"Outreach" is a term that's thrown around quite a bit and has come to mean anything a church might do that someone who isn't a Christian might attend. That isn't necessarily outreach. Outreach is really an intentional effort to bring someone to faith in Christ. It can take many different shapes, sizes, and even speeds, but real outreach is focused on reaching people for Christ through various means.
It seems to me that there are several camps out there suggesting which means is best for reaching people with the Gospel. Some believe it's through community transformation and service. Others believe that it's through a highly tolerant and relational style that makes a real effort to build the bridge from society into the Kingdom. Others think that attractional means are best.
In truth, people are different, and various approaches are needed. This isn't to say that all approaches are theologically equal. It is to say that in my experience, evangelism happens best relationally with support from attractional things like events and assemblies. Sometimes, however, people come to an assembly where they meet the people that can relationally share Christ with them. Other times, people sit and listen to sermons for two or three years, wanting to decide completely for themselves. They don't want anyone trying to persuade them. They want to watch Christianity in action and decide for themselves. They are like Zacchaeus, listening in. Except, these folks won't be rushed. Like a glacier, they will have to melt slowly over time.
All of this is to say there is a place for the Pentecost sermon that brings 3,000 forward. There's a place for worship experiences that share Christ is the most palpable ways. We all need to learn to understand people better, and we all need to live more "incarnationally." We need it all, not this or that, one or the other.
If I had one wish for the church regarding "outreach" it would be that it's understanding of people far from God would increase. We need our "emotional IQ" to be higher to be more effective. We need Jesus' insight into people.
Most often, when we see "outreach" happen in Scripture, it typically happens rather organically and relationally. It's Philip and the Eunuch, Paul, Silas and the Jailer, Jesus and a woman at the well. So, one of the best evangelistic strategies I know of is to help the church understand people who weren't born and raised in the church—"outsiders," how to recognize opportunities that God has already put around them, and how to handle those opportunities responsibly.
This week, I'll have gotten together with three different non-Christians to talk about faith. They couldn't be more different. One is a millionaire. One is about to be thrown out of her apartment for not paying rent. One is attending a Junior College. They are from three different countries and cover a 35-year age bracket. They live about 35 miles apart from one another. The only thing they really have in common is that they all sense a need for God and they are people.
Loving God and loving people is the foundation of outreach. For that matter, it's what Christianity is all about. Loving God causes us to take seriously what He does (reaching people with the Gospel) and live as salt and light in the world. Loving people is what causes us to go about the task of "outreach" urgently in a way that brings honor to God–not viewing people as a project but as future children of God.
This is the week of the National Outreach Convention in San Diego. Some of the usual suspects will be there–Ed Stetzer, Dan Kimball, etc. It's always fascinating to hear they and other evangelical, missional, emergent, etc., guys have to say on the subject of "Outreach."
This much is for sure: It's a whole different ballgame out there than it used to be. It'll always be about loving God and others. The question that needs a convention is: how do we do that, and how do we inject the value of evangelism into the blood-stream in the church? I'll pass on some of the highlights through the blog.
Do you feel like the Church is getting better or worse at "Outreach?"