When I began my journey as a church consultant in the 1980s, I had one tried-and-true approach to determine the outreach effectiveness of a church. I would simply ask to see the records of the number of home visits the prior month. I would then compare that number to the average attendance of the church. It was a pretty basic yet accurate way to see if the church was likely to grow in the future.

From my perspective of over 30 years ago, churches that knocked on more doors were more likely to grow. Indeed, even today if you can visit with receptive hosts in their homes today, the effectiveness of that contact is very high.

The Shift

But my previous statement has two clear caveats. The first is “if you can visit . . . in their homes.” I began to see the trends shift in that same 80s decade when I was also serving as a pastor in St. Petersburg, Florida. Second, I used the word “receptive.” People were becoming less receptive, even hostile, to drop-by visits. And, at least in that city, more gated communities made drop-by visits impossible.

As a pastor, I would continue to use the traditional home visit as our church’s primary outreach mechanism into the 1990s, but I saw it become less and less effective. Those most faithful members who showed up for outreach night were becoming more and more discouraged. It was not uncommon for a couple to attempt to make five or six home visits with no success. Even those who tried to make appointments at night had very minimal success.

The Dilemma

Almost every church leader understands that the congregation is called to be faithful to the Acts 1:8 command to be witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The practical application of that, of course, is to send members into our communities and, ultimately, throughout the world.

The good news is that more churches are indeed sending members throughout the country and the world. The bad news is that fewer and fewer churches are highly intentional about reaching their “Jerusalem,” or immediate community.

There is a direct connection between the demise of traditional outreach and the decreasing effectiveness of reaching the respective communities. Spending time in someone’s home was a highly effective connection that usually led to other relational opportunities. But, as noted, this type of outreach is highly problematic in most communities. What’s the solution?

The Survey

I have done an informal survey of church leaders the past several months. My simple question has been: What is your church doing to reach her community? Here are the top nine responses.

  1. Nothing. The church leaders who gave me this response knew that it was not a good answer. They simply have not found an effective means to reach their community.
  2. Social and caring ministries. Usually these ministries are effective in helping people, but I have heard few success stories of getting those same people assimilated in the church. Often the socioeconomic barriers are too large, despite the church’s best efforts.
  3. Big event. The church puts many of its resources toward a major production at Easter, Christmas, or Fourth of July, to name a few. Usually a good number of community residents do attend these events. Usually most of them do not return to the church.
  4. New venues or campuses. The multi-campus and the multi-venue models are becoming increasingly popular. Because they are able to attract new segments of the community, this approach does seem to be more effective than most.
  5. Community events. This approach is similar to the big event, except it is held in the community instead of the church facilities. I recently saw, for example, a church put significant resources into an event called “Carnival in the Park.” Like the big event in the church, I am not hearing of significant outreach success with this approach.
  6. Natural relationship building. A number of leaders indicated problems with structural outreach approaches. They believed that the members should be naturally developing relationship with non-believers. I believe that too; I’m just not seeing it too often.
  7. Intentional invitations. Our research shows that many unchurched persons will have a high level of receptivity to an invitation to church. Many churches encourage this approach to outreach, but I would like to see how some type of accountability could be created so that the approach can be sustained.
  8. New groups. I am perplexed. Churches that are intentionally and aggressively starting new groups are having significant outreach success. They are seeing more unchurched people accept invitations to join the new groups. But relatively few churches are intentional and aggressive about starting new groups. Why?
  9. Sticking with the traditional outreach. A few churches report that their traditional approach to visits in the homes works well in their communities. Great! If God’s using it, stay with it.

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of these nine approaches? What outreach approaches are you using in your church? Are they effective?


  1. Michael Hogeland says

    At my church, which is a declining church that could shut its doors in a few years, I tried to start up the outreach ministry again at the church by going door to door. But I ran into other problems not dealing with the homes we visited, but with the church members. We had those who didn’t want to go out, even though they said we need a outreach ministry. And the ones who went only wanted to give out church information to as many people as possible instead of trying to get to know the people and share the gospel with them.

    • David says

      This is a very common issue among many churches particularly small, declining or “Holding On” churches. I am a pastor of one of the “Holding our own” churches and I am starting to see God change things around. However it started with me and my heart.

      The church had lost a few members early last year (they since came back) but this led them to come and talk to me about the need for me to get out in the community. At first I have to admit I was very upset, knowing that I can’t do it all…and knowing that if the church does not turn around It won’t matter how hard I work it will come to nothing. So I told them that if your really serious about doing out reach I will do two things….1. I will not come into the office one day and use my evening (every Tue for me) and I will go out and visit and 2. We needed to make a day where we continually have an outreach night.

      So thats what we did. We canceled Wed night bible study and made it our outreach service (Made a few people mad) and I went out every Tue and visited. I contacted and visited mostly my church members, rarely did I ever go to visit a new person (unless they visited the church previously) On Wed we wrote cards, to kids, to adults to parents to visitors. We used mostly post cards because they were cheaper on stamps. I got my kids involved to write cards to other kids in the church. Many times on Wed it was just me writing cards, but that is what I did, and all the while I started getting a data base for my outreach….I divided it up into church members, sunday school attendee’s and prospects and children prospects.

      After several months of visiting (many times by my self) I branched out to move our Wed night to include 2 special events 1. Prayer walking and 2. In- Home communion for our shut-in’s Both have turned out very well, and caused many from our church to get excited about it. The prayer walking many in our church was apprehensive about out it but after the news spread about us going and praying for people…many in our church have latched on to it. I am looking for two or three other events we can use in our Wed night service, that will help bolster more members being involved.

      I am now making sure every Sunday I praise our people for something, anything that is God honoring….if I hear of a member making a contact…I praise them for it….In front of everyone. If I see one of our members serving or going on mission or painting in the church or what ever I praise God for them in front of everyone!

