culturally-relevant-outreach

In my Wednesday post, I recalled the decline of traditional outreach ministries in many churches. I further noted that most churches no longer try to connect with people through “cold call” visits in their homes. These churches, more often than not, begin to see declines in their attendance if they did not replace the traditional approach with something else.

In simple terms, churches without any ongoing outreach approach were likely to decline. The ethos of the church changed from other-focused to self-centered.

Churches That Made Positive Changes

A relatively small number of churches, however, did not leave the void of outwardly focused ministries unfilled. They, like the declining churches, stopped doing traditional outreach ministries. But, unlike the declining churches, they replaced the traditional approach with something new.

Though my research is more anecdotal at this point, I did review several dozens churches that have transitioned well. Thus far I have noted three major new approaches toward an outward focus.

Three Successful and Relevant Outreach Approaches

My research to this point is by no means exhaustive, so I will likely have more approaches in the future. For now, here are three outwardly focused ministries that have filled the void left by the abandonment of more traditional approaches.

  1. Additional worship venue. In the 1960s and 1970s many congregations moved to multiple worship services on Sunday mornings. Such transitions were not without their critics and detractors. Today a number of churches are adding a worship service on a different day; or adding a new campus in close proximity to the church; or adding a different venue in the same facility; or moving to video venues. These new starts tend to grow faster and reach unchurched persons more effectively than existing services. While churches above 500 in attendance were more likely to add a venue, many smaller churches are moving in this direction as well.
  2.  Ongoing community ministries. Some churches regularly send their members into the community to minister to those who live and work there. Typically they find the greatest needs and seek to fill two or three of those needs. This approach is not to be confused with the community ministries that require people to come to the church facilities. While those ministries are vitally needed, the members must be going into the community on a regular basis for the church as a whole to become outwardly focused.
  3. Inviting with accountability. Still other churches have developed ministries that encourage and equip members to invite persons to church on an ongoing basis. Those that have proved successful have some type of accountability built into the process. It is not a simple exhortation from the pastor to invite someone to church. It is rather an organized system that can account for the number of people invited to church each week.

The Research Continues

It appears that many churches began to decline when they abandoned traditional outreach programs but did not replace them with anything else. And it appears that the churches that continued to grow made certain that such a void was filled. For that reason, I will continue to research the different approaches of congregations toward keeping an outward focus.

I could use your help in this process. If your church is growing, I would love to hear what outreach methodologies you are using. I have already heard from several church members and their contributions are invaluable. I have even heard from some church leaders where they have continued with the more traditional approaches with great success.

This one thing is clear: If your church does not have some ongoing approach to reach those outside the walls of the congregation, it is likely to be in decline.

I look forward to interacting with many of you on this vital issue. And thanks for the way you love the bride of Christ.

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Comments

  1. Steve Drake says

    Our church is a growing church that fits your research well. While there is a void in the traditional visitation approach that void has been filled by placing another venue within the church building that hosts a worship service at the same time as the main worship center has its early service. Then a second worship service takes place. In another city (about a 20 minute drive) we have another venue that was planted only three years ago. It is already accommmodating 800-900 worshippers weekly. All venues hear the same sermon from the pastor.

  2. says

    Good morning Dr. Rainer,

    I posted the other day about our church sending out team(s) during our morning worship service. As I already shared these teams seek to minister to the families in our community through prayer in their homes and by trying to connect with them as to what they believe the greatest need is in our community.

    This year we are offering a free Single Parent’s Day Out ministry on the Saturdays leading up to Christmas. We will run this like a One-Day VBS based on the real reason for Christmas. We will also be teaching their children to sign a Christmas song that will be present during our morning worship service in December 23rd and will encourage the parents to bring their children that morning and allow them to participate in the presentation.

    I thank God for a church who is willing to try ‘unorthodox’ methods. i also thank God for the Gospel Project material that is awakening the hearts of our people to the need and their call to reach the people in our community.

    I understand our approach would not work for all churches because we are a small, 10 year old church, located in a very rural area in north Mississippi but I don’t thank God for leading us in this effective ministry for our community.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Roger –

      Great report! Thank you for sharing how God is moving your church to reach your community. And thanks for the good word on the Gospel Project.

  3. Drew Dabbs says

    Dr. Rainer-
    Is there any chance you could elaborate on “Inviting with Accountability,” either in a comment, additional blog post, or email correspondence? I am not at all familiar with the idea, but would love to know more about how we can gracefully hold each other accountable in this area.

    Thanks

    • PJ Harrison says

      Dr. Rainer

      I am also very interested in what the “nuts and bolts” of #3 looks like at different churches.

      Thanks!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Drew and PJ –

      Inviting with accountability simply means that the membership is encouraged to invite and there is some type of tracking of the number of invitations made each week. The most common approach is for small groups or Sunday school classed to report each week how many invitations were made. That metric then becomes a key metric for the entire church.

