Most churches could start three to five new outreach ministries in the next six months with almost no cost, no new staff and no new volunteers. The key is not to begin new ministries but to rethink your existing ministries.
Let’s be honest: Most churches do plenty of good things for their own people. Most of the money, time and energy in local churches are invested in taking care of those who already call our church their spiritual home. We invest far less in reaching out to those who are still outside the church.
The first and wisest step you can take for innovating ways to reach new people is to explore how to take the great ministries you are already doing and offer them to people in your community who don’t have a church home. You will be amazed by how many people are longing to be connected and who will gladly jump into existing ministries at your church. You just need to make space, invite people and repurpose current ministries so that they are welcoming to those who don’t understand church language and culture.
What might happen if your church began to redesign many of its ministries so that they organically serve and connect with people in your area? Some years ago I began thinking about this idea and came up with a concept I call the “Two-Degree Rule.” Visualize a compass. By default our ministries point to “true north”—we focus our direction on those already in the church. What if we were to move that needle even two degrees? The idea is simple: Take the effective and plentiful things we do for ourselves and direct them out into our community. The results are amazing.
You will be amazed by how many people are longing to be connected and who will gladly jump into existing ministries at your church.
A medium-size Reformed church in the Midwest asked the question, “What do we do well for ourselves that we could offer to our community?” One person said, “Our church is 104 years old, and I am pretty sure we have had a meals ministry for about 104 years.”
For over a century this loving church had brought meals five days in a row to anyone who had a surgery, a new baby, or a family crisis. They offered these meals to anyone—in their church. As they discussed branching out into their community, they decided to offer this service to anyone who had a baby, a surgery, or a crisis, as long as they were not part of a church family.
Guess what happened? This century-old, inward-focused meals ministry became a powerful new outreach and the church did not have to add staff, budget or a new program. It just offered what they were already doing for themselves to their community.
A large Wesleyan church had a dynamic ministry called, Crossroads. Once a month, those who were between jobs, looking for a change in career direction, or at any kind of a vocational crossroads would meet to talk, network, pray for each other, offer support and learn biblical lessons to help them through this challenging season of life.
For all the years the Crossroads ministry existed, the church had only invited Christians from their congregation to attend. They never even considered that nonchurched people would want to come. When they heard the challenge to offer existing ministries to those who were not yet followers of Jesus, they took it seriously. Members of the Crossroads group went to a local job fair and handed out invitations to anyone who was interested in being a part of their group.
In a matter of a few months, about half the people coming to this ministry were nonchurched—and they loved it. Friendships were built, connections were made, and gospel relationships were born. God used this existing ministry to become an outreach ministry.
An elderly pastor of a small Lutheran church heard the challenge to vector church ministries out into the community and was deeply convicted. He walked up to me after hearing me teach about the Two-Degree Rule and said, “Brother, I have to tell you something. Our church has a monthly community dinner. There is just one problem.” He looked at me with deep sadness in his eyes. “We have never invited anyone from our community to our community dinner.”
It seems “community” meant people in their own church family. Then, with passion and intensity, he said, “This is going to change. From now on we will never hold another community dinner without inviting people from our community to join our church members for this dinner.” Another new outreach ministry was born.
You get the picture. Many churches spend a lot of time and money developing new outreach programs and initiatives, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I would suggest looking at what you already do for your church members and ask how you might apply these ministries to your community. You might discover that you could launch two to five new outreach ministries without removing any existing ministries, increasing your budget or adding any staff.
If you are going to apply the Two-Degree Rule, I would suggest that you keep some things in mind.
1. Promote more widely.
You can’t just list these gatherings and ministries in your church bulletin or on your website and expect people from outside of your church to show up. You will want to advertise in your community, provide an invitation that can be shared by church members on social media, and encourage your congregation to invite nonchurch friends to join them.
2. Consider your community.
Not every ministry will connect for your community, but many will. Consider the needs of your area. One church had a class that focused on personal finances and budgeting. When they opened it to their community, people flooded in because at that time many people were struggling with financial concerns and this ministry hit a felt need.
3. Watch your language.
When you expect nonbelievers to come to events at your church or gatherings with lots of Christians, be intentional about not using inside terms or “Christianese.” Just talk like normal people.
4. Pray bigger.
As you prepare for these ministries, acts of service or gatherings, pray for those who will come who are not yet followers of Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to draw these people. And pray that they will feel welcomed and come to know Jesus in the community of his people.
5. Prepare for growth.
Expect new people to come and for your church to grow. Make space for new people.
6. Build bridges.
As new people engage in the life of your church through these ministries, be sure to offer natural connections to worship services and other church activities. Once a person or family feels loved in one part of the church, they are more open to engage more deeply.
Kevin Harney, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles. For more information: KevinGHarney.com