      Ultimatly I think it had to take me and God using me to jump up and head out the door and begin making visits. My first visits were the members, my first cards were the people. You have to be visible. One of the things I did with one of the members is I went to there house and asked about all of the people where they lived…and asked if they would drive me around the different houses. This did two things….Obviously I got some great contact info, but it also allowed them to see that there were people who lived right by them who were not going anywhere, and it also allowed them to see my heart!

      Bottom line if you want your church to do something, you must be visibly doing it as well…..I am taking this same direction and moving our church be missional. I right now am learning Spanish, working with my State to join partnership with a church in El Salvador, and I will be going down next year and bring anyone I can with me….and even if it is only me going down….I plan to make sure that everything I do is posted on Facebook, take pictures and videos.

      Its hard work and at times can get discouraging when you see that your the only one doing the job….but be faithful, as Paul said to Timothy do the work of an evangelist, and be visible to your people and let them see your heart, as well as hear your message. I hope this is in someway helpful, and again not everything I did is what you or anyone needs to do. I just know it is changing our church around, and I am excited to see it move.

      • says

        Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences; this has been really helpful to read. There is something incredibly beneficial in hearing someone else’s story that helps crystalize thinking and clarify action steps.

      • Jr says

        Thanks for your post David. I have talk to the senior pastor about community outreach, but have not gotten the response i thought i would get. You stated, “Bottom line if you want your church to do something, you must be visibly doing it as well.” I trully believe this. I am the Spanish pastor and have little support. However, I am taking the initiative in going out to the communtiy. Thank you for your post, enjoyed reading it.

    • felicia mitchell says

      My church is really big on outreach ministry. We send our children to different countries to spread the Word. Once a year our church would have a huge carnival, full of games, food, music, opportunities for and prayer. Unfortunately, diversity has placed limitations on building relationships with certain ethic groups. Outreach ministries work perfectly fine when we are traveling out of the country. It defeats the purpose when we are on the home front. Which is surprising because our congregation is diverse. But it appears that our leadership refuses to understand cultures that are not their own. I feel as if we should create ministries that reach out to all people.

  2. Pat Hicks says

    We had a Sunday School Blitz night…staff prepared visitor slips and teachers knew those missing….we would all meet on Thursday night once a month and our class would split up and go visit…come back for sweets and prayer for our efforts…grand time for our class and we had good results…our Pastor and deacons also went out on Tuesdays….also cards and calls for class members missing…our class grew and grew…we divided up into care groups of five with a leader of each group…care group leader took care of their group and teacher took care of cg leaders…

  3. says

    We started a co-op Pre school and a choir school that actually brought new members.

    Marriage and family classes. Parenting seminars.

    Free Peer Helping ministries.

    Alcoholics Anonymous groups.

  4. Philip Bohlken says

    When I left my seminary in 1972 I worked three years solely in Evangelism Explosion (EE) visitations. I was a parish pastor by 1976 and eager to apply my EE experience to parish outreach. Coming up with prospects to visit was somewhat difficult. By the late 1970s EE seemed almost impossible to do. About that time I read that Rubbermaid had abandoned door-to-door sales calling because people simply were not home or did not want to receive calls from door-to-door visitors. It was more difficult to get into homes. Rubbermaid, instead, went to a “party” system in which a contact would agree to invite neighborhood acquaintances to her home where people would socialize and hear a presentation for Rubbermaid products with the opportunity to order purchases. In the last congregation I served before retiring, I tried to provide the best most helpful Sunday morning worship experience I possibly could. That meant working hard and long on sermons that applied God’s Word to daily life in a clear and helpful way and communicated God’s free grace in Christ in a very clear way. Members responded well. They came faithfully and they invited their friends. The church grew.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Ben –

      Almost anything new attracts new participants, but you do want to be careful about adding new programs that add to the complexity of the church. The most frequently started new groups are Sunday school classes; home groups usually for Bible study and fellowship; and similar groups that meet in places other than the home or church.

  5. Greg Hyler says

    Please be more specific about what is meant by a new group (#8). New church start? Home Bible study? New Sunday School class?

  6. JonathonG says

    #6 Natural Relationship building

    I have found the most success in forming sincere personal relationships with people. This requires a serious time investment, but the payoff is eternal.

    Friends, the early church gave us the example in Acts 2:44-47. The first century church met daily in the temple courts and ate together in their homes with glad and sincere hearts. They sold things and gave to anyone who had a need. As a result, a couple of things happened. First, it is written that they enjoyed the favor of all people.

    The text says that they gave to ANYONE who had a need and that the enjoyed the favor of ALL people. No distinction was made between Christian and non-Christian. Apparently you didn’t need to be a member of the Super Secret Church Club to enjoy their ministry. They didn’t sit in planning meetings, creating outreach budgets and marketing strategies that may or may not be implemented with the budget… next year. Their approach was as simple and as clear as the Gospel itself. They simply lived the life that Christ gave them out loud and very publicly.

    The second thing that happened is incredible; God responded. In this passage we are told that the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved. That’s our mission right there. If we behave the way the early church behaved, our God can’t help but bless our efforts. God will respond; it’s His very nature and He has demonstrated it over and over again.

    In an era of increasing virtual social interaction, the personal relationships we once enjoyed have suffer greatly. I challenge you to take a close look at the relational component of your church family. Look inside and out. What is the reality in the health of the relationships inside and outside of the church? Pour your effort and energy here and watch what happens. My guess is that God will respond in a mighty way. The church will stop shrinking, and if you’re obedient to all Christ has commanded, the Lord will add to your numbers daily those who are being saved.

    We can do it Church! Jesus promised He would be with us, and I believe Him!

    In His Grip-

    • says

      In an era where individuals and families are breaking down and cracking up by the millions the church can start a lot of ministries to which Christians are particularly suited.

      1. Relationships in marriage and family
      2. Parenting skills
      3. AA and Al a non
      4. Support for Special needs families
      5.Blood Pressure Nurse Visits
      6. Mother’s Days Out
      7. Pre Marital Preparation
      8. Prayer for the sick and elderly
      9. ANYTHING that says “We love you and care for you.”
      10. A garden club

      • JonathonG says

        Great ideas Gary, thanks for the reply. There are countless ways for Christians to minister to each other and to the lost people found right outside the doors of the church building.

