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Why Outreach Is More Than A Program

Over the last 10-15 years in the Church, there has been an increasing awareness of needs in our community and an increasing effort to do something about them.  This is a good thing.  It’s received several different titles in our ministry and social circles.  Missional.  Social Justice.  Needs-Based Ministry.  Outreach.  Local Missions.  Whatever it’s called, it’s a good thing, but there are some unintended consequences as well.

I don’t know who started this movement in the Church, but like I said, it’s a good one.  For decades, the focus in the Church was overseas missions.  The need to reach and serve unreached people in other countries took the major focus of our ministries.  There’s nothing wrong with missions.  I’m all for missions.  Our family and our church support missions efforts and missionaries who are overseas.  Somewhere along the way through, because of our effort overseas, we failed to notice what was happening around the corner.

Here at Element Church, we have worded it this way:  We’ll never be good missionaries around the world until we are great at missions around the corner.

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So about those unintended consequences.  When the Church started to intentionally and strategically acknowledge and also do something about meeting needs in their community, people began to take notice.  This missional mindset led to momentum in certain churches.  People who weren’t normally a part of the church started attending churches that were showing a true interest in their community.  So when attendance begins to spike in other churches, church leaders begin to pay attention.

Now, what the Church should have always been doing, simply became a trend.  Outreach became a growth strategy instead of a generosity one.  Missional became a way to create momentum, not just a way to minister in the community.  Local missions became a mantra for the church and not a mentality of the people in the church.  Those are some of the unintended consequences.

The reality is, outreach is not just a program in the Church it should be the purpose of every Church.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.  This is true of evangelism and discipleship as well.  We’ve made evangelism a program.  We’ve turned discipleship into a class.  Those are blogs for another day, but the principle remains the same.  Evangelism, discipleship AND outreach aren’t programs, they are our purpose.

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Isn’t it odd that serving people and meeting needs became a program for us in the Church?  Read the words of Jesus and this seems like a no-brainer right?  Reaching the lost and serving the least weren’t a program for Him.

So, here are three principles about outreach that make it part of our purpose and not just a program.  By the way, I understand that we need systems, structures and procedures in our outreach to support the purpose.  I’m not saying we don’t need organization around it or staff to run it, I’m just saying it’s so much more than a program.

1.  Outreach is a mentality, not a motivation — Outreach (local missions, missional, needs-based ministry, social justice) has become a motivation for too many churches and not a mentality.  The motivation is too often about “getting people in the church” instead of “getting the church to the people”.  We say things like you heard on Field of Dreams, “If we do this, they will come.”  We reach out with the hope that there is a reward.

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Early on at Element Church, before we even launched, we had done an outreach event for our community.  We weren’t even holding weekly services yet but we wanted to show the community that, “We are here for you, not the other way around.”  It was unbelievable.  Our little team was so excited to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our community.  The event went off without a hitch, people’s response was incredible and real needs were met.

I was sharing our outreach to a church in another community.  I had a previous connection to this church and was so excited to tell them about our event.  I spoke with excitement about all that God had done and all we were able to do.  I even said something like, “You guys should look into doing something like this.”  Their response has led to a mantra for our church.  They said, “Well yeah, but how many people came to church because of it?”

For them, the only reason to do outreach was if there was a return or if there was a reward.  Now sure, as stewards of GOD’S resources, we should be very careful in how we spend them.  We don’t want to waste His money but leverage it for Kingdom good!  But that didn’t seem to be their concern.  My response was, “We didn’t do the event because there was a return, we did it because it was right!”

Outreach is the right thing to do whether there is ever a reward.  It’s a mentality, not a motivation.  Yes, we want people to get connected to God’s Church, but we are going to serve whether anyone attends because of it or not! Outreach is a mentality, not our motivation.

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2.  Outreach is an extension of the ministry not an expectation in the ministry!

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When outreach becomes an expectation in the Church it will also be a burden for the Church.  Outreach should be something we GET to do, not something we HAVE to do!  This is the logical next step when it becomes a mentality in the church.

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People who have captured the heart of God for generosity know this!  Giving becomes a “get to” in their life and not a “have to”.  The same is true for outreach.  When we capture the heart of God for our communities then outreach becomes a get to and not a have to!

I love that about our church.  There is nothing our people respond to more than outreach.  Whether it’s through giving of their resources, time or talents, the people of Element Church truly do see outreach as an extension of their life, not an expectation in it.  We’ve actually seen several outreach ministries and organizations start in our community from people in our Church that were moved by God to do so.  These aren’t programs our church funds or provides, they are extensions of the lives of people that just happen to attend our church.

3.  Outreach can be a fun event, not just a food event!

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We so often think of outreach as only meeting a physical need.  Food, shelter, clothing, etc.!  Some of our outreach should meet those needs, but that isn’t the only need in our community.  One of the things I think we are missing in the church, especially as a presence in our community, is FUN!  I’m not sure fun is a word often used to describe the church.  Why not?

Again, here at Element, we describe outreach in some different ways.

  • Outreach can be “Just because” or “because it’s just”.  Both are legitimate outreaches.  A “just because” event might be providing inflatable games at the city Easter Egg hunt.  That was actually the very first outreach Element Church ever tried.  I say “tried” because we were all set to serve the city that way, and then Easter got snowed out!  Only in Wyoming!  For three consecutive years, we did an Easter Egg Hunt with a twist.  We dropped thousands of eggs from a helicopter onto a field before the kids ran out in a frenzy to collect them.  We gave away candy, prizes, and refreshments.  It was an absolute blast.  There was no real “need” met, other than a church providing an event that was SO MUCH FUN!  Those kinds of events are “just because”.  A “because it’s just” event meets a practical need.  Food, shelter, clothing, school supplies, etc.  I don’t need to describe those, but I do challenge you to get creative with them.
  • Outreach can be “reaching the masses” or “massively reaching”.  Some outreach events are designed to touch lots and lots of people.  Those are “reaching the masses” kind of events.  The Easter Egg Drop, Back To School Bash (school supplies), Thanksgiving meals, trunk or treats, etc.  There are some events designed to reach masses of people and then there are some events designed to reach massively into the lives of individual people.  I’m afraid that sometimes we ignore the Mrs. to reach the masses.  (Nice play on words huh?)  Here’s what it means: Sometimes we should make a massive impact in the life of one person instead of making an impact on the masses.  Christmas for a single mom, home reno for a widow, whatever it is, don’t neglect the Mrs. for the sake of the masses.  Both are important.

There you have it.  Outreach is more than a program in the church, it needs to be the purpose of the church.  Those are three principles that have been helpful for us as we seek to make it a mentality, an extension and a fun part of our ministry!  We aren’t perfect at it, but we try to get better every year.