outreach


One way to grow a congregation is to create outposts into the community to attract seekers, and then invite them to participate with the parent church (even if they never actually join).  This takes a mix of business innovation and marketing savvy, but is not hard to implement.  A good place to start is an article by Outreach Magazine, “The Church Needs a Skunkworks.”

A skunkworks is a group within the organization that is given broad powers to try out new ideas.  There is an expectation that some of the ideas will fail, or will never achieve popular approval, buy by allowing the group to think way outside the box, they have the opportunity to find disruptive ideas that make major progress.  It was a skunkworks that created the atomic bomb.  Another one created the laptop.  The copying machine (Xerox) came from one.

Dean Kelly, the late former leader of the National Council of Churches, in his book Why Conservative Churches are Growing (1972) suggested growth could come by creating an ‘eklesesia’ – a congregation within a congregation, and allow them to worship differently, reportable only to the pastor or a small group of elders, until the ideas being tried are evaluated. (The Oureach article notes “it  is better to establish some boundaries in the beginning rather than let them be discovered…by hitting a brick wall later.”)  It may be their ideas are later adopted church-wide, or that they eventually become a new church plant sponsored by the church, or that the group dissolves, leaving the leaders better trained for future service within the congregation.

One phrase from the Outreach article argues for this group to start outside the church:  “Once you start on church grounds, the likelihood of ever getting off campus is weak. But if you start off campus, you will find fewer restrictions in the future and more opportunities in the present. Besides, it is healthy if the church finds itself out in the community figuring out ways to bring the kingdom of God to a place.”

The other reason comes from in internet marketing space.  Savvy marketers will establish multiple ‘feeder’ sites whose only purpose is to attract a subset of the market and draw them toward the main sales site.  By establishing themed ministries in the community, we establish connections on topics that interest them, and then use those relationships to introduce them to the church itself.

If you need help establishing your own skunkworks, let us know.

The term UPG – Unreached People Group – refers to any identifiable population or tribe where there is less than 2% gospel penetration and/or little or no indigenous church planting.  There might be an active missions effort or not, but so long as the congregations rely on outside support for survival, they are not considered indigenous.  In extreme cases, there is no substantive or consistent witness to the Christian gospel message.

At our church in Massachusetts in the 1990s, we had relied on outside missions teams to run our summer camps and perform repair and maintenance of our buildings for most of our history.  We were a self-run independent congregation, but a sliver denomination in an area that was overwhelmingly post-Christian, with 90% not attending any kind of Christian assembly on a consistent basis.

Even so, we started our own mission (co-funded with outside support!) to the up and outs in downtown Boston, and planted the congregation on Beacon Hill, just blocks from the statehouse.

This was similar to what Eric Metaxas refers to as the UPG of cultural elites.  His essay on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians illustrates the importance of reaching those with influence and the dangers of retreating to our closeted safe congregations.

By giving in to our pride and abandoning the elite culture of places like New York City Christians have hurt the rest of the culture by allowing a secular worldview to dominate the whole culture, just as it did in England before. Surely a God who would have us humble ourselves and pray for demon-worshiping cannibals would have us humble ourselves and reach out to pro-choice television anchors, too.

It’s a question worth pondering.  How is your congregation reaching out to those not like you, those in civic and cultural leadership positions in your community?

The Christmas season is upon us.  No doubt your church is already scheduled music, special services, and lighting the advent wreath.  Are you using this as a growth opportunity?

Have you advertised on community and online bulletin boards?  I posted notice for our church’s presentation on the ‘Events’ page of the local paper,and the 3  local TV stations and 3 radio stations that had events pages.  Posters went up at workplaces and stores that were amenible.  (Not many stores will post flyers at high impact times like this -for fear of alienating those that come later and don’t have space to post – but you can ask.)

Every special music presentation should point the listener to an understanding of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  If the music & story line doesn’t implicitly say so, the moderator or pastor must make the connection clear between the birth and death and resurrection.  Don’t assume everyone there is a believer.  I have a Jewish coworker coming to hear me sing, knowing it’s a church; she will hear the Gospel plainly.

I say this because I was chatting on an online news site last week and another mentioned he was a-theist; he wasn’t against God, just didn’t believe it was true.  He said his friends told him his lack of belief would send him to hell, but never told him how to be saved.  I mentioned that some believers don’t know how to share the faith, and pointed him to an online explanation of the plan of salvation.  He replied with thanks for my concern, at not condemning his position but offering a solution.  He said he’s never been told the Gospel before.

In your Christmas audience may be an uncle, grandma, child or friend who has never before clearly heard the Gospel.  They just came to hear the music, or to spend time with someone, or to keep peace in the family.  Never let the opportunity pass to provide a reason for the season.

What does it mean to  be ‘missional’?  Is that different from being ‘mission-focused’? Does it matter what you call it?  Does it matter if you do it?

I’m not sure the difference between being missional and being mission-focused.  I suspect they are at least close to one another.  Both move a congregation to being aware of missions, and into actually participating in missions.