        As Christians, we are responsible for managing the relationships we have within the church, while seeking new relationships outside the church. This is precisely what Jesus modeled for us.

        Forming intentional, authentic relationships is the single best way to express the love of Jesus. These relationships are what gives us permission to speak the truth and to build each other up in love. Be sincere and God will create countless opportunities for you to share the wonders and mysteries of the gospel.

        • says


          Amen to everything you said. I have run a very large Christ Centered Counseling Agency for 24 years and we search high and low for any church that will simply accept and support people in grief, pain, sickness, divorce, depression, etc. we volunteer to train churches how to set up caring ministries that love and pray for people without trying to Counsel them.
          We did a year long research study with parents of kids with a disability and the number One need is a church to listen, pray and visit in their home. No special professional training necessary. We have tools that churches can use to support families. Almost no church will do it. The parents are begging to be prayed for.

          • JonathonG says


            I pray that you not become discouraged in the good work Jesus has for you. The solutions are simple, but simple does not mean easy. Listening, praying and visiting are all in short supply in the majority of churches across North America. I know this breaks God’s heart.

            I’m currently doing a study to help transform an entire city for Christ. As I meet with various ministries in this city, they all ask for the same thing, and though I am blessed with the ability to support them financially, not a single one has asked for money. Every ministry has asked for prayer and for workers to simply come talk with and listen to the people they minister to.

            It occurs to me that in a wealthy society, we prefer to write checks and send the sent rather than get our own hands dirty. The God of wonders has this to say about it: “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” Hosea 13:6 (NIV)

            Keep your eye on the prize and an ear to the sky my friend. I’ll join you in praying to the Lord of the harvest for workers. He will be faithful.

          • Libby says

            I am currently looking for a position where I can pastor a “church that will simply accept and support people in grief, pain, sickness, divorce, depression, etc.” I recently graduated from seminary with an MDIV and have twelve years of lay prayer ministry and spiritual direction experience. My passion is to see the ministry of care and compassion brought back to the church. I too, desire to train up the body of Christ to minister to “the least of these” who are seeking healing.
            Would appreciate any referrals you may have.

          • says

            Libby, connect with Larry Crabb, Richard Foster and folk like that who are facilitating spiritual growth and pastoral care. The Willow Creek Association as well. Sybil Towner at Willow Creek and The Springs Of Indiana retreat center is a great connector.

        • says


          My Name is Todd and I’m an outreach Pastor for our church in New Orleans I would be interested in where and how to come into contract with “simply accept and support people in grief, pain, sickness, divorce, depression, etc” You tell me where to put my SIGN and I’ll hang it! I’m interested in filling our church with every hurt, depressed, sick, pain stricken, person I know. How do I connect with them where do I find them! Most rehab facilities are not interested in a God centric approach. Love to hear from you! Blessings!

  7. says

    Thom, in my work with churches I’ve discovered that many just default to the “easier” path of adding new members to existing groups without ever measuring effectiveness. Although starting new groups is a much more effective way to connect unconnected people…many never even know it because is’s been so long since they tried. Like you, I talk about the importance of new groups all the time.


    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Mark. Your voice is an important voice for the churches to hear. I’ll do everything I can to be your megaphone.

  8. says

    I think the the primary focus in today’s church should be inward outreach. What do I mean when I say that? Invest in your people, first. Equip them in evangelism. Equip them to raise up their children in the discipline and instructed of the Lord. Show them how to bear each others burdens, edify one another and pray for one another. Invest in the people you have. Preach solid Biblical sermons. Show hospitality to strangers, but especially show hospitality to one another.

    I believe people would be attracted to a community like this. Just being the “body of Christ” is an effective evangelism outreach. Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t preach the gospel, make disciples etc…But I believe when your flock is built on the foundation of Christ and His Word (first) the outreach puzzle will naturally fall into place…

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Bryan. As I see the pattern of the early Church in the book of Acts, I see both the inward caring and strengthening and the outward reaching. It seems to be a both/and rather than an either/or.

    • says

      Equipping the Church Members to be witnesses to their extended Family,neighbours, Friends and Co – workers. Because they already have relationships with these and for Pastor it takes lot of time to make relationships with these strangers. Also we should emphasise on quality Discipleship. We should not over emphasise on “Churchianity ” .

  9. says

    I have heard several excuses for not using small groups that meet outside the church. The most common is leaders say they already have a Sunday School program, so why would they add another thing, or they have so many things in place that they do not want to burden others with it. I understand that, but for me if, if the church is declining things need to be evaluated in terms of their effectiveness.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Joe. As I see it, if you have both Sunday school classes at church and small groups meeting in the home, you need clarity as to their purpose. Is one simply an extension of the other with different venues? Or does each approach have a distinct and different purpose within the church? Members who have clarity are more likely to try new approaches.

  10. says

    In my 21 yrs as Pastor of my church we have had an active door to door visitation outreach every other Wed. night with a meal & a 30-45 min. visit before our worship service. This doesn’t tie up another night…people already coming on Wed. night. We have recently added phone visited as well for those outside our perimeter to far to drive. We really focus on out hot prospects to make in home visits if possible. We have several who call prospects. This is highly effective. It eliminates some of the obstacles you’ve mentioned. Overall we’ve averaged around 60 visits every other Wed. We also emphasize the relationship building & new groups as well. Thanks go the article! Helpful.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Dusty. Lindsay Lane Baptist Church is an amazing story. It’s an incredible testimony of what God can do when we don’t have the typical resources to get it done.

  11. Ralton Emory says

    Our church started by going door-to-door in our community first with information about our church and with Gospel literature. We did this again (same area) with New Testmants a few weeks before Easter last year. Neither directed door-to-door efforts yielded attendance increases that yielded church members.

    We also offer a “large community” event at the city park as a Halloween alternative. That has yielded positive community “feel”‘ but again, no discernible increase in membership. We also have tired track handouts at local high school games and various other events.

