Episode 40: “You’re Already Doing It” featuring Kevin Harney

Leading Ideas Talks
Leading Ideas Talks
Episode 40: “You're Already Doing It” featuring Kevin Harney

How is your congregation practicing evangelism? In this episode we speak with Kevin Harney about ways to improve your church’s organic outreach to connect better with those outside of your congregation.

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How is your congregation practicing evangelism? In this episode we speak with Kevin Harney about ways to improve your church’s organic outreach to connect better with those outside of your congregation.

Doug Powe: Welcome to Leading Ideas Talks, a podcast featuring thought leaders and innovative practitioners. I’m Douglas Powe, the director of the Lewis Center and your host for this talk. Joining me is the Rev. Dr. Kevin Harney, the founder of Organic Outreach International in Monterey, California. Our focus for this podcast is how to reach out to others with integrity. Kevin is the author of several books including Organic Outreach for Ordinary People and Organic Outreach for Churches. Kevin, as you know, many individuals do not like the word “evangelism” and they don’t really like to think of themselves as evangelists. Yet, these same individuals really evangelize daily. As we welcome you to the podcast, can you share a few examples of how we really evangelize daily without realizing it?

Kevin Harney: Well yeah, it’s funny, I heard someone say, years ago, that one of the few things that Christians and non-Christians agree on is that they’re uncomfortable with evangelism. It’s kind of a broad thing across the spectrum, and yet we shouldn’t be. Really, to be an evangelist is to be passionately excited about something. To articulate what you think, believe, experience, in a way that others can understand it. They may not embrace it, but they can understand it. So there’s people who are evangelists for great restaurants, there are evangelists for the sports team they love. They’re evangelists for hair care products. “You’ve got to try this! It’s wonderful! It’s incredible! It’s changed my life.” And really, evangelism, in terms of our Christian faith, is just a natural ways, with integrity, with clarity, saying “this is what God’s done to my life. This is who Jesus is to me. This is the transforming experience that I’ve had in my life and I want you to know about it.” And if we can do that in ways that really are from the heart, and that are with clarity and with grace, most people are actually far more open to hearing about God’s love than we think they are.

Doug Powe: I want to pick up on a few threads you’ve mentioned there. I’m fascinated, and I agree with you that individuals, particularly with sports teams, we love to evangelize about our sports teams, I’m an Ohio State Buckeye fan, so I love to talk about the Ohio State Buckeyes. But typically when people are evangelizing about their sports team, they don’t think about it as evangelism even though they’re really passionate. Do you have any thoughts of why they don’t think about it as evangelism and then how we can get those same people who come to church every Sunday to be as passionate about the difference Jesus is making in their life?

Kevin Harney: Yeah. I’ve got lots of ideas about that. I’ve spent years thinking about that. I grew up in a non-believing home, no faith, atheistic home, kind of intellectual, academic atheists. So, when I came to know Jesus, I just thought “man. This is so exciting, I think everyone would want to hear about this.” And what I discovered is that most people actually, if we share about our faith in ways that are winsome, gracious, that are enthusiastic, there’s actually far less pushback than we can imagine. Now if people tie our faith into presupposed views of the world, of politics, and worldviews, that’s different. But most Christians, I think, we are fearful because we’re afraid we’re going to damage our relationship or chase someone away. But I find that when people talk about who Jesus simply is to them, what he’s doing in their life, it’s transformational. I had a woman I coached in leadership a few years ago, and she was trying to reach out to the woman who cut her hair and who did her hair. And she said “every time I mention my faith, she shuts me down. When I mention the Bible she’s not interested. I asked ‘could give you the Bible?’ She said no. Then one day I went in to get my hair cut and I was really hurting. I was struggling that day.” She’d gotten bad news about her daughter’s cancer diagnosis. And so, this woman who cut her hair, when she sat down in the chair said “how are you doing?” And she told me “I just began to weep. I ended up weeping for the next 45 mintues or an hour while she was cutting my hair. And I just talked about my heartache over my daughter,” but she says “what I didn’t realize was I also talked about how the Psalms were bringing me comfort, or how the scriptures were bringing me comfort. I talked about how the family of God had gathered around me and cared for me in this time. I didn’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have the church around me. I talked about how the church members in my church had brought me some meals because we were back and forth to the doctor. And after about 45 minutes, I wasn’t even meaning to evangelize, I wasn’t meaning to share my faith but I was just talking out of my heartache and pain. And she never told me to stop and she never pushed back on my talking about scripture, and my talking about the Body of Christ, and the care and the comfort I received and how I felt God close to me during that time of pain. And then this woman told me, at the end of that haircut, she actually said to me, the woman who cut my hair, she said ‘You know, can I still get a Bible from you? I’d like to get a Bible now.” This woman became open, not because she was awkwardly forcing an agenda, as much as sharing the depth of her heart, even out of her pain. And I think that this woman cutting her hair started to wonder, “I wonder if, in my pain, there’s hope for me.” And so I think we need to see evangelism as sharing out of life into another life with honesty, with integrity, and people are deeply open to that.

