Autopsy of a Deceased Church Outreach Ministry

His statement shocked me.

To be certain, I knew the anecdotal evidence was not good, but his words surprised me beyond my worst expectations. He had ministry responsibility for calling on nearly 250 churches. He knew most of them well. His comments still ring in my mind: “Almost none of the 250 churches I serve have an ongoing outreach ministry in the communities they are supposed to serve. A few of them think they do, but they are really just following up with guests who visit.”

Wow. No ongoing intentional outreach. At best follow up of guests.

And we wonder why our churches are struggling. We aren’t reaching people because, well, we aren’t trying to reach people.

What has happened? How can we explain the death of ongoing outreach by our churches? I’ve worked with thousands of churches, so I have a few ideas.

  • We became so enamored with the worship service as the front door, we concluded that it was our outreach. But cool and dynamic worship services are not outreach into our communities. They are attractions to attend.
  • We don’t know how to get into our communities. I agree that cold-call visitation is difficult. But if you have killed that in your church, with what did you replace it? What is your church doing every week to connect with people in the community?
  • We rejected programs because we think programs aren’t cool or relevant. Let me give you a clear example. Vacation Bible School is the number one evangelistic tool in America. But many churches have given up on VBS because it’s a program, or because it’s traditional, or because it’s not cool. By the way, it’s not too late to change your mind about a summer Vacation Bible School. Check it out:
  • We call everything outreach and evangelism. If everything is outreach and evangelism, nothing is outreach and evangelism.
  • We’ve become so busy doing good things in our church that we neglect the best. True story. The most hours of “ministry” in one church I know is the flower ministry. Okay, if you are working in a flower ministry, that’s fine. But if that’s the number one ministry of the church, it’s not fine. And flowers in the worship center make me sneeze.
  • We decided to do away with intentional outreach because of a lack of participation by members. I almost did exactly that very thing in a church I served because we only had an average of 12 people per week doing any kind of outreach in the community. Then I did the math. Those 12 typically had three types of meaningful outreach contacts a week. That’s a total of 36 contacts a week and 1,872 a year. That’s big.
  • We have become so comfortable and complacent with the way we do church that we don’t want any outsiders to mess it up. In other words, we will fight for the precise worship style or carpet color we want, but we will yawn at the thought of our neighbors going to hell.

I am performing several autopsies of deceased outreach ministries in churches. Soon I will be performing autopsies on those same churches themselves.

Reach out into your community and live. Or neglect it and die.

It’s really that simple.

Posted on April 23, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thom, you stated the following in your article. You noted that you didn’t give up. What did you do in a church that small to activate the congregants and what was the outcome. I pastor a small church and I struggle this with this very issue. Any insight would be appreciated.

    “We decided to do away with intentional outreach because of a lack of participation by members. I almost did exactly that very thing in a church I served because we only had an average of 12 people per week doing any kind of outreach in the community. Then I did the math. Those 12 typically had three types of meaningful outreach contacts a week. That’s a total of 36 contacts a week and 1,872 a year. That’s big.”

  • Tom Shirk, in The Externally Focused Church says, “The church that serves it’s community reaches it’s community.” In my experience with churches all around the country, large and small, his adage always rings clear. Every community has within it points of opportunity for churches to serve. Serving creates opportunities for reaching. When the community sees the church serving for and caring for the community, it sees, sometimes for the first time, the church as relevant. And growth and relevance are the result. And, when congregants see their church as relevant in ways that can involve them, they move from pew sitters to being active this outreach through serving.

  • Katherine says on

    There are several different opportunities for outreach in our church.
    1.The neighborhood elementary school classes are adopted by a Sunday school class for the year. We minister to the teacher and try to be a help to him or her. We have a story time with the children that usually always has biblical principles in it. We do an activity,usually craft related that requires hands on help and we are able to share with the children one on one very basic truths ( example such as “God is so good to give us these beautiful flowers……..did you know God loves you so much? ” Then we provide a snak and just love on these kids. We celebrate the children’s birthdays each month and each child receives a gift bag at Christmas that has useful items plus fun/yummy things and the candy cane storybook which points to Jesus. The church also honors the teachers with a lovely meal in our fellowship hall at the close of the school year.
    2.Room in the Inn;a ministry where Sunday school classes volunteer to host the homeless men in our community for the night to give them an evening meal,a devotional time with conversation and a safe ,dry
    ,warm place to sleep and shower,and breakfast with snacks to go. Transportation is provided to and from the church for this and the entire event require lots of preparation and hands on deck. There are organizers,drivers,cooks,shoppers,devotional leaders,men to stay the night. Several families bring their children as this is a great teaching by doing/serving example. The men that attend are so precious and grateful and eager to talk with us. They also enjoy the children.. our class does this 2-3 times a year.
    3.Mission Jackson:Every Sunday afternoon at about a dozen sites all over our city small groups go to designated areas and lead something similar to backyard bible study. During these weeks the children who have regularly attended and had good behavior are invited to participate in a ministry on Weds nights called D2 (Disipleship 2) Again ,small groups teach them one of several skills such as sewing,cooking,grilling,car maintenance,etc and incorporate a devotional time with discussion and then a meal. Again,transportation to and from is provided..
    4.Ongoing weekly prison ministry
    5.This past year opened two satellite sites that are incorporating these same ministries in those communities.
    6.Mother’s Day Out program for churched and unchurched parents’ children
    7.Youth outreach events such as dodgeball citywide and also speakers and concerts
    8.Honoring and ministering to our first responders of the community. They have been given full access to a place to pray and have a cold drink and a respite from their shift if needed.
    9. Missions….. currently we have several church plants and also several local(ex:sex trafficking and rehabilitation) ministries as well as foreign missions (bible translation,clean water) and several trips where workers go to build buildings for places of worship that have none.
    10.Benevolance committee to meet needs; including repairs on homes that would otherwise go unmet.

    These are not all,but are what I am able to think of.
    Our church mission statement is:
    “Love God,Love People,Serve the World”.

    Outreach is very doable,but like anything else,it will not just happen. It takes good leadership and prayer and willing people and the Holy Spirit’s anointing and the desire to see Him move and draw all men unto Himself. There is truly no limit to the possibilities if a body of believers are led correctly!

  • “We aren’t reaching people because, well, we aren’t trying to reach people.”

    But some of us are working to change this sad reality. I applaud the many churches in Orlando who smashed this ‘stuckness’ and together reached over 550,000 homes in several week. Churches across the U.S., from NY to LA, Miami to Spokane, Houston to Chicago are mobilizing through

  • I don’t go to church anymore although in past years I taught Sunday School and Ladies Bible Studies. Now, I have become increasingly disabled. Everyone’s in such a hurry to get in and out, it is somewhat dangerous because no matter how hard I try to stay out of the way, I fear being knocked over. I am also a widow, although my husband didn’t attend as often as I did, I don’t have protection. It is okay, I love the Lord and He loves and cares for me. But, I too am sorry to see the church become hip, cool, current, whatever. I personally think we need to lose the “show” and return to focus on The Worthy One!

  • Thom, I believe that teaching our churches how to equip their members as ‘Community Chaplains’ and help them to understand the value of building relationships with people they see on a regular basis is the best outreach tool the church can employ today.

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