    One that we have just started and shows promise is welcoming new families to the community as soon as we can. Since we minister in a smaller town with several established churches many people who are unchurched have already “made up their minds” and evangelism efforts for them have to be more deliberate than “blanket”. The newer to the community however appreciate the effort to welcome them and will generally at least visit once in return for the effort. Since this is a newer effort, I cannot say how well it will do for our church in the long run. More importantly, we want to ensure that all efforts glorify God and advance His Kingdom.

  12. Tony Beasley says

    Hi Dr. Rainer. At LifePoint Church, we have used a combination of #4, #6, and #8 with great success. Our church is over 100 years old and in the last 10 years we have experienced tremendous growth.

  13. says

    There is “The Shift” “The Dilemma” & “The Survey” — wish you had one more point – “The Solution.” Seems like nothing is working that well. Thanks for the insight!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Larry –

      Some of the items did offer insights to those things that are working — particularly new groups.

  14. Todd D. says

    If you were to lay out, organize, small groups for a church how would that look? Is it Sunday school and small groups or is it one or the other? In your opinion is it better for the small group to meet outside church at a different time? Would the small groups only meet for a short duration then cease and new ones reform?
    Thanks for any feed back.

    • Marie says

      Hi Todd. My church has both Sunday school (usually DVD-based further teaching with a short question/discussion time at the end) and small groups (usually text-based discussion groups with a short prayer time at the end). I run a small group, so my advice is biased in that direction, but I’ve found that different people come to the two programmes.

      In our case, Sunday school takes place in the church building and is more structured. Small groups take place in homes and are less structured. Those coming to Sunday school generally come because they want help dealing with a specific issue. When the particular course finishes, they evaluate whether they want to attend the next one (although there are always a few who attend everything). Those coming to small groups generally continue with the group even when they finish one text and start a different one. They are interested in asking searching/vulnerable questions and feel freer to display their ignorance or confess their doubts/struggles. They also often share a meal or dessert. Actually, as I’ve said below, I struggle to get them out of my house at the end of the session! Sometimes they stay until midnight chatting, when the session ended at 9pm.

  15. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for the post. Do you have any suggested resources or books for the nuts and bolts of starting new groups?

  16. Arrica says

    We are a church plant in the Toronto area. We do lots of door to door surveying, life groups, servant evangelism, community events, and intentional relationship building. We also do once a month mass marketing to target felt needs. We try to use an approach that might possibly reach some one for the gospel. If it works, we keep it. If it doesn’t, we try to tweak it or lose it.

  17. Thom Rainer says

    I will be gone for a while. I hope to get to your comments and questions later. Keep them coming. It’s good stuff!

  18. James DeLong says

    Andy Stanley commented that his church invites other churches to meetings to help Stanley’s large church work through, brain storm and throw out ideas to problems in Stanley’s church. At such a meeting, a small church representative shared what even a smaller church was accomplishing to handle baptisms in the lack of a Baptistry. Andy jokes, “You are a small church! Why would we listen to you”? Andy quickly recants that statement by letting us know in the DVD that he never said that and Andy invites all suggestions. In fact, their church started using the practice of the smaller church by video taping baptisms and showing them on the big screens of Andy’s church. Yes! That is the answer. Most people are most comfortable in the smaller church settings. Most people are not looking to be lost in the crowd. The question that needs to be answered is, “How can we promote the personalized, small group attendence within the whole of the group”? The answer is blowing in the wind; Christ Jesus will provide you everything you need to know within your church when you look to where His affects are visible. In the church I attend, it is in everything. Support, blossom those who are willing to serve for an hour, a month, a year, or a season. The outreach needs to begin inhouse by those spirited enough to take faithful friends into the workplace, restaurants, gyms (clubs), homes, hospitals, sporting events, schools, jails, bars. For credibility it must be sponsored by the church. Three P’s apply: personal, people, and performance. Rambling? Not really. This is what is working in our churches today. jd

  19. says

    Thom, I agree so much with you about starting new groups. I am coming off being a small groups pastor of a church where we were adding about 300 new adults per semester and about 600 adults per year to small groups. Not exponential growth but growth I know many would envy. Most came through new group connection events (New Groups) then group expos (Adding folks to new groups or adding to smaller existing groups) then lastly through church wide campaign where we found. new group leaders who were already connecting folks just needed support and encouragement.

    I have since that time started to help some churches with small groups and I am most excited about some of the missional community models. One in paticular is those that use family gatherinbfs and service in communities that are highly inclusive for outsiders to participate and are light on the formalized discipleship. These groups leverage real friendships and legitimate service to connect but dont expect too much from the group other than connection and relationship building. Discipleship really then takes place in smaller accountability groups of 3-5 usually made up of the same gender that meet throughout week..

  20. Mark Bordeaux says

    Thanks Thom!

    This may be the most-needed blog and discussion that I have read. I will encourage our leadership to read it as well.

    • Andrea says

      I so agree!
      I am having trouble getting Christians in my community to want to care about non-Christians. They are good at loving their families and giving abroad, but sharing the Gospel HERE we need to be creative!

  21. Ken says

    Starting new groups is often easier said than done. How do you find new leaders who are willing to take on the task of starting a new group?

  22. says

    1. You forgot prayer. I am CONVINCED that we are not praying in proportion to the power and harvest before us (Matt 9:38).

    I’m in the process of finally getting this right.

    2. The questions about “new small groups” is revealing. How do we not “know” this not much less not do it?

    90-95% of pastors are not in small groups.

    Most churches have no “good” education pastor.

    Hence the problem. More to come.

    Great post Tom. I’m gonna use it with leaders.

  23. says

    I think, We as Church Leadership should equip church members to be effective witnesses to the their Family, Extended Family, Friends, Co Workers and Neighbours because they already have build relationships with them.

