Seven Reasons Why Most Church Outreach Programs Fail


One of my passions in life is to help churches move from becoming inwardly focused to outwardly focused. When I wrote I Am a Church Member, my key motivation was to demonstrate that biblical church members are always looking outwardly. When I wrote Autopsy of a Deceased Church, my desire was to demonstrate the terrible consequences and deaths of local congregations when the members are inwardly focused.

The Readers Speak

I was overwhelmingly grateful when nearly 1,000 of the readers of this blog responded to my reader survey. I am still reading and re-reading that invaluable information.

One issue I heard clearly was your desire for me to share the specifics of what effective outwardly-focused churches are doing. I heard you. My work on that request is almost complete, and I will be sharing it in video format this fall. The necessary brevity of a blog post precludes the type of discussion I want you to hear.

So Why Don’t You Deliver Us a “Plug and Play” Program?

Some of the readers asked for me to deliver the latest outreach program to their churches. Hear me well: There is nothing wrong with outreach programs per se. They can be very helpful if put in the proper context. The problem is that most highly prescriptive programs do not do so. As a result, they do not deliver their intended results.

In fact, they can, in some cases, do more harm than good if they are not framed well. Allow me to share seven reasons why most well intended outreach programs fail.

  1. They are seen as an end instead of a means. As a consequence, some will be a part of an outreach ministry as a sense of legalistic obligation. Most church members, especially Millennials, refuse to participate in something unless they know the “why” behind it.
  2. Most outreach programs are not addressed in front-end membership classes. The best time to help shape expectations and responsibilities of members is when they first become a part of the church. Rarely is the issue of becoming outwardly focused addressed.
  3. Many outreach programs do not feel natural. Though it is cliché, the best way to share the love of Christ is in the natural overflow of our love for Him. The best outreach ministries should teach us how to channel that overflow.
  4. When a church has an outreach program, it can be perceived as a ministry for the few. So the majority of the members can say it’s “someone else’s” ministry. The Great Commission is not a multiple choice question.
  5. Most outreach programs fail to explain that sharing the love of Christ is a vital part of spiritual growth. Instead it is often seen as a “check list” among other obligations at the church.
  6. Outreach programs can offer excuses for people not to be outwardly focused. I used to conduct church surveys when I was a church consultant. A common theme I heard was: “I do this ministry, so I don’t have to be involved in evangelism and outreach.”  In other words, being an outwardly focused Christian becomes an option among many. And it’s usually not chosen.
  7. Outreach programs can put the responsibility of evangelism on institutions. So if a church is not evangelistic, it’s because the denomination or other resource providers are not doing their jobs. Local churches and local church members shift accountability to an institution.

The Story Does Not End Here

I am often guilty of declaring problems rather than offering solutions. Stick with me. I have exciting initiatives ahead. I will be specifically sharing this information with those on my email list, so if you have not signed up, you can do so here.

In the meantime, please share with me how your congregation is focusing outwardly. Those of you in local congregations are the experts; I am a mere reporter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Posted on June 7, 2014

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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  • Alan Burke says on

    There’s always a lot of talking but not enough action this why the churches congregations are basically dying off, they mostly, not all,don’t give a hoot if someone who lives 10 feet away dies an goes to hell because they had no idea the salvation our lord offers,its sad but its the truth,they’re there to serve the community but only those who come to them,I was saved 3 months ago an even I have noticed this so I leave comments on Google etc to churches to try to wake them up to knock on doors and, or at least to post gospel tracts so salvation may be possible, please spread to people to put pressure on churches to do this, the greatest gift to mankind is not life but the offer of salvation by our lord jesus christ .amen.

  • These are some of the reasons I developed 1X Evangelism. It’s designed to focus on people doing evangelism more frequently and be adaptable to almost any church setting.

  • Mrs Anne Weeks says on

    This site can’t be reached
    The webpage at https://thomrainer.comautopsy/ might be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new web address.
    Looks like the autopsy has moved on ?

  • I’m confused at some of the posts that are mentioning Easter Egg Hunt and car show as outreach. Perhaps there might be an evangelistic opportunity but it often seems like a gimmick to fit in and maybe some people will come to church. Why is outreach associated with church growth? Shouldn’t outreach be meeting a physical and spiritual need. What about visiting people in prison or going to homeless shelters – not necessarily in your community I feel like if the object is to get people to attend it’s not really outreach it’s an activity and the church is no different then the PTA

  • I am pastor and also leading an outreach team, I kindly request you to keep mailing me resourceful information church outreach ministry, including your news letter, your information is very important for out mission team and all church members.


    Ps. Robert Oluka
    The Reassure International Miniistries – Uganda

  • I am part of a group of folks who are getting ready to launch a church later on this year. I will be in charge of the Outreach Ministry. I am busting at the seams with enthusiasm about reaching people and bringing them to Christ. I am open to and would love to hear any and all ideas about how to reach outward into the community.

    Thank you and God Bless!

  • Please is a tertiary institution an example of a church outreach program?

  • Pastor D. Beasley says on

    I live in a predominantly white community and Pastor a mostly African American church, my prayer has always been God I want a church that represent you not just one particular race of people, we have canvased over and over again this community some of our out reach team spoke to some of the people about visiting our church but we keep getting the same results and response, we’ve done this for three years in a row several times in a summer and was even told by some that they wouldn’t feel comfortable coming to a what was said a black church, what would you suggest to help move folks mind set in a different manner.

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