Every church wants to reach new people, but unhelpful attitudes and practices get in the way. Kevin Harney outlines seven simple adjustments to our ways of thinking that can enhance outreach and evangelism.
Our thinking shapes our actions. Sometimes a simple adjustment in our thinking can have far-reaching repercussions. If we shift the way we look at the world and the church, everything can change. And some shifts to new ways of thinking are far simpler to make than we realize.
1. From random to strategic
No one expects a church to have a powerful Sunday School program without putting effort into it. This is true of any ministry in the church. Simply hoping that a ministry will spontaneously arise and succeed is foolish. But for some strange reason, many churches don’t apply this wisdom to outreach. They just expect it to happen magically and are baffled when they don’t see conversions. The truth is, effective outreach takes planning and work. We must approach outreach strategically and never haphazardly. Leaders in the church must declare, “We will think about outreach, plan for it, and weave evangelism into the fabric of our church life.”
2. From famine to funding
Many churches will claim they have a high level of commitment to evangelism, but a major part of their budget is dedicated to serving and caring for those who already are believers in Jesus Christ. If we want to see evangelistic activity flowing from our church into our community and the world, we must fund outreach as a high-priority ministry and give sacrificially toward evangelism and missions. Never again can we let there be a famine of resources dedicated to reaching out with the gospel.
3. From believing to belonging
In the past, it was assumed that people needed to cross the line of faith before they could be active in a church. Making a commitment to Christ had to precede the experience of belonging to the church community. In the past several decades, our culture has shifted. Today, if we want to be effective in reaching out to people with the gospel, we often need to invite them to belong before they have come to believe the message we preach.
All around us people are looking for community, a place to develop significant and meaningful relationships with other people. They need to feel accepted before they consider changing their beliefs. We must no longer require people to believe our doctrine and embrace our practices before they can be accepted in our church.
4. From us to them
Far too many Christians believe the church exists first and foremost for them. They might not always say it, but deep inside they think the real purpose of the church is to meet their needs, provide services they like, take care of their families, and offer programs they enjoy. Making a churchwide shift from us to them means choosing to invest energy, time, and resources in serving those who are not yet part of our church family.
5. From programs to praying
Many churches, once they finally decide to engage in outreach, jump right into establishing programs and forget to pray. We often think that simply reading a book, buying a new curriculum, or discovering a fresh approach to outreach will automatically produce results. We must seek God in prayer if we expect God to transform lives.
6. From mush to clarity
Many leaders and churches fail to recognize the connection between core theological beliefs and outreach effectiveness. They hope that a great program or the commitment of resources and lots of goodwill and hard work will get the job done. But if the members of your church are not aware that people are truly lost without Jesus, outreach will not be a priority for them. We must move from theologically mushy beliefs to absolute confidence that God’s Word is true.
7. From fatalism to faith.
If we begin our work with a fatalistic attitude, we will inevitably grow discouraged. If we think change is impossible, we won’t even try. But if we approach our calling with hope-filled faith and we believe that God still raises the dead, we will commit ourselves to his work in our churches and expect great things for his glory. We must step forward in faith and not grow discouraged.
This article is adapted from Organic Outreach for Churches: Infusing Evangelistic Passion in Your Local Congregation (Zondervan, 2018) by Kevin G. Harney. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.
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- Mission is Constant but Methods Must Change by Jim Cowart