  24. says

    Our church has been in existence for 31 years. We now have 1,700 to 2000+ members who are faithful in weekly worship services on our main campus. Our Pastor went home to be with the Lord October of 2012 and now his 2 sons pastor our “mother” church and one other large “daughter” church. Through our Pastor God birthed 27 daughter churches over 3 states. We continue to host large events open to the public as well as smaller events though out our community. All though this seems very successful by many outside looking in we have been challenged by the “Back door” for several years.
    We have championed all of the above 9 methods with varying levels of success. After researching and implementing several models for “successful growing churches” that failed we finally created a discipleship process and school for intentionally training leaders that works for us. We have about 20 to 25% of our membership in small groups. We are a “church with Small Groups” not a “Small Group church”. Because of this our groups meet twice a month, once in a closed meeting and once in an open evangelistic meeting. This has allowed our current members the opportunity to be “intentionally shepherded” during the closed meetings while engaging in relational evangelism/outreach in the open meetings. The majority of our new members and people participating in our church’s discipleship process (which we created with the guidance of SiMPLE Church, Ranier/Geiger) as well as our School of Disciples (30 week training for Small Group Leaders that was heavily influenced by Bethany World Training Center, Bill Hull/Paul Mascarella and Bill Donahue/Willow Creek) come from these naturally growing groups. We have created environments where the “unchurched” can experience Christians “in life” before experiencing Christians “ in church”.
    We are about 5 years into moving what I call our ocean liner of a church with small groups manning the oars into a body of believers who pursue Christ-likeness, practice Christ’s love and promote Christ’s legacy according to the definition of discipleship our pastor left us. We have a long way to go, many challenges we are facing and continual evaluating and tweaking this growing process. Thank you for the gift of the book, SiMPLE Church.

  25. Thom Rainer says

    All –

    There are a number of questions and comments regarding small groups where I did not respond. We have some major new information about groups coming in the near future. I hope you will be back here for the discussion.

  26. Marie says

    My church is in South Africa, and has wide range of cultures and economic/educational status (but majority working-class). We recently started small groups meeting in homes, and when I spot a visitor I see if they are interested in joining a small group. In the group that I host, people don’t want to leave at the end of the session! I have found that people are most hungry for a sense of community, and that spiritual hunger arrives second, but grows over time if it is nurtured.

    Another observation is that unchurched people, as well as people who have been burnt by traditional church are a lot more comfortable meeting in people’s homes. It feels more natural, less forced; more participatory, less consumerist. To my mind, it makes more sense to move the service to them and to turn the small groups into mini-church services, than to try to force them into a traditional church building. The same goes for our youth meetings: a lot of the kids who attend our youth group don’t attend our Sunday services. Rather than trying to drag them in on Sunday mornings, we can instead make the youth night more like a church service, so that even if they only come on a Friday, they will still be receiving solid teaching and encouragement.

  27. Matthew Clement says

    ‘Community Event’ outreach in and of itself will not be effective. However, I do feel that continuous involvement in a community helps develop relationships and trust. If you look at Elevation Church as an example, you will see that their Easter Egg drop was the catalyst to their growth. They didn’t stop with a one time even though. They followed up that event with invitations to groups, other service oriented events, etc.

    In many ways outreach is marketing. Supporting ‘big events’ is key to an effective marketing strategy.

  28. Mark Cox says

    In my opinion, I believe most pastors/leaders believe that starting new groups often leads to fracturing of already established groups and also there can be an accountability issue and lack of control. I also agree that the methods of the past, such as door to door are really no longer effective ways to reach the community. It may work in a few places, but with the current climate of fear and trepidation that exists to even open the door to a stranger makes this method of witnesses very difficult at best. Great blog!

  29. says

    We have struggled with many of the same issues in our church. We still try to have a visitation night but with very little success. We have noticed much of what you have said that people do not want you to drop in and visit them. We have done various things to try to help the direction and growth of our church.

    Over the last few years we have simplified what we do cutting out some but not all of the traditional activities that accumulate over the years. One reason for this is that being a small staff we are not able to add new things without stopping others or we would neglect our families and our ministry because of lack of time or energy. For our area we decided we needed to make ourselves more known or visible so we worked on name branding in a sense. We came up with a new logo, updated our website to look more current and attractive, established a presence on social media sights like Facebook, and have started advertising on the radio and newspaper when we have the ability to. We also have not only been advertising church events but we have supported community events as well making a presence whenever we are able to. We try to make it a point to ask new attenders and members how they found out about us and found that most have lived here for a long time and never new about our church but was recently made aware because of publicity. We also found that our number one avenue to reach perspective attenders has been our website. Many people now search for a church online or at least check it out online before attending which makes it very important to have a current and well organized website for them to view. Once they have visited we try to get info on how to contact them with our pew cards or at our welcome center we ask how they would like to be contacted if at all. The two most requested forms of contact have been Facebook and email. We believe that social media outlets such as Facebook are very important to connect with visitors. We also make sure to continually ad new photos of events and put our church name in the tag line so that when some likes or shares a photo on Facebook it shows up in their friend’s feeds and they can see what our church is doing.

    At the same time we have made changes in our church such as signage so that it is easier for a first time guest to find their way around as well as adding a welcome center with friendly faces and information about various things we do at our church. We have also been hammering into our people’s heads our mission statement “To so love people that they come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and experience continuous spiritual growth” or in short “Loving God, Loving People”. Our process to do this is Attend~Connect~Serve~Lead. This is the process that we want every person in our church to know and go through and to be aware enough to help others through this process. Of the process “Connect” is the most important. We want people to connect to God and experience the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ but next they must connect to the church and God’s people. We have found that it is vitally important that we get visitors connected into some sort of small group within the first couple of months of visiting the church or they usually disappear. What we call small groups is simply a smaller group of people that they can get to know and connect with and that happens in Sunday school, discipleship training class, Faith Riders Motorcycle Ministry, volleyball night, etc… The most important part of all this has been to get our people to engage them and invite them to these groups rather than us pastors.

    We have seen some success with all these efforts but continue to look for new and old ways that are effective in reaching people for Christ and growing the local body of believers. Thank for your article and I look forward to reading more.