I know from experience it starts with being aware of the need.  It means going deeper than just ‘bless all the missionaries over there’ to knowing about what a specific missionary does day to day in relationship with a specific people group.  The congregation begins to pray for and to give  donations to that specific missionary over and above the generalized denominational offerings.  Finally someone breaks out and goes somewhere.  Over time, if nurtured properly, the whole congregation gets behind the movement and a sizeable portion of the congregation gets involved.

It’s transformative.

In almost every case, it pulls the members closer to one another and closer to God.  They get a sense that what they are doing is important, and if they didn’t do their part, people would starve or die from disease, and people would go to hell without Jesus.

Perhaps the difference I’ve seen are those that focus their attention on the unreached peoples elsewhere in the world, and those that serve the forgotten, abandoned and estranged people in their local community.  Both are important.  Both should be celebrated.  And people need training in how to be ‘on mission’ in both locations.

Enter Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI), a publishing source for Episcopal support materials.  The story I get from the CPI press release is that their initial offering is five books of practical wisdom.

  • Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-shaped Ministries on a Shoestring, By Becky Garrison
  • Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context
  • Mission-shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing Context, by Paul Bayes, Tim Sledge, John Holbrook, Mark Rylands, and Martin Seeley
  • Mission-shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission, by Susan Hope
  • Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church, by Steven Croft

I haven’t read them, but the titles seem interesting.  (I just received Becky’s in the mail this weekend.)  If you’ve read one or all, let me know what you think.  If you want to get a copy, they are available from the CPI Bookstore.

I’m trained for disaster response.  Specifically, I’m one of the 80 thousand Southern Baptist yellow-shirted volunteers certified to help out in a disaster.

I’ve taken that training a step further.  I and others at my church have received Red Cross training in first-in damage assessment.  Sleeping in the truck first in.  Helping the Governor decide if it’s bad enough to make it a federal disaster area.  It gets me to where hurting people are.

I have a ham radio license.  I’m one of the 40 or so locals who actively participate in civic events like marshaling parades and parking cars at community events.  I train with the radio team and they know me.  In an emergency, I become a trusted agent with access to the shelters and the command post, as a minister of the gospel.

We train for commodity distribution, and when the church gave away 1600 boxes of food, our team did so efficiently and with smiles and prayers, ministering love with order and cooperation. (no one waited in line more than half an hour)

When we go in to “mud out” a flooded house, or take a chain saw team to remove downed trees, or set up a mobile kitchen to feed thousands a day, we do so to get close to hurting people who need to hear that God loves them, and in spite of present circumstances, has a wonderful plan for their life, and has brought me past the police checkpoint to minister His grace.

Because if I provide aid without a witness, I’m just another city volunteer, with a dead faith.  I want instead to work out my salvation to people who in that moment are anxious for a good word.

How can your church provide value to your community, and get them in the door?  What community-based services can you offer for free that will also build your church’s financial bottom line?

According to CareerBuilder, 61% of workers surveyed said they always or usually live paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet.  It’s a problem even among workers earning $100,000 or more, with 30% living with no savings.

A fifth said they have reduced  contributions to savings in the past six months to get by.  Some workers make ends meet by dipping into their long-term savings.   36% of workers said they don’t contribute to any kind of retirement savings plan, and 33% don’t save any money at all.

That’s a dangerous situation to be in.  If calamity happens, or they get laid off, there’s no cushion. And without retirement savings, they will probably be working well into their 70s, and die without an inheritance for the spouse.

If they are your church members, they probably are not contributing much, and almost certainly not tithing.  I know of one church that found church leaders unable to contribute more than token amounts because the household budget took all the income.

When your church teaches financial literacy, you remove stress in the marriages, and give them opportunities to be generous.  Church members begin to contribute more.  Those outside the church have disposable incomes to give to other charity, and build the quality of life in the community.

And the church gains a good reputation among its neighbors.  Maybe some will come back to hear the gospel.

Most struggling churches see the solution to their problem as growth.  They will look to consultants and literature for  methods and options for growth.  But before we jump to conclusions, we need to know the outcome we want to see when we’re done.

The first question is to know why you want to grow, and in what areas.  If you just want numbers there are a number of gimmicks you can try to attract folks to come and sit in the pews, but never engage deeply in the life of the congregation. There are a number of mega-churches that seem to use that model.

If you want a community of deeply devoted followers of Jesus Christ, growing in understanding, compassion and mission, that’s a different problem.

People return to a restaurant where the food is good and the service is good.  They become regulars there when they can find community in  the place, knowing and being known by the staff and the other patrons.  They are more likely to contribute financially there than any other restaurant.  They may even help out if there is a need and a request.  Such it is with community.

Numbers are nice.  But as mentioned before, numbers should be the byproduct.  Focus on well-done liturgy, music that is appropriate to the demographic of the community, and opportunities to involve congregants in the tasks of the church.  Provide quality Bible study and training in how to explain their faith to their neighbors and friends.  Hold regular social gatherings.  Honor workers at all stations (from leaders to greeters) and acknowledge their service publicly.

Challenge members to be missional minded in inviting friends and coworkers. And always be open to include the outsider and the newcomer.

Do this and when growth happens, it will be healthy growth that remains vibrant.

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