Doug Powe: I think what you’re said is very helpful because I think, often times, people try to find the perfect words, or make up some sort of spiel, and the reality is people know when you’re doing that sort of thing. And really, what is important is just being yourself and sharing your story. The painful parts of your story and the good parts of your story.

Kevin Harney: Yeah. Absolutely.

Doug Powe: Let me continue, in your book Organic Outreach for Ordinary People, you talk about the foundation of how important it is to love God and love our neighbor. And today, it seems like we’re becoming more and more divided in our communities. Can you share some thoughts about how we can move beyond all the things dividing us to truly love our neighbors?

Kevin Harney: That’s a great question and I think there’s not a single leader listening, whether a pastor or a congregational leader listening that doesn’t feel it and see it. And it’s heartbreaking. So I think that, if our lead into any conversation is where do we disagree or where do we have different perspectives, we’re not going really far. If our lead step in is loving people where they’re at, you know, I talk about loving God, loving the church, and loving those in our community and in the world around us who need to know the love of Jesus. I think we have to start there and we have to not be feeding the polarized narrative that’s going on. Now are there differences? Of course. There always have been and there always will be. But I think one of the biggest things that I tell my congregation that’s probably now, at this point, every three or four weeks in the sermon, if Christians aren’t the ones to say “Hey, we might not look at the world exactly the same way, but we can still love each other.” If Christians don’t say “we can love each other even though we have disagreements” then no one’s going to be able to say that. Christians have to be able to lead the way in saying: we might see things differently. Certainly, at the end of the day theologically, we have a theological worldview that’s shaped by the scriptures and so we’re going to have a different point of view on things but we’ve got to say to people “we may not see eye to eye on that but I love you.” And most people in a real life encounter will hear that. Will understand that. And I think one of the narratives that the overall – that’s being put out into the world, that’s so heartbreaking is that if we don’t see eye to eye on everything, not only can we not be friends, but maybe we hate each other. And I will lightly say to people “I know it’s not true that you have to grin everything. Or that you can’t love each other. Because I’ve been married for 35 years. And my wife and I have disagreements all the time and I’ve never stopped loving her. And I’ve raised three boys. I have three adult sons. And there have been lots of times that I’ve disagreed with them but I’ve never stopped loving them.” So let’s talk about how we love each other, let’s not believe that having a slightly different worldview, or even a strongly different worldview means that we can’t communicate, that we can’t love we can’t walk together. Because I think, as Christians, we have to lead the way in saying – Jesus walked with all kinds of people. He didn’t always agree with how they were living but they always loved them. That’s our model.

Doug Powe: Yeah. And I think something you point out is that, often times when we write people off, those weren’t your words, but if we write people off, then it becomes hard for us to partner together for important work that can be done. Because we treat them sort of like the enemy instead of treating them thinking that we may not see things the same but that does not mean we don’t share some common interests in terms of what we’re trying to work for participating in God’s transforming work in the world.