  30. Drew Dabbs says

    Dr. Rainer, I’ve been exceptionally burdened the last few months about the issue of starting new groups. We are a small-ish church, running about 60-75 in Sunday School and 90-100 in worship. We’ve made arrangements to start a new Sunday School class for the “college & career” age group. Beyond that, finding leaders willing to lead a new group is a daunting task. Do you have any insight for smaller churches wishing to launch new groups, when the leadership is already stretched pretty thin?

    • says

      Drew, I’m no Dr Rainer but one way that we are starting new groups by using the person best situated to start a new group. In lieu of a traditional “pastors class”, the pastor begins a short-term group that lasts 6 weeks. A new leader for the group arises from within the group and the pastor hands off the group to the new leader.

      For this kind of group to work, the pastor must not preach the lesson, but instead facilitate the discussion. The use of a 6 week video series works well because the teaching style is reproducible.

      Using this process, a small attendance church can start a new group every year.

  31. Dustin B says

    I think an essential ingredient that we are missing in the age of outreach is a reliance in prayer for the Holy Spirit. I believe to many of our approaches are man drive and not Spirit driven. Oh that we would rely on the power of God. But I love this list of things that are happening.

  32. says

    I have been pastoring for the past 16 years during this time we have tried many outreach modules to evangelise our respective communities, some with small success others without any success, I believe we are always in the mode of re-evaluating the way we the church present the Gospel to a generation that knows not The Lord. I have always said ” the message stays the same, but the methods need to change” what I mean by this is we need to always look at the methods on how we are presenting the Gospel ( message) to this generation of our time.

    A few years ago I was studying the book of Acts (the acts of the Apostles) in seeking insight on how the 1st century church turned their known world “UPSDIE DOWN” or someone has stated ” the right side up”, in the space of 2 1/2 years!

    Much can be said about the ministries of the Apostles and the early church pertaining to their evangelistic approach in reaching people, notable miracles were common in their day and not the exception, coupled with boldness to preach and teach what they had seen and heard, withstanding all persercution, prayer and fasting to the point at midnight prayer was made and prison doors were opened, prison guards were saved, people from all walks of life were being saved even a Roman councillor by the name of Saul became the greatest evangilist to the gentile nation, all this without our modern day means that we have today at our disposal

    I am not eluding to 21st century technology not being affective, on the contrary used with the right motives that is simply for the saving of lost souls and the edification and instruction to the church much can be achieved, however I am reminded “what did the disciples do that we are not doing today” that’s the BIG question!

    I believe the Word of God shows the church a module on how to reach our world of today, in the Holy Scripture Acts 20:20 KJV
    [20] And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you , but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house
    20/20 is perfect vision, publickly and from house to house herein lies the method to reach a generation that’s need God, HOME GROUPS

    Structured and administrated correctly with follow up processes in place will produce the results, that every Pastor, every saint who has a sincere burden to see people saved, to growing in Chrsit and then to reproduce after this kind, come to pass

    Great blog, great reflection from all contributors, thank you for the forum

  33. Jeremy says

    Being in a church that was literally birthed from Outreach or what we call our Connect program, I’ve literally seen how an effective outreach program can flip a city upside down. In 2007 my Pastor began to pray and seek God for souls, he done everything he knew to do to bring in new people. He had contests, fellowship dinners, bible studies, big pushes for Easter and Christmas, even agreed to kiss a pig if the all time attendance record was broken. The best he could ever get was 93 and was retaining almost none of them and was running 30 people on the average service. Then he ran into a man named Tim Downs and he came in and showed the church how to have an outreach program, and one that was effective. The first service after his arrival they had over 150 first time guests and we haven’t had a service with less than 150 since, normally running between 250 and 275 on a weekly basis and breaking our attendance record of 306 on Easter. There are no tricks, secrets, or special techniques its simply being workers in the field of harvest. As outreach director I organize two outreaches per week one midweek and one on the weekend and we never cancel it never miss it. It is a priority with everyone from seasoned saints, leadership, and new converts participating in the Connect events. On a weekly basis we cover our community with fliers, bless the community with food and water, hospital ministry, and many other things that we do from week to week. The biggest thing that we do which is done in every aspect of Connect is that everywhere we go everything we do we compel people to repent of their sins, be baptized, and filled with the Holy Ghost. We have one group every week that goes out and compels people in the streets and we baptize people frequently during outreach time. The biggest thing is that people must have a burden and realize that no matter what part they play they have to do it unto The Lord. We never miss opportunities, never miss chances, never let people leave a service without being compelled. We have baptized close to 1800 people since 2007 and have baptized over 160 this year already. I believe that it’s Gods will for every church to experience babies being born and for them to grow in Jesus! It’s work, sacrifice, and very demanding but growth is possible! Where a lot of churches fail is that everything they do they want it to be about Sunday church service and that is it, winning souls is 24/7 but its so rewarding and any church can have it if they do as the bible says and compel people to come to a place where they can be born again. Jesus said, Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:37, 38 KJV) God bless and I hope this testimony of what God has done for us will encourage some of you, whether you 50 laborers or 1 God will honor it, just go into the fields and God will give the increase, God bless

  34. Shannon says

    This is definitely a blog post that I have starred and will be sharing with others. But, can you expound on intentional invitations (#7). Is this just a personal ask to come to church, paper or emailed invites to regular attenders/visitors, etc?