  4. Jason McMurray says

    Mr. Rainer,
    I had to read this post a couple of times as I wanted to make sure that I understood. Is doing “culturally relevant outreach” about putting people in pews, (or theater seats as some church buildings are now designed) or is it about making disciples? If it is about just getting people into a church service then you will have to make the service culturally relevant to keep them coming. The last time I checked the Gospel of Jesus Christ was relevant in all cultures throughout history. I am not sure that Martin Luther’s 95 Theses spoke to cultural relevancy.
    Your wrote, “It appears that many churches began to decline when they abandoned traditional outreach programs but did not replace them with anything else.” If you mean that a week night visitation, cold calling, just to invite someone to church, then I agree. Your statement though does invite the idea that if traditional outreach programs were re-instituted then the church would not be in decline. What the church should be doing is having an outreach program to shares the Gospel, not just getting people to come to church so the pastor can preach to them. This is already being done by the likes of some false teachers/preachers in this country. These are mega-churches in the seeker-sensitive, purpose driven, emergent, health wealth and prosperity movement. They put many people in pews, but the preaching is weak, or heretical, and we end up with false converts. The Great Commission did not tell us to invite people to church. I know you know this but truly an outreach program needs to telling the people that they are sinners who have offended a Holy, Righteous and Just God and that the only way to reconcile is through repentance and putting their faith in Jesus Christ who died for that reconciliation. That does not have to be done in a church building, it can be done in the streets.
    So if your next question what is my church doing? We hold neighborhood events that allows us to speak to old and young alike. We do this by attracting the children to outdoor events and that gives us the opportunity to speak with the parent(s) and the children where they are, not just inviting them to a church to hear a sermon or a building where they can see the video streaming of a man in another town. Culturally relevant outreach must be the sharing of the Gospel where the people live not bringing them to a building. God, in His sovereignty, does that in His will. We take the message, He saves. It is relevant in all cultures at all times.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jason –

      Inviting someone to church indeed is not sharing the gospel. The hope is that a relationship is established where the gospel will be shared, or that the person will hear a clear presentation of the gospel when he or she attends church. You’re right. The gospel is always relevant. How we communicate it typically varies with culture. Your own examples are those of culturally relevant outreach approaches.

  5. Toni Stevens says

    We are a small country church. We have a very strong focus on missions. (local, state, national, international) We have noticed that the more we give the more God blesses. We have started using social media to reach others. Our Facebook page has followers from several countries. We realize this will not grow our church or increase the attendance numbers. We hope we are planting seeds that can help grow the Kingdom, which is our purpose. We are thinking about using Twitter too.

  6. says

    Traditional “media” outreach is also in decline. A recognizable name, great message and creative marketing will not address advances in digital technology and how it is changing people’s expectations about media.

    In just one Internet minute:
    * More than 204 million emails are sent,
    * At least 6 million Facebook pages are viewed,
    * More than 61,000 hours of music are played on Pandora, and
    * More than 1.3 million video clips are watched on YouTube.

    Today, the number of networked devices equals the world’s population. By 2015, the number of networked devices is expected to be double the world’s population. And by the time we reach 2015, it would take five years to view all the video content crossing IP networks each second.

    How do Christian churches and broadcasters deal with that environment and undertake relevant new media outreach?

    They have to to embrace a new philosophy of media outreach. They have to start building new digital networks. They have to meet audience expectations for immediate access to multiple forms of audio and video content across multiple devices. They must be ready to examine every possibility for discovering the best path forward to reach the digital media generation, for building cases of new technology applied to sharing of the gospel.

    For the past eighteen months, our team has been building the first multi-channel digital network and syndication platform designed to help churches and broadcasters take advantage of recent technological advances and leapfrog their outreach into the digital age.

    We are formally announcing the news on Monday, but if interested Thom’s readers can learn more about it now: http://www.glorystone.tv.

  7. Pastor Ted Dittmer says

    We host two large outreach events (Fall Festival and Easter Egg Hunt). Our worship band, Nineveh Shore, plays MANY community events (even bars). We have a food pantry. We advertise on Facebook and Craigslist (most effective is Craigslist). We follow-up every guest We follow-up every guest with a hand written note and enclose a $5 gift card. Our average worship attendance has doubled in 6 months.

  8. says

    I like the list of three things. Good stuff. I’m reminded of my evangelism professor, Dr. Roy Fish. It’s all about variety in evangelistic outreach. We need to blend “Go and tell” with “Come and see.” Jesus did both. Yet all outreach needs to culminate with evangelism. We cannot stop doing what works when it works.

    We make a visit to our guests still. It’s a soft “glad you were at FBC.” Yet we ask a key question if we get in the door. Let’s use all methods. Let’s not erase personal soul winning on the altar of church growth methods. We need all of them.

