Finding Inspiration from Unlikely Sources | By Thom S. Rainer

Rather than scrapping outdated or ineffective community outreach strategies, churches should try to re-envision them.

Many years ago, almost in the prehistoric ages, I served as pastor of a church with a traditional outreach program. It was cold-call, ineffective, and poorly attended.

I made a seemingly bright decision that was stupid. I eliminated the program.

It seemed reasonable. We could not identify one person we had reached evangelistically in a year. Why should we continue to waste our time on something that didn’t work?

From Vibrancy to Lethargy

For over a year, our church saw many people follow Christ. We were growing. There was palpable energy. The Holy Spirit was visibly at work in our church.

Then lethargy hit. It was dramatic. Within weeks after stopping an ineffective and ill-attended outreach program, our church seemed to have lost its Spirit-given momentum.

How could this change transpire? We had no evidence the traditional outreach program amounted to anything positive.

A Case Study

We have an outreach resource at Church Answers, called “Pray & Go.” It has been received well by many churches. Its concept is simple.

Church members walk in a neighborhood and pray for the people in the homes. They don’t stop at a home. They don’t knock on doors.

They pray and then go to the door and leave a door hanger. The hanger says something like, “We prayed for you.” It provides the address of the church, an email, or text number for prayer requests, and the church’s website.

We get reports regularly from church leaders who share excitedly about the number of people who have visited the church as a consequence of these efforts. We have heard of many who have become followers of Christ.

But then we heard from a church that used “Pray & Go” to reach thousands of homes before the first person responded. Let me share the story from the pastor’s email:

I just wanted to reach out to you because we started Pray & Go in the fall of 2018. I listened to your teaching and thought this is what we need to do. We are a church in the inner-city / a church revitalization. For the past two years, we have prayed for 4,542 homes up to this point. We haven’t seen people coming to the church because of “Pray & Go,” but we always seem to have visitors whenever we are praying in our community. This past week we saw our first family come through the doors of the church because of Pray & Go. Our team was excited when I told them because of your diligence in praying for the community we had a family connect to the church. I just wanted to pass this along, and encourage someone doing this that just because you might not be seeing the results from something keep doing it and you never know. It might take you praying for 4,542 homes before you see people you are praying for connect with your church. The one thing that keeps us going is Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Did you get that? They put door hangers on 4,542 homes before the first guest showed up as a result of these efforts. But during the entire time of “Pray & Go,” they saw a steady flow of visitors.

The Principle at Work

It is simply called “the principle of obedience.” Though we can’t control God’s work, he does seem to bless those churches that are making any effort to pray for and reach their communities. I hope most churches don’t have to make 4,542 visits before someone shows up directly from those efforts.

But I also hope churches will see fruit from their obedience, even if the results do not seem to be direct.

Is your church seeing many guests come through the doors? Is your church reaching many people for Christ? Perhaps it’s time for obedience. A weak outreach ministry often has positive corollary benefits.

And a weak outreach ministry is certainly better than no outreach ministry at all.

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