The previous article in this series identified three things that make up effective outreach. Let’s look at the first one:
Effective outreach is the “planting and watering” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9) through which a congregation intentionally engages nonchurched people in ways that … provide the congregation with means of continuing contact with the nonchurched people.
It may seem obvious, but it’s important to be clear that outreach has to do with our congregation engaging nonchurched people – that we are doing something that gets the members of our congregation interacting with people who are not connected to the Church.
By ‘Church’ I mean the capital ‘C’ Church – “the one holy Christian and apostolic Church” we confess in the Creed. Outreach is not “sheep stealing.” If someone is connected to another Christian congregation, he is ‘churched’ not ‘nonchurched.’
‘Engaging’ nonchurched people means that we, as a congregation, are doing something that brings us and nonchurched people together and that we interact with those nonchurched people. In other words, that we create connections with nonchurched people.
We can engage nonchurched people in many ways, including our human care activities (e.g., a food pantry, disaster response), our ministries (e.g., day school, early childhood center), events that we host (e.g., Oktoberfest, sausage supper), or community activities that we support (e.g., a local festival, holiday celebrations).
From what I’ve seen in working with churches across the Synod, most congregations are good at coming up with ideas to engage people through their activities. I find that congregations are very busy planning, organizing, and doing things to engage people.
The problem is that many of the things that we are doing as outreach are not outreach at all – and they are certainly not effective outreach. Ouch!
The reason that much of what we call ‘outreach’ is not outreach is that we’re not engaging nonchurched people through our ‘outreach’ efforts. Instead, we end up attracting and engaging churched people.
There is certainly nothing wrong with churched people engaging other churched people. In fact, God’s word encourages it! It is a good thing for believers to serve each other and enjoy each other’s company, but it isn’t outreach.
Outreach always involves engaging nonchurched people.
Effective outreach always involves creating connections with nonchurched people – engaging them in ways that enable us to continue contact with the nonchurched people we engage through our outreach ministries and activities.
Continuing contact with the nonchurched people we engage isn’t rocket science. It simply involves asking people to provide their contact information. Some will, some won’t. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we are intentional about asking for it.
Gathering contact information from nonchurched people should be simple, natural, and voluntary. We need to ask, not insist. We should let people know that we are asking for it so we can stay in touch with them. And then not act surprised when they give it to us.
Many people want to be connected to a community of caring people. They will be glad to give us their contact information. When they do, we’re on our way to effective outreach.
Questions to consider:
- When does “outreach” become “sheep stealing”? Are we doing any of this?
- How well do our existing outreach activities create connections with nonchurched people? What can we do to improve this?
- What are we currently doing to gather contact information from nonchurched people who participate in our outreach activities? What are we doing with that information?
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.