Kevin Harney: Yeah, we have to partner. We have to partner with anybody who’s wanting to walk the road of grace and love and help and mercy and compassion and so, I know the church that I serve here, on the West Coast, we partner with Target Store and Boys and Girls Club, and all kinds of different groups that are doing things that will donate time and money and energy and people, we’ll do things with the local first responders. We did a cleanup day recently, the project I was on we had a lot of the local fire people. And they serve our community and they were there helping and they’re not part of our church and I don’t know where they are in their faith journey but “hey, we want to help clean up parks to make a place for kids to play.” We can do that together. And what’s really sad is that, not only do we sometimes square off against people who are quite different than us but I see churches sometimes square off with other local churches where they’ll say “well you believe things slightly differently than we do” or “maybe we believe the same things but we’re fighting for our turf and our territory and so we want people to come to our church and experience what we have.” And that’s heartbreaking. In our church, on this last Sunday, we prayed, and we pray every Sunday for another local church, and we call that church and say “how can we pray for you. What’s going on?” And we pray for that church by name, for their pastor by name, and we pray for a specific need that they’re facing. And we’re really being the body of Christ. But I watch churches that feel like the other local churches in their community are the enemy. I mean, how that must break the heart of God. And so, we’ve got to work together with people who we have alignment with, people who we have slight differences with, and even people who come from a totally different worldview but they want to accomplish something that would bring Glory to God. I think it glorifies God in our area when we feed hungry people, when we give clothing to people who need clothing. When we clean up parks. When we do those things that say to a community “we love you.” I think that’s something we can do with people with different worldviews.

Doug Powe: I agree. And I’m really struck though, by your calling other congregations and praying for them and asking them “what can we pray for for you?” Can you just share an experience without naming anyone of how they react when you make that phone call? Because I can’t imagine a lot of congregations are calling other congregations to pray for them?

Kevin Harney: Yeah. It is, there’s sometimes surprise. So this last Sunday, a leader in our church, a woman by the name of Kim, just a wonderful Godly leader, she was leading us in prayer on Sunday. So I remember she prayed for Twin Lakes church, which is about 25 minutes away from us, up the coast from us. And prayed for Pastor Renee, and prayed for a new program they’re rolling out that they believe will help their community and grow their people in pray. And we could only pray that specifically because Kim, who was designed to be the prayer person on Sunday contacted the church, talked with the pastor, heard the need, and what’s happened is, we’ve been doing this now, I’ve been the pastor here for 10 years and we’ve been doing this for more than 10 years and we’ve been doing this for more than 10 years and so, now we’re at a point where other churches actually expect it and some churches have actually told us “hey, we’re starting to do that now because we we’ve been inspired by this practice you have.” But here’s the real sad part, there’s some churches that won’t return our call. They won’t answer when we’re trying to call and, in effect they’re saying “we don’t want you to pray for us.” And so, then we just kind of say “we’ll try them again in maybe 6 months and see if they’ve changed their thoughts about that.” But we’ve got a good 30-40 churches around our area that we now, not only pray for, but we’re building relationship with, we partner in serving our community, and that prayer grows into a friendship, grows into acts of Christian compassion and service, and, again, hopefully in those acts of service, a chance to have spiritual conversations and a space for the Holy Spirit to step in and create a conversation about things bigger than just the acts of service and the one who loves and serves the most and we can have conversations about our faith.

Doug Powe: I think that’s a wonderful practice and I hope some of our listeners will pick that up. That’s powerful. Praying for other congregations. I want to change gears a little bit again, in the book, you use this image of “pushpin mission”. Community based evangelism and organic outreach. Can you share what you mean by “pushpin mission” and what it is you’re trying to help people to understand with that language?

Kevin Harney: Absolutely. And you know, it’s something, and I say when I talk about that, there’s a good aspect to it. So a pushpin mission mindset would be this: It’s a local church who says “we want to make an impact with the Good News of Jesus.” But the primary way they do it is they give some money and some prayer to support some kind of mission activity and usually the further away and the more exotic it is, the better we kind of feel about ourselves. Like “we’re helping in this far away place.” So they’ll have a map, or a globe, or, if they’re fancy, they’ll have something with lights, or they’ll have lights or pushpins that say “we give money here. We help a missionary here. We send some people to help out here. And we do these things.” That’s wonderful, and global mission is fantastic, I think we need to work with indigenous people and support them and let them do the work and us come along side, not take over. But all that being said, I think it’s great to be doing lots of things in different places. But a pushpin mindset is “look, we give money or prayers far away, but it doesn’t call us right in our neighborhood, right in our own homes and families to personally be sharing the gospel, to be having those spiritual conversations to love and serve people in the name of Jesus.” So the good part is we’re helping around the world, we’re supporting missions, praise God. The downside is, in many cases, that’s our entire mission outreach, evangelism plan. And we’re not calling the people in our congregation to have those conversations, to pray for people, and to walk with people toward Jesus. And so, I want to see people moved towards a more robust, engaged experience of personally sharing their faith, as well as, having pushpins where we help there, there, and there.