  35. says

    Hello to all and this is a very interesting blog with tons of great feedback. I am involved with an outreach ministry called REACT which stands for Reminding Everyone All Christ Taught. People join up from all different churches to help in street ministry. We have regular meetings where we stay focused on outreach topics. Then usually once a month we have a huge outreach event at different locations throughout Springfield, Ohio where we give everything away for FREE. We have food, drinks, snocones, cotton candy, kids games, free market area like a yard sell but all is free, music, testimonies, preaching, etc…. The outreach lasts for three hours. We give away tickets during the outreach for nice prizes we give away at the very end. But, they must be present to hear the gospel message as covered in 1 Cor 15:1-11 and then take plenty of time for a response from them. Then we give away all we have been given by others. Bikes, MP3 players, toys, etc…we then trust God for the INCREASE in their lives. We plant and we water and we labor with The Lord but we give Him all the glory and trust Him for the increase in people’s lives. This is based upon 1 Cor 3:6. This is demonstrating the love of God to them in tangible ways. This allows for much one on one ministry during the outreach. Our God is good and loves people and is not willing that any should perish. We must stay out there and let them know. Amen, Brother Roger Sparks

  36. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thanks for your article. As a student and practitioner of evangelism for over 29 years, I have studies several evangelism methods and have studied the Bible, especially the New Testament for the biblical principles relating to evangelism or proclaiming God’s Word.

    Having led and done Urban ministry in some our countries high risk and high crime communities as well as in some affluent communities, I have found that evangelism must be preceded by prayer. I don’t mean the kind of prayer were you sit in your church or at home and pray, not that these do not work. I am talking about getting out and praying for your community on foot.

    For ten plus years I have worked with over 100 plus churches that where plateau, declining and dying, in urban centers across the nation. I have found that the pastor or church planter who had prayerwalked their community for two months or more intentional evangelism, door-to-door, tract distribution, and having witnessing conversations with total strangers was easier.

    We found people who were ready and waiting for someone to come to their home and tell them about Jesus in more that once instance. I consulted with a pastor yesterday in South Carolina who has prayerwalked his church over four years. He implemented a plan to follow up with all Sunday morning visitors on Sunday afternoon. Just this past Sunday he went to visit a man who lived on a street that has been prayerwalked. When the pastor showed up the man greeted them at the church and said, “I knew you would come visit me today.” He invited the pastor and his two church members into the home. And immediately fell to his knees and said, “Pastor, I am lost and I need to be saved!” The man prayed to receive Jesus into his heart.!

    As a Missionary Urban Strategist/Evangelist/Equipper/Author, I have learned many biblical principles and lessons. Our country is becoming more hardened toward Christianity and Jesus. But Jesus told us in the Bible that the world would hate us because it hated Him. Jesus prayed over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37. We must pray over and in our communities asking God to open hearts and minds and doors. We need to ask God to give us favor with people we want to reach with the gospel.

    Then we can go out and use whatever intentional method of evangelism we can get our hands on. Pick one, two or three that you are comfortable with and get proficient with and use them until Jesus returns. Just last night I drove to South Carolina to teach a group of 60 people how the gospel by using their personal testimony with the EvangeCube. Their were ignited by the training and I gave them a challenge to witness to 2 to 3 people and try to bring them to a point of decision. I can’t wait to hear their stories next week.

    Check out my website at for evangelism trainings and ideas.

  37. Ginger says

    Instead of going out door to door, because it is sometimes not safe to do, and people in rougher neighborhoods do not appeal to it because it is somewhat threatening to them as well, I just thought of something else that might work and you all tell me what you think.

    My pastor makes home visits to the congregational members, each and every one of them. So, I am thinking that if each member invites someone from their neighborhoods that are not in church but they have made a connection with into their homes when the pastor is there, perhaps they could invite them knowing what is going to happen to them as well! It would be like a personal invitation to meet the pastor, just in someone else’s home so that the threat or discomfort is removed from the potential members or potential believers out there.

    So this is not very traditional, but it could solve the problem if we try it. I think it could work. Then when they become members, perhaps they will invite someone they know to a home visit when the pastor comes around.

  38. Kellee Harris says

    Thank you for this information and the comments. I am a lay person in my church. My husband and I joined this church about a year ago. What first drew us to it was a huge new church building. It really stood out on an old country road in East Texas. The first Sunday that we went, we were greeted by a warm congregation of about 20 people. The preacher was their interim. We met in their fellowship building, and we expected to go over to the big building. We thought there must be lots of people over there and these 20 people were there to greet visitors. We didn’t go to the new building. This was it. We learned that the other hundreds of members had left shortly after the new building was completed. It seems there was a lot of gossip, backstabbing, and other political things that destroy churches.

    Seeing the potential of the church’s facilities and the love of the people, we decided to join the church and bring our talents to help the church grow. We had been blessed to be a part of a strong outreach ministry at our previous church, and we thought we could bring our ideas here. To make a long story short, we had some events last year and a revival. We have still not heard one sermon preached in that beautiful big building. We have not seen one baptism. Three new people joined, and one of them died and the other two refuse to come anymore.

    We had a meeting a few weeks ago to discuss our year’s calendar of events. We went through every month talking about game nights, Lord’s suppers, etc. I said okay we got all of our internal events figured out, what about the external ones to bring in the community? The interim preacher (who makes all the plans and has final say on everything) said that programs don’t work and we will not be doing any outreach this year. They are even talking about renting the big building to another church, and we just stay in our little building and enjoy each others’ fellowship.

    Right now, we have one foot out the door and are waiting on God to tell us what to do. I think the church is a defeated church. What do you all think? Thank you.

  39. allen says

    Reading all these posts , It is amazing a number of churches and pastors that do no type of outreach or evangelism , or they say that’s not my calling , I am to busy, church folks they just won’t help they say it’s the pastor’s job. like come on people get your acts togather souls are at stake. I am a ” In House Evangelist” to equip the saints to do the work. I find myself going out by myself , sometimes get help, I love street witnessing , what works is doing evangelism projects showing the love of Christ. We do a couple of outreaches for community every year sometimes we get folks, sometimes not HOWEVER the ones who don’t return to church after an event are the ones who calls for prayer which is ok because of connection. I look daily on pastor job sites looking for churches that want help in outreaches and nothing.

  40. says

    A combo of #5 and # 6 seem to be the most effective in my experience as a Pastor of Community Development. We also participate in #2, but what you wrote above is correct. For a suburban church working in (at least for us) urban communities, we can bring people and resources but our Kingdom efforts are really to guide them to their community churches.

