An Outreach Journey

Lessons from a church changing its culture

Through the Church Evangelism Institute, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College hosts cohorts of senior pastors across North America who are committed to growing both their personal and congregational evangelism and outreach passion. Jeff Droogsma, associate pastor of Heartland Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Minnesota, shares how church leadership approached changing their culture.

Heartland Evangelical Free is a 100-year-old church in a town with a population of about 3,000 people, located 40 miles from Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are a small town with many people who are accustomed to the big city.

A few years ago, we went through a two-year journey with other pastors in a cohort. What we learned in that experience has been pivotal in moving the hearts of our people toward the lost. A number of small tools have helped us begin to experience a genuine culture change in our church. Here are a few ideas that we have implemented, and some lessons we have learned along the way.

SET TIME ASIDE

Our leadership teams all meet on the same night. Denny Johnson, our head pastor, meets with the deacons, and I meet with the other groups one at a time. During those meetings, we intentionally make time for each ministry to talk about one person they are working with and we pray for them. We have all the normal ministries and programs, but this approach is helping every team to think more deeply about people who have not yet come to Christ.

For example, one change that came out of this process was a desire in our people to start offering to conduct funerals for nonmembers. We are now serving many families through this ministry, and the church is connecting with more people. We have been experiencing God’s favor in a new way over this past year, and people in the community are sensing that something is happening here and they want to come. We know that comes from the Lord, and that he is working in and through our people.

FOCUS ON THOSE WHO WANT TO GROW

We realized that we needed to accept that some people at our church might permanently avoid becoming outreach oriented. Rather than focus on that group, we wanted to provide a way for others to grow in their ability to share their faith and help people come to Christ.

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We offer different adult Sunday school classes that meet at the same time. We have been intentional about devoting one of those classes to connecting and equipping people for outreach. Our last series focused on praying for the people in our lives and sharing stories. This semester we are talking about Jesus in the workplace, and how to be a light and outward focused in our jobs.

As more and more people begin experiencing spiritual renewal and the joy that comes through reaching out, others who once seemed resistant now want to participate. There is a growing sense that outreach is where the fun is.

GET PERSONAL ABOUT THE PROCESS

We always focus on our FRANC group (friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors and colleagues). It reminds us to constantly be asking, “Who is in your world?”

We require a mandatory check-up process for our leaders. During those times, we spend 5 to 10 minutes talking through who is on their FRANC list. We then provide a quick teaching and one quick story.

As we work through this, Denny and I are transparent that we’re in the same boat—we have to focus on our FRANC groups. We explain that it is often natural to feel scared when we reach out. We have been intentional about getting out of our Christian bubbles so we can model lives that characterize outreach in normal and natural ways, and we speak about these occasionally.

During the check-up times, we initially tried using an outreach temperature tool; however, that didn’t go well. The pastors liked it, but many church members who were leading ministries felt it created shame and a sense of competition rather than it being a motivational tool.

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YOUR CHURCH CAN CHANGE

In many ways, our church is quite traditional. While the architecture and committee structures have not changed, something new is happening in the heart of the congregation. God is leading us on a journey that is bearing fruit in new ways.

Outreach is no longer something that is outsourced to our pastors, our two or three evangelists, or to a mission committee. Nor is it something to check off a list. Instead, it is becoming central to our congregation and to growing as disciples. We are grateful for what God is doing and we are excited to see what lies ahead.