Recently, I’ve been involved with the internal retooling of the outreach department at a church near my hometown in Allentown, PA. Our ministry, The Nehemiah Collaborative, has a few focus areas, one of which is creating outreach echo systems working on development, not just betterment. It’s a worthy work and a necessary work. It’s also a work dependent on partnership, collaboration and a deep value of relationship.
It doesn’t move fast and there are no canned fixes. We listen, learn and create with a church to help them become who they already are.
I’m blessed to currently be working with such a beautiful congregation. Like many churches, they want to improve their reach and their effectiveness and not just settle for the next big thing. They’re looking to be more about the development of their community and not just about drive-by events. They desire to collaborate kingdom-wide. They love others deeply, teach well and place holistic transformation at the center of their work.
All of this got me thinking: How many other churches desire this same thing and are met with resistance or are unsatisfied with their efforts? Before you jump in and just start changing things within your outreach department, here are a few considerations.
Does your preaching match your reaching? You can’t serve beyond the theology that you teach. If you’re unsatisfied with your outreach, it may be linked to your message. Sure, communication matters and practicing good organizational management is also key; solid leadership also matters a great deal. Do look at all those things! Churches want to have an impact in their community. They want to see lives transformed. However, many churches spend a lot of energy cultivating and conjuring outreach opportunities and experience very little long-term change. James 2:14 “Faith without works is dead.” Whatever we believe to be true is what we will do. When I know I’m hungry, I eat. It’s not complicated. The same can be said about our churches. Whatever we do is actually who we are as a church. The same is true for those sitting in our congregations. To the extent that they understand how they are being transformed has a direct connection to how they live their lives. Want to have a better impact? Give your theology and practice a check-up. Maybe ask yourself, how are we using scripture to help shape worldview? Minor adjustments can go a long way.
Do you partner with other churches? It’s popular and comes easily from our lips to be “Kingdom-minded.” Yet so many of us plan, dream and do it all by ourselves as churches in our communities. It’s not that we should do everything together, but that we should seek to be connected for the entire advancement of the Kingdom. Sure, it’s easier to go it alone, but it is possible that when we do this we are practicing Tribalism. Tribalism, simply put, is when we keep others out or resist others because they aren’t like us. The last time I checked, we were all given a commandment to make disciples. Jesus spoke about tribalism any number of times in scripture and the Apostle Paul did too. Col. 3:11 “In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” When it came to ministry, Jesus did nothing alone. His 12 disciples were all very different and held varying levels of understanding about who He really was. The Church is no different.
It is possible to work with other churches around a common goal to achieve greater kingdom good. I’ve often wondered how we can say we are kingdom-minded or that we are doing the work of the kingdom without the other parts of the kingdom. Relationship is influence. Want to increase your reach? Do a check-up on how you partner with other churches. You’d be amazed at what you can do together! I’ll even go as far as saying you may eventually prefer it that way as the relationships grow.
Will it really make a difference? This is a great question to ask. However, the trap of comparison is a sneaky one. We might see this big amazing thing another church is doing and think, “Let’s do it!” But when it’s not ours to do, we only become more tired and less passionate. We also see very little change in the hearts of our people. Mark 12:41-44 “Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
What if outreach is a lot less about making a difference and more about each of us living transformed lives? The widow knew she had little to give but her heart multiplied it beyond it’s physical worth. I believe this is an invaluable lens to look through while considering how we engage the community at large. It’s not about the size of your reach but about the size of the hearts that are doing the reaching. This posture positions all of us to be the ones being transformed.
Let’s take the time to cultivate the hearts of the people within our congregations so that when we are given the opportunity to reach, it’s multiplied by Kingdom economics. The world has one savior and that is Jesus. So let’s put away our superhero capes and leave the saving to the Savior.