Some fundamental principles about outreach emerged particularly from works such as Sowing, Reaping, Keeping (L.Singlehurst) and Finding Faith Today (J.Finney). They have been assumed as the basis for the approaches to evangelism and outreach in “Taking Every Opportunity – Conversations About Jesus”. It may help some people if I spell out some of these underlying ideas.
People outside the churches are much further from Christian things than they were a generation ago. Previously effective approaches to outreach which presume a prior knowledge of and sympathy to the Christian faith are much less successful in the 21st Century. Here are some insights to effective outreach today.
Outreach involves two things – sharing the message of Jesus AND making connections and building relationships with people.
We begin with what some would call “Crossing Places” and others “Pre-evangelism”. That means events and activities where we serve the community and build relationships with existing Contacts on the fringe of the church and meet new folk on their terms and often on their turf. We need excellence, avoiding the “cringe” factor. We need joined up planning, so that publicity for the next event/activity is ready to go out at the previous one. Starting with prayer, meeting people’s needs where they are, being better friends, we are think about “less meetings and more friendships.”
Identifying our fringe of “Contacts”
It is important to identify those Contacts on the fringe of the church who will be the principal invitees and guests at many of our events and activities, The list will include family, friends, neighbours and colleagues of members and congregation; people who have attended services or other outreach events occasionally; people who take part in the various regular activities of the church; families who come on the premises for some reason regularly or occasionally; pastoral contacts; people who have made contact online. The wider fringe of the church might also include those who live close to the church (typically within 10 minutes walk) and so are on the distribution list for an “outward-facing” church magazine or seasonal leaflets.
Nowadays for many people “belonging comes before believing.” We are aiming to help people feel that they are warmly welcomed and that they belong to the church family, even if they have not yet come to the point of faith, commitment or baptism.
As well as reaching our ‘fringe’ of existing contacts we should also aim some events and activities and much of our publicity at the wider community to cast the net and sow the seed as widely as possible.
To meet people “where they are” we need events and activities at different levels. The terminology of Levels 1-4 is found in the Agape course Mind The Gap (see E23) and I have added Level 0 and Level 5.
LEVEL 0 An awareness of the church and its activities e.g. from publicity, website, premises, word of
LEVEL 1 Purely Social: most “Crossing Places” creating contacts fit in Levels 1 and 2;
LEVEL 2 Social event or activity with a bit of Christian message;
LEVEL 3 Event where the focus is on the message;
LEVEL 4 Inquirers’ Courses, Baptism preparation, attending regular church services;
LEVEL 5 Church membership course, discipleship course, Home Groups etc.
Most of our community are not ready for a full blown Inquirers’ Course like Christianity Explored or Alpha at Level 4. We need events at other levels to begin to build relationships and stir their spiritual curiosity, to act as Stepping Stones to faith. Elsewhere there are many sources of ideas for “Crossing Place” events and activities to build relationships with Contacts at Level 1. See Idea 21 for courses and materials designed to lead Inquirers to faith at Levels 3 and 4. These 42 Great Outreach Ideas are deliberately aimed at Level 2 and Level 3, stepping stones to help Contacts become Inquirers. As “Taking Every Opportunity – Conversations About Jesus” explains, the most significant thing that Christians and churches can be doing is simply talking about their faith – Conversations About Jesus!