A Strategic Approach to God’s Plan for Outreach
Are America’s churches growing? The answer is yes and no. Overall, the attendance at American churches is in decline. According to the Barna Research Group, in 1999 the median number of adult church attenders was down 12% from 1992.
Yet we hear stories every day of churches that are not only growing, but thriving! They’re experiencing dramatic membership increases and are seeing many people come to Christ. Why are these churches experiencing this kind of growth and what can we learn from them?
It is true that the value or impact of a ministry cannot be measured by the size of a church or the number of people who are being saved. Each church is called to its own unique work in the Lord. Discipleship, worship, teaching and spiritual formation are a few of many valid, critical and biblical objectives for a local ministry.
However, at some point most churches and pastors also feel a call to evangelism and outreach. At these times, it is often helpful to look from a spiritual, as well as a practical, standpoint at churches that are experiencing a pattern of growth and see what can be learned from what God is doing in them.
At Outreach Inc., we’ve been privileged to work with thousands of churches. In doing so, we’ve observed distinct patterns that exist in those churches that are experiencing consistent growth and outreach effectiveness. We also see that these principles are really a natural progression, mirroring the biblical mandates for outreach. They are anchored in a strong, Christ-centered message, use an intentional plan (the Great Commission), provide a relational touch (as in the early church) and maintain ongoing “life to life” contact with unbelievers. We’ve come to call these principles the “Four Laws of Effective Outreach.”
The Four Laws of Effective Outreach are: 1) Build an outreach identity; 2) Reach out to your community; 3) Connect people to the church and 4) Equip members to reach out. These principles, when applied in a consistent manner, create a pattern of health and growth in a local church.
Law 1: Build an Outreach Identity
Who will your church reach? What image do you want to have in the community? Evaluate your church’s identity using these eight specific steps:
- Develop a mission statement
- Understand the demographics and needs of your community
- Assess the outreach potential of the gifts and talents of your members
- Assess the outreach potential of the church's physical resources
- Assess the outreach potential of existing programs and ministries
- Partner with community organizations
- Update the church's image to reflect your identity
- Build short and long term bridges to the community
Once you have built an Outreach identity, you can begin the cyclical church growth process of connecting people and equipping members to reach out. For detailed information on building an outreach identity, please see resource article “Outreach Identity—Does Your Church Have One?”
Law 2: Reach Out to Your Community
Let your community know who you are and what you do! Determine a strategy for how you’ll communicate your church’s message specifically to your intended audience. Many growing churches have found that direct mail is one of the most cost-effective ways to send their message to a specific target audience. A demographic analysis (provided free by Outreach Inc.’s OnTarget services) makes reaching the right audience even easier.
For more information and ideas on how to attract visitors, read resource article “Rx for the Invisible Church."
Law 3: Connect People to Your Church
Connection is the third, and often overlooked, element in a successful church outreach. You’ve worked so hard at getting visitors to your church—-now get them connected and part of the church. Connection begins with friendly faces at the front door, and a welcoming, informative atmosphere throughout the church. But remember, people aren’t looking just for friendly people—they’re looking for friends and meaningful relationships! Make the connection. Create opportunities for people to build relationships through fellowship, service, small groups etc...
Signage, resource materials (such as brochures), a helpful information area and regular connection events (such as a pastor's lunch) are all an important part of facilitating connection. For more ideas on making a positive impression see resource article “Make Your Bulletin A Connection Tool."
Law 4: Equip Members To Reach Out
To make the cycle complete, equip your members with the training, the tools and the passion to make personal outreach and evangelism a part of who they are. Every day your congregation personally “touches” a large part of your community, either through work relationships or social/family gatherings. An outreach tool such as Outreach Inc.'s four-color, informational, business card-sized InviteCards can contain a map to your church, service meeting times and even your current message series. Pass these out in your bulletins each week to give your members a great tool for inviting people to church.