Doug Powe: Can you talk a little bit about, and this is part of the reason I love the image, of actually seeing places where I’ve walked in and actually seen the pushpins. If you were walking into one of those congregations and that was their outreach effort, what ideas would you have for them to help them to say “don’t give that up,” as you just said, “but we need to think more deeply about engaging the community in a different way.” What would be some of your ideas to help them to think about that deeper level of engagement?”

Kevin Harney: The first thing I would do is exactly what you just said. I would say “bless you. I celebrate what you’re doing. Keep doing it. As a matter of fact, maybe do it more and maybe do it strategically.” So we want to bless everything we can bless. But then I would say “well what kind of things are happening in those places where you are sending money, sending prayer.” And they might say “well they do some outreach ministries, they do some service things. They provide a special events to reach children and to teach the story of Jesus.” Well what would it look like if you were to do the same things that you’re supporting far away, if you can do those same sorts of things right here in your own neighborhood, right here in your own community. I’d say “look at the kinds of things that you’re supporting – because hopefully the kinds of things you’re supporting are really vibrant, Jesus centered, compassion centered ministry. And what can we learn from them and then do here?” I would also say, and this is something I’ve really learned and one of the reasons I wrote, my wife and I wrote, Organic Outreach for Churches, is, I would say “How can you shape your church, your congregation here, to be a mission center?” There’s a need for care, compassion, the story of Jesus, the grace of Jesus, the testimonies, prayers to be offered, care to be extended. It’s just as needed here as it is anywhere else in the world. It may manifest itself differently. So I may look and say “How can we look at the culture of our church? And do we look at our church as, not just a mission sending group, but a mission station? Right where we are, we have a mission right here.” And then to begin to have those conversations. “What could we do? And the reality is: most churches in America are in a range of about 65-85 people. The average church, crossing different denominations. So most churches are going to be under, I think I read the other day, that under 150, something like 60-70% of churches are under 150 people. So don’t plan 27 things, find two or three things, start there. Let’s do something. Let’s pray, let’s plan, let’s engage with our community. And what churches find out is that there’s so much energy that comes from churches that have been struggling for a long time, that feel isolated, when they start loving their community, not just sending far away, but personally engaging in loving, serving, sharing, and praying for their community, it brings life and energy to congregations that are just feeling like “we need a boost here.” Well maybe it’s that personal engagement that needs to happen.

Doug Powe: Let me role play with you a little bit because I’m in agreement with you but I can imagine, in my role play, I’m going to be someone in the congregation, well, you know, all of us in this congregation are over 70, so we can’t really do anything in our community anymore.

Kevin Harney: Well I’ve met you before.

Doug Powe: I bet you have!

Kevin Harney: I’ve pastored a church – the first church I was a senior pastor, and was celebrating their hundred year anniversary and they hadn’t changed their order of service for 100 years. So this won’t be an exercise in imagination, I’ll share a couple of real conversations. One of the first things that I asked people when they say that is – I’ll ask questions like “Tell me. Do you still have the, I know you’re older, I know the church is older, but do you still have the ability to love people? Do you love people and do you want people to know how much God loves them?” Take a wild guess what everyone says to that.

Doug Powe: They all say yes!

