Kevin Harney: “Where do you find great outreach programs and innovative ideas? Here are some of my best suggestions.”
I have sat in “the chair” many times throughout my 32 years of marriage. “The chair” is the one just outside of the changing room in every women’s clothing department on planet Earth. I have waited in this chair as my wife tried on an article of clothing, popped out and asked the potentially dangerous question, “What do you think?”
My wife learned more than three decades ago that I would always be sensitive, diplomatic but ultimately honest with my opinion in these moments. My feedback helps her decide if she will purchase the item or put it back on the rack. The process of trying things on helps a person determine if it is the right look and fit.
Innovating new outreach programs, events and ministries is much like trying on an outfit. Every local church has its own shape, size and style and one ensemble does not fit all. One of the best things a church can do is commit to being creative and adventurous. Try a variety of outreach approaches. If one does not fit, just put it back on the rack and try something else. With time you will discover what fits your church. And with even more time, you learn that some things fit for a while but later they go out of style or they are outgrown.
I have written three books on organic outreach and not one of them is about telling any church or ministry exactly what outreach programs to use. The idea of organic outreach is more about getting churches to a place of evangelistic health so that many programs and events will fit them well and be useful in their evangelistic efforts.
So here is the big question: Where do you find great outreach programs, events and innovative ideas to try on? Here are some of my best suggestions.
1. Borrow ideas from churches you respect.
Think about it: People borrow clothes, so why not evangelistic ideas? Do a Web search and look at what outreach ministries four or five of your favorite churches are doing. What is working at churches around your community and region? What is bearing fruit in churches from your denomination or tribe? There is no shame in borrowing ideas. But of course, always take time to tailor them to the shape and size of your church.
2. Learn from people who research this kind of stuff.
You can also find many interesting and fresh outreach ideas by reading a good book. Mark Mittelberg wrote a book, Building a Contagious Church, which contains dozens of stories and accounts of churches that have done creative and innovative outreach ministries. Outreach magazine always has fresh and new ideas and stories of church outreach that works. Find people who function as outreach fashion experts and listen to them.
3. Attend an outreach conference.
Although there are not a lot of them out there, these national gatherings of passionate evangelism leaders will connect you with many ideas and sources of innovative outreach programs. Start by checking out the Organic Outreach Conference in Monterey, California, in November and the Amplify Conference in Wheaton, Illinois, in June.
4. Talk with effective outreach leaders.
Some years ago, when Mark Mittelberg was writing Becoming a Contagious Church, he asked me to help him research creative outreach ideas from around the United States and the world. I contacted over a hundred church leaders and told them I wanted to learn from their successes and share the learning with others. Every one of them gladly shared what was working for them and in most cases we prayed together for each other to be effective in reaching out with the gospel. Don’t be afraid to talk with smart people and learn from them.
5. Don’t shy away from effective ideas just because they’re old ideas.
Sometimes great ideas that have worked in the past are actually still great ideas. We discard them because we don’t want to wear last year’s fashions. But jeans never go out of fashion—at least not in my world. Some outreach ideas don’t need to be done away with, but simply retrofitted for a new season. Be creative and humble enough to use an old idea that is still effective.
6. Vector an existing ministry outward.
Sometimes the best new outreach idea is something you are already doing. Many churches have stylish and well-fitting ministries that are only really “worn” by church members and those who are already following Jesus. You can innovate these very ministries and offer them to your community. By creating an outward vector from an existing ministry, you develop a whole new outreach to unchurched people without actually developing a new ministry.
A 104-year-old church did this when they began offering meals to families in their community for five days after a surgery or the birth of a child. They had done this for their own members for over a century but had never let their neighbors try it on. When they did, outreach happened!
Another church had a great personal finance class they had taught for over a decade but had never invited their community. They made a small shift and promoted the class in the community and they had a new outreach! You have things you are doing for the believers in your church that you have never thought about offering to your community. Vector these ministries outward.
One size does not fit all. Most outreach ministries need to be tailored a bit. But if you try things on, you will find what fits your church. Be creative, be humble and keep trying things on until you find effective ways to reach your community with the amazing love and grace of Jesus.
Kevin Harney 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