangelism through outreach relate to evangelism through Worship, service, and nurture?
3. Which strategies for “attracting” would best fit your congregation?
4. How does personal “faith sharing” fit into this corporate effort at evangelism?
Excerpted from The Evangelism Primer by Ben Johnson
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”