Kevin Harney: Well, and our church is very loving. If people would come we would be nice to them. And I say “You’re the perfect person because you have such wisdom. In most cases these are people who are deep in their faith and so they’re great at praying. One of the funnest things I do is I teach people how to pray with non-believers. It’s funny. I think one of the greatest ways to do outreach is that, when you’re talking with someone who’s not a believer and they share an incredible joy, “I just became a grandparent.” Or maybe if they’re 80, “I just became a great grandparent.” And you’re talking with somebody as a believer with a person who doesn’t know Jesus. Could you say to them, “Man, that’s so exciting! What’s your granddaughter’s name? Would it be okay if I just took a moment and said a prayer with you for your granddaughter and just pray for you as you get to be part of her life?” I’ve asked that question so many times. On that question, I’ve never had anybody tell me no. And I’m talking about atheists, non-believers, tough people. And then I want to teach, I would teach these folks not only to pray with people who are having a great experience, but also when they share a heartache, when they share a pain. When you’re non-believing friends are hurting, if you said “I know that you don’t go to church, I’m not sure what prayer means to you, but I would be so honored if you would give me permission just to say a prayer for just encouragement in this time of your life.” I’ve had, with asking thousands of non-believers through the years, “Can I pray for you?” I’ve had three tell me no. Three, out of thousands. And I’ve talked – I had a person who was an atheistic, communistic humanist who ran a camp to keep young people from becoming Christians in Berlin. And I met her on a plane and after we talked for a while, I asked her, “could I pray for you?” And she said “would you do that for me?” I don’t know that she’s ever had anybody offer to pray for her before. I think simple things that you teach a congregation, you can pray for people, you can pray with people. You can start something in your church to extend compassion and love because you’re a loving congregation. You could put on a community dinner in your facility because you’ve got a great lifetime of cooking and great recipes, and then, in that time you could ask other prayer needs. You can begin to love people. And if you say “can you love people? Can you walk with them? Can you care for them? Can you pray for them and maybe with them?” I find there’s very few long time faithful Christians who will say no to these things. They just don’t think of that – it’s kind of like where you started “Well what is evangelism? What do we mean by that?” They don’t think – they think about going out onto the street corner and waving their Bible. That’s not what we’re talking about.  But out of those loving encounters, people start to say “why does your church care so much? Why do you listen to me so much?” And out of that, you can have those meaningful, spiritual conversations. And, again, I find those people with a rich legacy of history and faith. They, if they’re challenged and equipped, they delight to step into this. And some of the people in this church I served that was 100 years old. Some of the people that were most fearful at the beginning became the most tenaciously committed and passionate. And suddenly these folks who were in their 60s and 70s, when I came to the church and 14 years later, when they were in their 80s and pushing towards 90, were living out a life of loving people outside the church like they had never had before. It had become the delight of their life! It can happen if we lead people forward graciously.

Doug Powe: I think that’s helpful. Because I think, often times, individuals do not think about the power of prayer, but also that you used the term “grace-bearers,” they can be God’s grace-bearers in this way. And that isn’t dependent upon age. All of us can be God’s grace-bearers. So I think that’s something that we all need to remember but we all need to also remind other people in our faith communities about the importance about doing the work that you just discussed.

Kevin Harney: Absolutely.

Doug Powe: We always, well I find, let me phrase it this way, you talk about the two degree rule. And no matter what the size of something is that all congregations really are able to do something, is, if I’m interpreting what you’re thinking correctly. Can you share a little bit more about the importance of this and why this is important for congregations?

Kevin Harney: Yeah. You know, the two degree rule is something that has been really interesting. I’ve watched churches across the nation and, honestly, in India, we do work in India, and Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands, and New Zealand, and Australia, Guatamala. We do ministry, and this is really cross-cultural, cross-generational. The two degree rule is simply saying “what’s something that we’re doing well, as a church, for ourselves for people who are in the family. And how do we vector it a couple of degrees out into our community? So if you have, I have a pastor that I shared this with and he basically said to me “every week” -no, it was “every month,” he said, “we do a community dinner. A wonderful dinner with homemade pies and food. Every month we do a community dinner. Here’s the problem. We’ve never invited our community to it.” He meant Koinonia, he meant Christian community. “So every month we’d get together.” He said “It’s great. But now that I’ve heard this concept. We can vector this. We can invite our community to our community dinner. And we make great,” he kept talking about the pies. “The pies are incredible! They’ll love it! We’re already doing it, we just have never opened it to our community. And he actually said “we will never do another community dinner and not invite our community.” And he said “And you know what, I think they’re going to come.” I know churches who do a financial management class and all of the people who come to the financial management class are Christians because they’re the ones who read the bulletin. But if they say “What if we invited our community? If you’re struggling with your finances, come to our church and we do this training for four weeks about managing your finances.” Now it comes from a Christian worldview, and that’s the way it could be a little bit of the witness, but, again, God made the world, he knows why we need to be generous, why we need to be good stewards.  I know churches that have had a financial management class for years that never invited anyone outside of their church. They heard this concept, they vectored a couple degrees, they told people “Invite your non-church friends.” They advertised in the community. Non-believers came and, I know one church where an non-believer, believing couple came, and, because they did it on Sunday morning during the Sunday-school hour, they stayed for the church service and, with time, they became a follower of Jesus. They thought they way you become Christian was to come to a financial management class. Because that was their starting point. But this church had been doing it for years. They never offered their community the two-degree rule. I would say that any person in the church, what’s something that’s happening in your church that you would say “we’re good at this. We like this. We do this well. But we pretty much do this for people who are already in church.” Maybe bring meals to somebody after a surgery. Or after they’ve had a difficult time. And you bring that four or five days of meals. Could you offer that to your community? “You don’t have a church, but if you have a tough time, could we have our church members bring you meals for a few nights?” It’s powerful. So take what you’re doing, vector it two degrees and, along with that caring, you bring the love of Jesus and it can be powerful.