    I support #5, but with one caution: Don’t put up a giant slide at the local park and have people handing out tracks about Jesus once they get to the bottom. In essence, the Gospel in evangelism today comes in through the building of quality relationships and good partnership between church and immediate community (which also occurs with Pastor/leaders living out #6 with government and community leaders) so that trust is built first. This is when we start to see people coming to Jesus or following through on #7, which I also highly encourage if #6 has been worked out with authenticity.

    Jim – Hawthorne Gospel, NJ

  41. says

    Good morning!
    So many answers, here, and so much loving concern expressed by the Church–such a hope-giving thing to find!
    In our church, we have found the #1 thing that makes a difference, that includes all outreach ministry, is to hold the event, ministry, service, etc., inside our building. At least in our experience, many folks are scared to walk inside the doors. Our baccalaureate service got a set of grandparents inside a church for the first time in years, if ever, and they liked it so much, they are looking for a similar experience in their home town. (It’s not always about us.)
    Number two is that they find inside these doors normal, kind, smiling folks who make you feel welcome and included. And are good cooks. We really use our monthly Sunday carry-in lunches for outreach, often telling people, point-blank, “Come next Sunday; we’re having food!”
    Three: Prayer, which has been mentioned above, is a big deal, still, for many people. We are happy to pray for people and insert a long prayer list in our bulletin every week. Our flower ministry to the hospital includes our delivering the flowers ourselves, and visiting or praying with people.
    Four: We are happy to serve the body with no visible reward to our coffers. So folks don’t visit our church? but they do begin attending a good, Godly church down the road? We rejoice, pure and simple. We are not roosting on the edge of the service bowl, waiting to grab someone up–we are willing to lead people toward a walk with the Lord even if someone else is holding their hands. We view the church in our city as a single entity with several different flavors. Of course this does not include the unBiblical varieties of “religion” but surely does include many that are similar to us.
    Fifth: We have learned that any outreach that just throws money at problems will not feed many people in the name of the Lord. In our town, money, food, and clothing that we give away to the not-regenerate or not-seeking is promptly traded for drugs or for food stamps. We give to the needy among us, to those who are NOT “only there for the food” as the apostles taught.
    Sixth: (And last) We are constantly reminded of what Jesus said, that if He is lifted up, He will draw…so we try to remember that the main deal is Jesus. Not food, not games, not movies, not even prayer or Bible study, but Jesus must be what we champion. The rest is scaffolding, useful, even necessary, but not the target at all. Basically, without Jesus Christ, there is no need for the Church, the ministry, the event, the prayer. The core of every lost person knows something like this must be true, and the goal, to “find Jesus” is the destination of every lost wanderer, whether he realizes it or not. And we know the way.
    P.S. Our membership has grown to 4 times it’s original in 2 1/2 years. We’re in a time of inward growth, grounding many new ones in pure doctrine, but feeling a push to expand prayer ministry and strengthen the “scaffolding” for a new inrush. How long since a business meeting crackled with excitement that seemed runaway? Almost scary.

  42. Johnny says

    As an outsider who has stumbled across this thread, I have a few things that I’d like to add. Why do we as outsiders want to join a church? I love and believe in Jesus and I have even asked him to be my savior and to forgive me of my sins. Without hesitation he accepted me. I have a church right across the street from my house. Not once have they knocked on my door, nor have they invited me to any of their functions. What goes on behind the four walls stays behind the four walls. It’s not just them I’m sure. Don’t you think we’re a bit sketched out about ALL churches and their obsession to grow? In a business sense, more heads means more money and usually more money means extravagant buildings that don’t impress us on the outside at all. A recent statistic stated that if churches pulled together with their finances they could end world hunger. You seeing what we see? More heads could mean after school programs for children in need. It could mean shelters built for battered women and their children, but all we see from church folks is the exact same pattern; people trained to shake your hand at the door, several feel good songs, a hearty welcome, another flowery sermon and then all of the nicely dressed people packing into restaurants for lunch with many leaving less than desireable tips. As one who’s interested in Jesus and his awesomeness, a personal visit is okay, but how about surprising me with an awesome display of God’s love by stopping by, telling me where you’re from and asking me to help you help others by reaching out to the community, loving them, painting their fence, fixing their car, going out to coffee and sharing God’s love. I don’t want to be a part of what I’m seeing today trapped within those four walls, I want to be a part of an explosion of God’s love out on the street in plain view where everyone can experience the awesome power of Jesus and his love!

  43. James says

    Like Johnny, I stumbled across this thread. I was searching for some insight concerning the effectiveness of door knocking as an outreach method.

    The church (SBC) where I serve as a teacher and provide pulpit-fill in the pastor’s absence is like many I have read about here that are declining or “hanging on.” At one time, our church was very thriving; Sundays was standing room only. Unfortunately, when the founding pastor died a new pastor came in and practically decimated the flock. At this time, we have about thirty in attendance on an average Sunday. That is less than a tenth of the original membership. We never know from one week to the next who will still be with us, because our present membership is quite advanced in years. At 54 years of age, I am the youngest member of the church.

    From what I have been told, the church was never well received in the neighborhood where it was constructed forty years ago. It is located in a very residential area. Door knocking has proven to be ineffective, as the entire area knows the church is there, no one is interested, and no one wants to be bothered by the same people banging on their door each week.

    The membership and pastor are becoming disheartened because of the lack of growth and visitor retention. If members aren’t dying because of their age, others leave because of the condition of the church (the people) as a whole. The facility is wonderful with a nice sanctuary, fellowship hall, many classrooms, and even a nice little library. The potential is there, but the membership is too old to do the work that needs done. The apathy of the neighborhood is also a problem. We even have a very nice van for a van ministry, but no one to undertake it and no one to benefit from it.

    I contacted Dr. Joe Mckeever (church growth expert) for his input. He made some recommendations, but added, “Sometimes a church needs to die before it can be resurrected.” It makes me wonder if the Lord has that in mind for us, because nothing they are willing to do works and they are unwilling to try things that have been recommended.

    I’d like to hear from others if they’re having the same difficulties or if anyone might have some biblically sound suggestions.


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