His statement shocked me.
To be certain, I knew the anecdotal evidence was not good, but his words surprised me beyond my worst expectations. He had ministry responsibility for calling on nearly 250 churches. He knew most of them well. His comments still ring in my mind: "Almost none of the 250 churches I serve have an ongoing outreach ministry in the communities they are supposed to serve. A few of them think they do, but they are really just following up with guests who visit."
Wow. No ongoing intentional outreach. At best, follow-up of guests.
And we wonder why our churches are struggling. We aren't reaching people because, well, we aren't trying to reach people.
What has happened? How can we explain the death of ongoing outreach by our churches? I've worked with thousands of churches, so I have a few ideas.
- We became so enamored with the worship service as the front door that we concluded it was our outreach. But cool and dynamic worship services are not outreach into our communities. They are attractions to attend.
- We don't know how to get into our communities. I agree that cold-call visitation is difficult. But if you have killed that in your church, with what did you replace it? What is your church doing every week to connect with people in the community?
- We rejected programs because we think programs aren't cool or relevant. Let me give you a clear example. Vacation Bible School is the No. 1 evangelistic tool in America. But many churches have given up on VBS because it's a program, or because it's traditional or because it's not cool. By the way, it's not too late to change your mind about a summer Vacation Bible School. Check it out: lifeway.com/en/shop/vacation-bible-school.
- We call everything outreach and evangelism. If everything is outreach and evangelism, nothing is outreach and evangelism.
- We've become so busy doing good things in our church that we neglect the best. True story. The most hours of "ministry" in one church I know are spent on the flower ministry. Okay, if you are working in a flower ministry, that's fine. But if that's the No. 1 ministry of the church, it's not fine. And flowers in the worship center make me sneeze.
- We decided to do away with intentional outreach because of a lack of participation by members. I almost did exactly that in a church I served because we only had an average of 12 people per week doing any kind of outreach in the community. Then I did the math. Those 12 typically had three types of meaningful outreach contacts a week. That's a total of 36 contacts a week and 1,872 a year. That's big.
- We have become so comfortable and complacent with the way we do church that we don't want any outsiders to mess it up. In other words, we will fight for the precise worship style or carpet color we want, but we will yawn at the thought of our neighbors going to hell.
I am performing several autopsies of deceased outreach ministries in churches. Soon I will be performing autopsies on those same churches themselves.
Reach out into your community and live. Or neglect it and die.
It's really that simple.
Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources.
This article originally appeared at thomrainer.com.
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