Doug Powe: What I appreciate about this is, particularly, I think, smaller congregations sometimes look at larger congregations and think “we can’t do those things because we’re not their size, we don’t have their resources.” But this two degree rule is something – it doesn’t matter the size of your congregation. Any congregation can do it. What I want to follow up on, going back, you talked about the dinner, because, no matter your size, many congregations have these meals that you discussed. How do I let the community know? If I’m doing one of these meals and I say to the congregation, hey, let’s, you know, move this outward and invite the community. What becomes the mechanism for sharing this? Is it just the people going out and inviting their neighbors? Are you more intentional in other ways?  How is it that you get the word out that this is now open to anyone and is not going to continue to be an inward activity?

Kevin Harney: It’s individual, and it’s collective advertisement. So you encourage people, invite your friends who don’t go to church. They really enjoy this. We sometimes, in our church, make these little cards, like a business card, that just says “Coming up at Shoreline…” there’s this or that. And then we give people copies that they can hand to somebody. If somebody is into social media, you know social media is becoming more popular across the ages. The church can actually make a social media announcement and send it to their congregation, they can forward it on to other people or forward an email, and then, also, around communities, there can be boards that are posted in different places. If it’s more of a board that’s electronically, here’s things happening in the community and most communities, that’s free to do. Or, we did something in our church one time where some of our musicians were getting together and they were doing an open mic night that they were doing songs they’d written, and sharing poetry, and just the artists in our church were getting together, and they would do art, and other people would come and listen, or watch and enjoy. And they said “wait a minute, we can send this two degrees into our community.” So they went around to some of the local coffee shops and bars, or just a board where people post things, lots of times it’s just a room for rent or whatever, where you can post anything, “come to Shoreline Church on Friday night. From 6-8 O’clock there’s an open mic. It’s family friendly.” Meaning, make sure anything you do on the mic is family friendly. We found out that not everyone has the same definition of family friendly. But, that was okay. And there’s people who brought their guitar and sang a song. People who came and did some poetry. In that case, we didn’t pay for any advertisement. We invited people personally and we posted things around the community. And there’s people – you watch people, if you get an audience of 20 people, they’ll play their guitar all night long if you let them. They just want someone to listen. And so we found people in our community coming to the church to share their gifts. We were doing it, but we were doing it for us, so we vectored it outwards. And so, but again, we advertised through personal invitations, and also advertised through community boards where you can post things, electronically, virtually, or literally make a copy and post stuff on the wall.

Doug Powe: I think that’s really helpful. Can you share congregations are always thinking about how to be innovative and innovative, of course, is becoming a catch-phrase within the church community today. So, using that, I’m using that catchphrase, but, can you talk a little bit about, given what we just said about the two degree rule, do you think we have to be innovative in our outreach effort, or do you think, instead of thinking about being innovative, what we have to do is be more intentional about the things we’re already doing about how to, sort of, refocus them to be more inclusive of the broader community?

