The primary work of every Christian and the local church is one thing―reaching people. It’s that simple.
Don’t you wish that your every attempt to reach people was successful? I do too. You’ve probably been there: you make efforts to reach people and sometimes reap little to no harvest few visitors, few souls saved, and very few people that stick around to perpetuate the ministry. I’ve found myself blaming the people for the lack of results. I say, “People are just less receptive in this age,” or “Satan is at work to disrupt the work of the gospel.” While these are legitimate problems in many situations, I wonder if we are to blame for the lack of results? Perhaps the problem is a misunderstanding about outreach methods.
I grew up in the IFB movement. To me, the word “outreach” reminded me of two events―Saturday morning door-knocking and evangelistic “big days” at our church. But is that really all Jesus meant when he talked about going into all the world and preaching the gospel? Hey, I’m not bashing any of those methods, but I just know there has to be more than two ways to fulfill the great commission. My view of this all changed when I went into full-time ministry.
One of the first talks I had with the current staff of our church was about outreach. They informed me that they don’t have regular door-to-door visitation of any type (apart from bus ministry and two days a year that they canvass the entire city). I was thinking, “How do you get any sort of people to come to church here, then?” Then two words came up in the conversation that have changed my perspective on outreach―community involvement. Community involvement? Sounds like a lazy Christian’s way out of door knocking, right? I don’t think so.
You’ve heard the saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” If that’s the case, how come the spread of the gospel rarely follows that pattern in many churches? Now, before you think I am advocating that churches totally forsake door knocking and other methods of evangelism, hear me out.
It’s my observation that healthy, gospel-minded churches reach their communities with deep and wide outreach methods (no, I’m not referring to the song you sang in Sunday School). The way I think of it, there are two ways we can approach the spread of the gospel: we can spread it as wide as we can (more people reached but less investment in each individual) or as deep as we can into their hearts (less people reached but more time spent investing in each person). Allow me to explain further what I mean about deep and wide outreach.
Wide outreach is very effective in getting your church’s name and the gospel message to a large number of people. This type of outreach is great for church planters trying to inform people that they exist, churches that have moved to a new location, promoting big events, or promoting your church systematically throughout your community each year.
Wide outreach takes place in a variety of ways:
• Door knocking/canvassing/blitzing
• Facebook advertising
• Setting up a booth at a big event
• Evangelistic services
• Yard Signs
• Events for major employers in your area
• Event Sponsorships
These forms of outreach often accomplish their purpose―they just have one major weakness. There’s very little opportunity for people to see that you and your church care about them as people. Our culture has grown quite skeptical of religious people because of how televangelists and other preachers have built ministries at the expense of people. On top of that, how many people are ready to have a deep spiritual conversation with you on their porch? From my experience, most people want you off of their porch as soon as possible! Other times, I want off of their porch because my wife and I are greeted by a grumpy man in his 50’s with no t-shirt (gross)! Again, I realize that some churches have more success with these forms of outreach in their community than others might. As I said earlier, I’m convinced that healthy churches reach their community with a balance of deep and wide outreach methods. Let me show you what I mean by deep outreach methods.
Deep outreach requires a paradigm shift. Deep outreach usually requires more time, love, and sacrifice, and the resources you expend toward this type of outreach don’t reach the masses. But deep outreach isn’t about the masses: deep outreach is about individuals. Deep outreach is a grind sometimes: you work hard, invest in people, invite them to church, and they may not immediately respond. It is often less glamorous to talk about and less likely to impress in a prayer letter or a Facebook post. Here’s the kicker, though: it’s often more effective. How can I say this with such confidence, having only 10 months of full-time ministry under my belt? I can only say this because I serve with a church full of people that have primarily been reached with this type of outreach.
Fellowship Baptist is a ministry that has grown by applying common-sense principles to their outreach. For years, Fellowship only reached their community through wide outreaches like door-knocking and canvassing. For door knocking and canvassing, there seemed to be few results that lasted (salvation, baptism, and serving in the church). Not to mention, in a smaller community like Liberal, Kansas, a church that size could knock each door several times a year, usually encountering the same result each time. If you visited Fellowship now, though, you would meet all sorts of people reached by what I call deep outreach.
You’ll see several men who serve in our police department: they were reached by the faithful testimony of our pastor who has served part-time on the PD for 15 years. You’ll see a lady who used to run a charity for victims of domestic violence and rape: she was reached by our pastor’s wife who volunteered there and reached out to her after the loss of her husband. You’ll see public school teachers and coaches: many of them were reached by our former youth pastor who drove a school bus, became a referee, and has done many other things to get involved in public school events. You’ll see families reached by church members who cared for their co-workers, ladies brought to church by their friend at the quilt shop, and college students reached by involvement of a staff member and other students at an on-campus Bible study. When lost people know more about your character, they are often more receptive to your message. The less that people see of you in the community, the less they will care about your message. Deep outreach works because it opens the heart of lost people to the gospel as they see that you’re authentic.
Deep outreach happens in so many ways, but here are a few:
• Purposely taking a part-time job to meet people
• Volunteering for a non-profit organization
• Driving a school bus
• Joining a club that matches your interests
• Doing acts of kindness for your neighbor
• Coaching a little league team
• Serving as a chaplain
There’s nothing revolutionary about this type of outreach: many pastors for years have led their congregations to practice this throughout the week and through special church events. Here’s the point: get out there, show the love of Christ, and share the gospel of Christ as God provides the opportunity to do so. To my brethren in full-time ministry, I’d like to share with you what my pastor has told me: don’t spend all of your time in the church office. Get out of your office and into the community.
I’m so glad that I didn’t respond to this idea by immediately writing it off. It took me some time to realize why our church practices this philosophy of outreach, but I’m convinced that Fellowship has benefitted by having a healthy mix of deep and wide outreaches. What would happen if you replaced one night of door knocking with one night of working out with your local cycling club? What would happen if you took an extra night out of your week to serve as a volunteer at a local non-profit or took a part-time job just to meet more people? Your Baptist brethren may gasp when they hear you slowed down on your door-knocking to get involved in your community, but the ministry is about reaching people, not finding affirmation from other saved people who should be trying to reach lost people.
You don’t have stop your door-to-door evangelism or your conversations with people at a restaurant or gas station. You don’t have to stop advertising your church online. But for the sake of the gospel, consider adding more methods of deep outreach to your schedule. Each community responds differently to different methods of outreach, but do what works for you and brings lasting fruit. My guess is that there are many people out there who would be willing to accept Jesus if they only were exposed to how real He is to you.
What ways have you implemented deep outreach into your schedule or church culture? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments section below.