Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting Beyond Typical Church Outreach. (Update)

I posted “A Guide to Getting Beyond Typical Church Outreach, Part One” a couple of weeks ago. This article has become larger than a typical blog post and needs to be divided up even more. When I conclude I will likely post the entire article as a PDF download. This is an update of part one.

Years of church baptism reports seem to indicate that in a year’s time, typical church outreach wins about one person to Jesus for every 50 church members.

Of course there are many churches above and below the curve. Very large churches with a full spectrum of ministries, large budgets, and multiple staff members are generally able to reach a very predictable number of people each year. (It is actually kind of scary to see how some churches have the almost exactly same number of baptisms year in and year out.)

Sometimes, small churches with part-time staff and virtually no resources are able to out baptize the big ones. I recommend paying attention to those churches.

There are a number of churches, though, that do the outreach programs and follow them faithfully and struggle to baptize more than a handful of people in a year's time. When a church is not evangelistic, it is doing something wrong.

As I counsel churches to begin to break new ground evangelistically, these are things I believe to be essential.

1. Begin with Prayer.

Prayer is essential to reaching a city for Jesus. It is the starting point for everything we do, and should permeate everything that is done. Prayer ought to take up a significant portion of our daily time. When do not pray, our thoughts, our affections, and our work all serve our own interests rather than God’s. Without prayer it is impossible to succeed in ministry. You might as well not even try.

In my experience most Christians do not spend even ten full minutes in prayer each day. They may say prayers at meals, when getting up and going to bed, and during weekly church prayer meetings, but they do not spend as much time praying as they do talking on the phone or even watching commercials on TV.

Change this one thing and watch the Kingdom of God advance.

For further reading, see “Praying for Others as Outreach,” “How to Pray for Other Christians” and by Paul Watson,  "Growing Closer to God through Facebook Prayer.”

2. Elevate Scripture

Scripture is our final authority for faith and practice. It is the source for all preaching and teaching. Everyone should be conditioned to go directly to the Bible for instruction, answers, examples and warnings. If dependence is established on any teacher (or Bible study guide or book), other than holy scripture and the holy spirit, then evangelism will stagnate.

Elevate scripture over constitution and by-laws. Lovingly challenge church leaders to compare policies with those of Scripture as they relate to evangelism, church planting, and providing for leadership. Let this comparison be the subject of prayer and an open forum. If church policies put burdensome prerequisites on obedience to commands in scripture, reproduction will be stifled.

Elevate scripture by teaching obedience. Passive learners, hearers only, are not only disobedient, but they model disobedience to new Christians. Obedience is more important than knowledge. Every Bible study should end with an opportunity for people to share what they will do in obedience to the passage learned. Gaining insight is not spiritual growth, obedience is.

For further reading see: Obedience Based Discipleship by David Watson, and Three Levels of Church Authority, by George Patterson (PDF)

3. Set a Goal for 10,000% Reproduction

That sounds silly, but it is biblical. Through the parable of the sower, Jesus likened the gospel to seed falling on the ground. On good soil the seed sprouts, grows and reproduces 30, 60, and even 100 times. That corresponds to a 2,900%, 5,900%, and 9,900% increase.

By comparison, my home association, the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, reported just over 42,000 church members in 2010 and just under 700 baptisms for the year. That is about a 1.6% increase. Over a generation of 40 years that corresponds to a 64% increase. According to Jesus, the worst yield in good soil should be a 2,900% increase.

Setting a goal requires your church to be intentional about reproduction and to have a plan. That plan must be bigger than your church and, really, bigger than your association. So many pastors prepare “bold” plans to fill their sanctuaries, or the sanctuaries of the new buildings they envision. Regularly filling a dream sanctuary to seating capacity is not a Kingdom goal.

When we settle for mediocre reproduction, we are negligent. Sinfully so.

For further reading see: How to Measure Success as a Pastor. When a Church Changes Size, An Observation of Good Soil and Grow Your Church or Reach Your Community?  

Coming Soon:

4. Do the Hard Work of Evangelism

5. Become a Master of Group Dynamics.

6. Commission, Commission, Commission.

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