By Rev. Dr. Mark A. Wood
This four-part series on Effective Outreach has addressed the three things that make up effective outreach. After we have found ways to create connections and build relationships with nonchurched people, we are well positioned to invite them to join us in the spiritual life of the congregation.
The definition of effective outreach puts it this way:
Effective outreach is the “planting and watering” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9) through which a congregation intentionally engages nonchurched people in ways that … offer appropriate and appealing entry points (other than worship services and traditional Bible studies) that encourage nonchurched people to participate in the Word and Sacrament ministry* of the congregation.
* Word and Sacrament ministry refers to the various ways in which congregations share the good gifts of God given to us in His Word and through His Sacraments.
This definition is built on two very important things.
The first, and most important, is the understanding that disciples are made by the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace (i.e., through the Word and the Sacraments).
The second — which is far too often overlooked by us — is that we need to offer nonchurched people ways to enter into the Word and Sacrament ministry of our congregation which they find interesting and appealing.
Most churched people realize that nonchurched people see things differently than we do.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise us when nonchurched people don’t see our congregation the same way that we do.
We know it as a spiritual home filled with a family of faith and caring friends. We know it to be a refuge from the despair of the world and a place of hope.
They see it as a building filled with strangers who have some unusual beliefs and practices. More and more they see it as a place of judgment, intolerance, and phobias.
Making the effort to build relationships with nonchurched people goes a long way to helping them see the church in a positive way.
But even having a positive view of the church isn’t enough for many nonchurched people to overcome their fear of attending a worship service or the intimidation of joining a traditional Bible study.
Fear? Intimidation? We aren’t afraid of worship or intimidated by Bible studies. True. But many nonchurched people are.
Even the strength of good relationships with members of the congregation may not be enough for nonchurched people to overcome their fears and uncertainties.
It is up to us to provide ways into the Word and Sacrament ministry of our congregation that ease their fears and keep them from being intimidated.
That’s what is meant by “appropriate and appealing entry points” into Word and Sacrament.
It’s important to maintain the “appropriate” part of this equation. The most appropriate entry point into Word and Sacrament ministry for most people is joining us in hearing and learning about God’s Word.
“Appropriate” also means guarding against turning the church into a marketplace that caters to the consumer demands of people — churched or nonchurched.
But let’s not underestimate the importance of the “appealing” part. Properly understood, “appealing” calls us to consider the other person’s point-of-view.
Let me be very clear that this is not about worship style.
Changing to or adding a contemporary worship service is not what it takes to provide appealing entry points into the spiritual life of a congregation. (That’s why our definition says “other than worship services or traditional Bible studies.”)
Worship, in any form or style, is not an issue for nonchurched people (though it certainly can be for churched people).
Nonchurched people do not stay away from churches because of how we worship; they stay away because we do worship and they don’t.
More than that, they can’t worship the Lord. How could they? They cannot call on the name of the One whom they do not know.
This reminds us that the Church has what people desperately need — so desperately that they are perishing without it.
Yet, there is little about the Church — worship or otherwise — that is very appealing from an outsider’s perspective.
Changing that perspective in order to encourage nonchurched people to join us in hearing God’s word isn’t complicated or difficult. It centers on a question that we need to answer honestly:
Do we care enough about the nonchurched people in our community to stretch ourselves to bring the Gospel to them in creative ways?
Another question we should ask ourselves is:
Are we so comfortable with our ways of doing things that we are apathetic about the needs of those who are perishing?
This boils down to a critical choice:
Risk being uncomfortable in order to serve others or stay comfortable and ignore those who are perishing.
We may not like thinking about it this way, but that’s the choice before us.
By the grace of God and in the love of Jesus, we are willing to stretch ourselves for the sake of others. But how do we do it?
It starts with considering the perspective of nonchurched people before inviting them to join us in sharing God’s good gifts — in ways other than worship services and traditional Bible studies
It calls for us to step back and look at what we’re doing with fresh eyes.
It involves faithfully managing the tension between maintaining what has been handed down to us and responding to the ever-changing context of the world around us.
But mostly it is purposefully working to offer God’s good gifts in creative ways that engage people who don’t know the love, joy, and peace of Jesus.
Questions to consider:
- What entry points into Word and Sacrament ministry does our congregation currently offer that are specifically designed to be of interest to nonchurched people?
- What can we do to better understand how nonchurched people view our church?
- What could we change about how we do things to be more appealing to nonchurched people? How could we change it?
- What should we not change about what we do or how we do it even though it may be unappealing to nonchurched people? Why shouldn’t we change it?
Effective outreach is the focus of the re:Vitality module “Connect To Disciple.” If you would like more information about how to make use of “Connect To Disciple ”to improve the outreach efforts of your congregation, please visit LCMS.org/revitalization, our Facebook page [facebook.com/LCMSreVitality], or email WOR@LCMS.org