Kevin Harney: I would give a heartfelt yes! I think, exactly, intentional and innovative. I think we keep doing what we’re doing better and learning to sharpen it and advertise it better and vector it outwards. And if something is no longer being effective. One of the things we need to learn to do is give it a rest. I look at it like you’re trying an outfit, and it’s in style, it works, and then all of the sudden styles change, it goes into the back of your closet and then, later on, the style comes back in again. there’s something that maybe aren’t working. That’s okay. You don’t have to finish them forever. But maybe set it aside, so we sharpen things, develop them, set them aside if they’re not working. But also, we can try new things you’ve never tried before. It’s really easy. We don’t have to be that creative to innovate. We just find a couple churches that we respect that are doing a great job and say, “what are you doing?” I call churches sometimes and talk with their leader and say “hey, what are you doing that’s really helping your church connect with the community?” They’re almost always willing to talk, they’re over joyed that somebody is calling them and asking them what they’re doing. And they’ll share a couple of ideas that I go “What? We could maybe do that in our church.” We would tailor it, we would change it a little bit to fit our setting, but the kind of thing they’re doing could work. In the church I serve, we happen to be located in a business complex because, in Monterey, California, land is so expensive to buy and build something, it’s almost impossible. We bought an office complex and retro-fitted it. But our neighbors are all businesses. We don’t have anyone who lives in a house or an apartment who lives within walking distance of our church. So we decided to try something. We put on a neighborhood barbecue. We’re just in our eighth year in a row of doing a neighborhood barbecue. And we had over 500 business people leave their businesses and come to our church for a giant barbecue outside our church. Our people in our church served them and prepared the food and did it for free. And we opened the church up and said “have a tour, walk around.” We just had a wonderful time. Well, another church looked at what we were doing and they said “we’re going to try that too.” He said “we’re going to do a neighborhood barbecue too because we’re in an office complex also.” They happened to be in the office complex in a city called Tauranga in New Zealand! And so, the pastor told me “hey, we tried a neighborhood barbecue but we did hot cross buns. We invited people over for a hot cross buns!” I said “I don’t even know what a hot cross bun is!” And he explained it to me, and they contextualized it for their setting. But he said “We had like 80 people from the businesses around us come over to our church for hot cross buns and tea!” Well they made it fit a Kiwi Culture. We did something that fit our culture. So look at what other people are doing. Learn from it, shape it to fit your church and give it a try. Here’s the thing, if it doesn’t work, maybe reshape it and try again. If it still doesn’t work, then go “it didn’t work, lets try something else!” But try things and you’ll find somethings that really work for your church and God will use that to spread his light and his love and connect people to the church and to the heart of Jesus.

Doug Powe: Kevin,  as we get ready to close, I want to ask about preaching. How do you plan your sermons to help any outreach effort? The beautiful thing about being a pastor of course, is, you’re able to speak each week and help shape ideas for individuals based on the gospel. So how do you think about helping your people to think differently about outreach when you’re preaching?

Kevin Harney: So, what I do is, I do something that not every pastor does, but I plan far enough ahead that I can then give some direction to our congregation so, if we’re going to be having a message that, you know, not every message, you could be doing a series on loving your family, and you could talk about caring for children, and a Godly marriage and you may not be getting into the whole story of the Gospel of Jesus, so I don’t really do an invitation to respond to the Gospel unless I really, clearly presented the Gospel. I think it’s unfair to say “do you want to respond to something I haven’t made clear.” And then we tell people we have a couple of different ways they can respond. They can come forward or they can meet with another person. Get a bible and get a reading plan and we can talk and pray with them about next steps so we can begin to look at what discipleship looks like in their life. And I got to tell you, that, almost every time we do that, by praying in advance, being prepared, there’s people who pick up bibles, people who respond to take the first step towards Jesus, or a step towards really surrendering their life in a very real, and deep, and personal way. But I think it doesn’t just happen haphazardly. I think we’ve got to think again, pray ahead, plan ahead, and then create a pathway for people to start walking on in a spiritual journey of growth.

Doug Powe: Kevin, thank you very much. I think this has been helpful and our audience will appreciate your insights. And I look forward to us connecting again soon.

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About Author

Kevin G. Harney

Kevin Harney is the president and founder of Organic Outreach International and pastor at Shoreline Church in Monterey, California. He is coauthor of the Organic Outreach® series of books and other resources found on his website at kevingharney.com.

Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr.

F. Douglas Powe, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and holds the James C. Logan Chair in Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. He is also co-editor with Jessica Anschutz of Healing Fractured Communities (Palmetto, 2024) and coauthor with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Sustaining While Disrupting: The Challenge of Congregational Innovation (Fortress, 2022). His previous books include The Adept Church: Navigating Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Abingdon Press, 2020); Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations; New Wine, New Wineskins: How African American Congregations Can Reach New Generations; Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith; and Transforming Community: The Wesleyan Way to Missional Congregations.