They Are Lost…So What Are You Going To Do About It?
By Paul A. Murray
A recent survey by Barna Research group stated that almost 100 million people in the United States alone have not found their way to church. Churches have tried countless methods to initiate relationships with people who don’t yet know their need for Christ. Some have been successful, but many have not. A successful outreach builds meaningful relationships with people who previously had no reason to interact with you. Some outreach activities provide a one-time or annual opportunity to introduce your church to the community. Others provide a regular service for the community, and so build long-term relationships with people. Every church should be challenged to evaluate the effectiveness of their outreach ministries. Here are a few ideas of effective outreach initiatives:
Daily Service to Parents
A daycare or aftercare program can address the immediate needs for many families who are seeking affordable and safe environments for their children. This form of outreach brings whole families into the church on a daily basis and as the church focuses on praying for these families and providing opportunities for interaction, families will attend the church because of the caring environment their children experience every day.
There are responsibilities and potential liabilities in running and managing a daycare. However, bringing people to Jesus is so much more important than living in fear that something might go wrong. Still, you must be intimately aware of all the liabilities and risks associated with a daycare program. For certain, churches need not worry about this type of outreach going out of style or not meeting real needs. There will always be a need for childcare and what better way to serve the community than to provide a safe and secure atmosphere for children.
Help Those Who Hurt
Sometimes an outreach program is part of a church’s vision from the very beginning. Some in our church have come to know Christ as they have experienced the power of God’s Word to provide answers for their specific struggles. The goal of our Biblical counseling is to come alongside people who are struggling and help by applying the principles in God’s Word in such a way that the person responds in an obedient and godly manner to the problems they are facing. Not only has the Biblical counseling program served as an outreach to the community, it has also served as a bridge to other churches. Starting a Biblical counseling program requires careful thought and planning. First, the senior pastor needs to be on board and needs to lead the way. He should be constantly mentioning the counseling program from the pulpit. There also needs to be a mindset of equipping every believer to use the bible to help real people with real problems rather than just another “program” that’s added to the list and offered to those who are interested.
To some degree, every church is a counseling ministry and the only question is whether the church is intentionally seeking to use Scriptures in both pulpit and house-to-house ministry and to see counseling as part of the disciple-making process. There are six signs that can identify whether a particular church is ready to consider a Biblical counseling ministry:
1. The pastor-counselor is committed to Christ-like growth in his own life.
2. The church is wholeheartedly committed to the pastoral task of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
3. The church is committed to evangelism through both personal ministry and community-based outreach.
4. The pastor’s preaching demonstrates the sufficiency of Scripture through sound doctrine and practical life change.
5. Disciple making occurs at every level of the ministry (e.g., new believer, mature Christian, elder, pastoral staff).
6. Biblical stewardship of life is emphasized.
Assuming a church demonstrates all these signs, the next questions will likely
concern liability and costs of the counseling ministry. When it comes to liability issues, churches and counselors need to explain to all participants exactly who they are and what type of counseling they are providing. The law has been quite friendly to churches as long as churches do not pretend to do something they cannot. For example, language that mentions providing mental health services gives the impression of license or state-controlled counseling. It is important to keep non-accredited and non-licensed counseling focused on spiritual and Biblical-based counseling.
Fun For Free
Create an annual or biannual church festival or cookout. Our biannual event is held over Memorial and Labor Day weekends where we provide activities for children and adults along with a cookout. “Free” is the last thing people expect at church. And that’s exactly the point. Over the past four years, hundreds of people have been introduced to our church through these biannual funfests. The cost is minimal for the church because every member participates in bringing dishes, food and their grills. We also do drawing giveaways where people fill out a card with all their mailing information. This is used for follow up and placed on our mailing list.
Another reason to do these events is that they create opportunities for church members to be involved in the outreach event. A church survey found that nearly 82 percent of our church members and attendees used the Funfest to reach out to unchurched friends and neighbors. In addition, it’s easy to recruit volunteers to work for Funfest every year. Before planning an event of this type, I suggest asking the following questions:
1. Philosophically, is your church satisfied to plan an event that is truly “no-strings-attached,” and for which you may never see results in the same immediate, tangible way as those to which we’ve become accustomed? In other words, are you willing to do this event as a Kingdom investment?
2. Are you willing to budget the money necessary to put on an excellent event? If not, are you willing to fully engage your church membership in the activity?
3. Can you cast the vision for the church that let’s your members know that this type of event ends up being less about the food and fun than it is about the investment their own people make? If your members are unwilling to invite unchurched friends and are unwilling to volunteer their time, you no longer have an event.
4. Most importantly, can you do it well? It will only succeed if it counters the negative expectations and overwhelms the positive expectations of the community.
A Different TGIF
“You are now entering the mission field,” reads the new sign above the exit door of our church. Members are reminded of that every time they leave church. We advertise our different ministries and the best thing this church offers is TGIF – Thank God It’s Free. TGIF is a free soup and study night; garage sale to the community in the church parking lot; care packages for the shut-in’s and home-less. Any church that is considering any type of outreach program or event must first be appropriate for your community and your target audience. Just because something worked in another locale does not mean it will be well received in your community. It’s about knowing what people love, enjoy and are struggling with. That means spending time with neighbors. It means creating environments where people can come together in a safe place to hear a dangerous message. Whatever we do, we carry the message of God’s love.
This article “They Are Lost…So What Are You Going To Do About It?” by Paul A. Murray is excerpted from Apostolic Witness magazine, June 2008.
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.”