3 Community Outreach Questions Every Church Should Ask
To advance their community outreach programs, churches spend a lot of time crafting their message. Does the community really understand the message? Discover 3 questions every church should ask. | by Don Corder
“What’s wrong with those folks?” “Here’s what’s wrong with those people.” “We’re right. They’re wrong. We’re good. They’re bad.”
Are you ever tempted to join the chatter? Don’t do it. Here’s why:
“Not you” vs. “For you”
I’ll explain the difference in these terms with a recent experience I had. Driving to rural Indiana along I-70, I saw a billboard sponsored by a local church. The billboard read:
“Genuine Christians obey Jesus’ teachings.”
While I think what was written is true, I found it very strange copy for a billboard on a major interstate.
About 4 miles down the road, I saw another billboard from a different church. It read:
“Jesus has hope for you.”
While I thought that this statement was also true, I thought about the odd juxtaposition of these two billboards just 4 miles apart on the same highway. I imagine that both churches were hoping to reach the same audience. Then, my mind quickly moved on and I did not think about the two billboards again, until…
Later that evening, I was enjoying a visit with one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met 35 years ago in a small church in, you guessed it, rural Indiana. The church was a small, poor, old church with about 50 members who worshiped there during the 1980s. By 1990, my family and I moved away from this community. By contrast, my friend stayed in that church 30 more years.
I see this brother about once a year, and ultimately our conversation turns to that little old church. I ask about the people I remember. On this visit, my friend informed that he and his family no longer attend that church.
He was excited to tell me about his new church and his new pastor. My friend talked about how his new pastor was a “straight shooter” and how his pastor “tells it like it is.” He was very proud that his pastor preached the “true Gospel.”
I asked him to unpack those comments for me. He said he could do better than that and gave me a link to his pastor’s sermons for the last 12 months.
That night, I went back to my hotel room and watched several of his new pastor’s sermons. Most highlighted the things and people “we” should be against. In one sermon, he explained that a local pastor was in “violation of his calling” and should be defrocked. He declared that the denominational church is apostate and how a certain “smiling TV preacher” was a heretic. But the one consistent theme was what is wrong with the “seeker sensitive church.”
What message does my church want to communicate?
Ironically, the next morning, I found myself in a small church (not my friend’s church) in rural Indiana. The moment I walked in the door I was sure of one thing: This was a seeker sensitive church. I doubt there were 100 people in the whole building. Yet there was fresh coffee, free Wi-Fi, and a whole bunch of hip and smiling young people. There were children everywhere.
The pastor’s sermon was about risk, and he asked, “What do you have to lose by trusting Jesus?” It was basically a very friendly and cool presentation of Pascal’s wager. There was not a lot of depth and even less Bible.
Then it happened. A young man in his 30s walked to the altar while the pastor was preaching and got on his knees and started praying. Right there, he surrendered to the call of Christ. A disciple was born.
But what came next moved me. This church stopped everything. I could tell that they had a plan for when this type of event happened.
They opened the baptismal. Someone gathered all the children in the building and brought them into the worship space. Someone found the man a set of clothing so he could be baptized by emersion. They actually had warm water in the baptismal and a cupboard filled with clothing just for this type of spontaneous moment.
The young man was asked to give his testimony. The pastor explained to the children (and everyone else) what was happening and why it was important. Then the young man was baptized.
This was a holy moment, and this church lived into that moment with expectancy and joy. There was not a dry eye in the house, including mine.
Is my church’s message producing changed lives?
As I stood there experiencing this sacred occasion, I thought of the two billboards. Both billboards both spoke biblical truth.
When we make Jesus the Lord of our lives, we are changed; our behavior should likewise change. People should be able to see a change because we are new creatures in Christ.
It is just as true that Jesus is the only hope for a lost and dying world.
Who determines whether the message is clear?
As a mature believer, I can get behind both of the billboard statements. But what would someone who is not a believer — or someone who did not have the context of a lifetime in church — hear in these two statements? That is what is important here. It does not matter what we think we said. It does not matter what we intended to communicate. Only the receiver of a message can determine what we actually communicated.
Absent a well-formed Christian worldview, one billboard clearly communicated a personal message of promise, stating that Jesus has hope “for you.” The other billboard communicated a “not you” message (only “genuine Christians obey”).
I wonder if the man in the worship service would have surrendered to Christ’s call if the pastor had been preaching about the apostate church and what is wrong with “those other people.”
Parents instinctively know that they shouldn’t disparage their spouse in front of the children; it isn’t good for children, even if the criticism is absolutely true. Doing so is selfish and lazy parenting. Good parents don’t do it.
The same is true of the body of Christ. It is not good for unbelieving and un-discipled people to hear (or read about) church folk complaining about “those other people,” even if the criticism is true.
What message are you communicating to the community? Are you tempted to criticize others? Do you point out shortcomings? Stop. Don’t do it!
Grow your church by focusing on the “for you” message. People desperately need a message of hope, and that hope is in Jesus Christ.