Recently I wrote about our ministry’s growth by how we changed the way we thought about attracting people to Jesus. Instead of attracting people to the person of Jesus, we would people with something (an event, activity, gathering, etc) in order to squeeze Jesus in after people are there. A holy bait-and-switch if you will.
I was surprised to receive many text messages, comments, emails and facebook messages from people regarding their thoughts on it. One person wrote me:
“I loved your blog post and I can really relate. I kind of feel that is similar to where my church is at right now. We are really trying to focus on reaching out to the community, but don’t seem to be getting much of a result. We’ve kind of tried a little bit of everything, but nothing is really sticking.”
This brings up a huge issue and I have some opinions on outreach for churches and ministries. These are my own opinions from our own experiences.
The first problem is the mindset of churches and ministries regarding outreach. It took me a while to realize that our default mindset regarding outreach was similar to planning an event, activity or service. Feeding the homeless and volunteering for service projects seemed to be required christian activity. In my mind, the reasons and the motives behind outreach were no more than just doing them because we were a church group. To me, by definition, church people do things for those people outside the church because that’s what church people do.
We continued doing various outreaches and it filled up the calendar but didn’t fill our services and it didn’t create disciples of Jesus. It made our people feel like they accomplished good christian activity, but no one was sure of the Kingdom accomplishments. It then hit me…
We had being doing outreach all wrong. We stopped all planned outreaches immediately.
Part of my transformation of my identity in Christ was to learn that my behaviors flow from who I am, not the other way around. One of the big lies christian’s face is trying not to let your behaviors prove who you are in Jesus. Otherwise, your mistakes simply prove that you are just a sinner. The opposite (and just as bad) response is that your good behavior is what makes you a christian.
We cannot allow ourselves to be busy with religious activities in order to make us followers of Jesus. A catchy saying puts this concept well:
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
I came to understand that we were sending people for the sake of sending people because it was good christian behavior. But the people we were sending to reach others in need were themselves the very ones who needed to be reached. In other words, the people we were sending were in greater need to be reached than the people we were sending them to. It had never crossed my mind that we were sending broken people out to broken people. No wonder our outreach was ineffective and there was no fruit. We didn’t need outreach, we needed inreach.
Jesus said that we will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). Meaning, ministry first starts at home before it goes out. It eventually goes out, but never to exclusion of home.
Outreach starts at home or in your church. Before you reach out, you must first reach in to the lives of your people. It seems the habit is to sign people up for christian actions before they know the power that comes from being a christian!
In response to this, we stopped all our outreach planning and simply focused on inreach – reaching our own people. Afterall, why should we spend the majority of our efforts to minister to people outside our doors when God was already sending people inside our doors? The truth in my heart from God was this:
“When you can faithfully take care of the sheep inside your own pen, you will be equipped to reach the sheep outside your pen.”
We were doing a bad job of ministering to those God was giving to us! The brokenness inside our own ministry was staggering. So many people were fatherless, so many were hurt from ‘the church’, so many believed lies about God, so many were scared that they were going to Hell. These are people who are Christians – many of whom had spent decades in the church! How could we send these same people out to tell the lost and broken about the victory in Jesus?
From the outside, our ministry calendar looks pretty tame. But from inside, there are dozens of meetings and interactions that happen every day – all with the single mission that each person has personal wholeness in Christ. The goal is to help each and every person know and discover the strength of their own identity in Christ so their lives will produce fruit…not so they bodies are busy with religion.
When we started to invest in inreach, we started to see the depths of brokenness found in our generation. Many have never experienced an authentic and caring relationship that expected nothing in return. Many have never experience grace, instead of condemnation in response to their personal failings. Many have never known a single relationship without manipulation. Many have never known that God is well-pleased with them simply for being the children of God.
Think about it this way. Jesus never planned a city outreach. He invested in twelve men and their lives demanded a explanation from everyone around them. They reached the world by the power from their individual’s lives. Programs don’t save people. People save people. I believe the only reason we have huge public outreaches today is because the ‘saved and redeemed’ are still trying to figure out how to let the power of God that lives inside them get out and affect everyone around them.
We need to come to understand that every person’s life is an outreach. Outreach is not an activity or an event or even a process. Outreach is the natural outcome of whole people who know who they are in Christ. Instead of focusing on the people outside your walls, first start by reaching those who are in them.