  9. says

    Outreach is only as good as the “Outreachers”. There is a magnetic attraction acquired by those who are 100% surrendered to Christ. If I am on fire with the Spirit of God, people will come to watch me burn. “Real Christianity” is born on the back (one’s cross) of our compassion. That compassion comes from a deeply thankful heart based on the full appreciation of what it means to be forgiven, set free and given an eternal pathway. I for one am deeply grateful for the grace Christ afforded me at the cross. I cannot help but share who I am and what I have with those still suffering in darkness. Remember, there is no such thing as cold calling outreach, only cold-callers.

  10. says

    Our church is growing on many different fronts. Local Hope is our community outreach, local missions arm of the church which is activated to execute our mission of loving people where they are and encouraging them to grow in their relationship with Jesus. We’ve begun to adopt principles of Christian Community Development (CCD). The organization Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) has pioneered much of the work and created a biblical framework that can be adopted to any context in which churches reside. We are reaching the people in the under resourced communities around our campuses and they are beginning to engage in the life of the church and join us in our mission.

  11. Thom Rainer says

    Thank you for your comments. I have been in South Florida with my grandson, so I didn’t take time to respond. I plan to do so on Monday.

    • says

      I found the discussion and the article extremely interesting. Inviting people to church in today’s society is tough. There is a problem for many non-Christians to walk into a “scary” place called church (at least in Southern CA). I agree with all those who said we need to take our evangelism to the streets. My background is apologetics and I spent two years as a pastor before returning to teaching in the public schools. My spiritual gifts are evangelism and teaching. This is why I function better as a volunteer than working full time on a church staff. I need to be out in the public square getting into spiritual conversations and away from the “safe” environment of being on the church staff. We were a church plant so I had the opportunity to try influence two churches in the area of evangelism. I actually outlined the book “Building a Contagious Church” by Mark Mittelberg as a way to help the two churches make a 5 year plan. I highly recommend reading that book and implementing the plan. Neither church implemented the 5 year plan. I think “inward drift” was too prevalent. Today I continue to help equip people to evangelize in both churches. They are both large churches but attendance is either slowly shrinking or staying the same. And evangelism is still a low priority. They love my equipping ministry but the passion to reach the lost remains secondary.

  12. says

    Greetings in the name of Jesus our savior. We are happy with the work God has given you .We are interested to work with you here Kenya. Our vision is to exalt Jesus`s name and the ministry so that the ministry may be empowered to do all Jesus `s commands through evangelism ,family program,community development .It is God`s mercy that i am operating as a minister in taking the message homes in the factor of our strength as God governs,teaching my fellow and identifying the genuine people in need through preaching so that we can improve our society and many to come to Jesus .I have two gathering fellowship to join with you. My wife is a nursery and Sunday school teacher, she also takes care orphan children of four families of our brothers. Hope to hear from you.
    God bless you
    choti

    • Steve Drake says

      Pastor Choti, It is wonderful to hear of the work of God in your ministry and in the good work of your wife too. We thank Him for calling you and bearing you along as you serve faithfully in Kenya.

  13. says

    I LIKE WHAT I SEE. PEOPLE REACHING OUT TO THE LOST BY WHATEVER MEANS NECCESARY. ALAN STODDARD THANKS FOR YOU COMMENT. PASYOR RAINERS KEEP UP THE GOOD GOD WORK. JASON MCMURRAY I DO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE SOME WHAT WRONG IN YOU COMMENT ABOUT THE MEGA CHURCHES. I MYSELF COME FROM A MEGA CHURCH. IM NOT A BAPTIST MINISTER. BELIEVE U ME, I KNOW THAT MANY OF THEM ARE PREACHING THE WORD. NOW JUST BECAUSE MY CHURCH IS NOT GROWING AS FAST AS THE MEGA CHURCH IS GROWING IS NOT THAT THEY ARE WRONG. AS A MATTER OF FACT, IM IN THE PROCESS OF HAVING THEM TO COME AND WORSHIP WITH US AND JUST BY CHANCE SOME OF THE PEOPLE IN OUR CHURCH WILL GET OUT OF THE GROWING TRADITIONAL WAY BACK INTO THE GOD WAY. JESUS HAD A LOT OF FOLLOWERS AND THE BIGGEST CHURCH ON EARTH. CHURCH IS ALWAYS GOOD. I INVITE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. WHEN I WAS IN THE WORLD, I INVITED MY FRIENDS TO THE BARS. PLEASE DONT TAKE WHAT IM SAYING THE WRONGWAY, BUT I ALWAYS HERE PEOPLE TRY TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT THEY ARE DOING WRONG, BUT THEY FAIL TO TELL THEM WHAT THEY ARE DOING RIGHT. I LIKE TO BRAGG ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE TRYING. THEY ARE NOT ON THE SIDE LINES POINTING THE FINGER, THEY ARE ON THE BATTLE FIELD.

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