BREAK THROUGH BARRIERS. MAXIMIZE YOUR IMPACT.
I'm Scott Ball, a strategy and leadership consultant for churches like yours.
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10 Ways to Increase Community Outreach
Community outreach is the “proof side” of the gospel.
In the introductory pages of Rick Russaw’s book The Externally Focused Church, he boldly states that evangelical churches that are truly awake shift to living out “the proof side of the proclaimed gospel.” Yet far too often, even big churches with big rooms, big lights, big music, and big crowds lose touch with genuine community outreach. Churches perpetuate the fallacy that as long as their services are close to full, they are reaching our community. On the other end of the size spectrum, there are many smaller churches that have gone into self-preservation mode. They exist as a “holy huddle,” losing touch with the neighborhood that surrounds them.
I grew up in a church like this.
A once vibrant, transformative church lost touch with reality and the ever-changing landscape of the neighborhood where it was planted. As the needs of the community changed, the church didn’t. Eventually the church dove into a protective state, clinging to its exciting history as justification for its unshifting present strategy. The church drained itself of its evangelistic lifeblood and replaced it with formaldehyde–giving the church an appearance of being alive but, in truth, being long dead.
This is harsh. I know. But we need to hear it.
Because when it comes to whether or not your church is genuinely engaging in community outreach, size is irrelevant. One of the churches that does community outreach the best I’ve ever seen, averages under 200 every week. But their church is alive and vibrant and healthy. I’ve worked on staff at churches with big attendance but a lack of a genuine connection with the needs of their community.
The question is, does it matter?
For the church to be what God intended, does the church need to care about and pursue a community outreach strategy that’s bold and genuine?
Rick Russaw writes this:
“Do we really think our Savior would have gained a hearing (much less a following) or established the credibility of his message without displaying some proof that this gospel was real? Why would we ignore such a model? We need to be like Jesus. Like him, we need to be out in our communities, connecting with people through acts of amazing love…while connecting them to a God of amazing grace. Now that’s good news! History tells us the church has always been at its best when its gospel comes two-sided like this.” – The Externally-Focused Church
The answer is yes! Community outreach matters. In fact, at The Malphurs Group, community outreach is a key area of strategy that we spend hours analyzing and planning around. We do this, not solely or even primarily as a tool for numerical church growth, but because it catalyzes a better type of growth: an increase of on-mission passion in the hearts of a congregation. Other areas of strategy like mobilization and fundraising cannot gain momentum if a church has lost touch with its Great Commission mandate to be salt and light in her community. Community outreach not only matters, it’s foundational.
In Advanced Strategic Planning 3.0, Aubrey Malphurs talks about the need to start a new s-curve in the life cycle of the church to keep it from dying, and the best way to do this is to re-focus on an evangelistically-minded mission.
How do we do this? How can we increase community outreach efforts in the church, and increase community outreach outcomes?
Here are ten expert tips that will increase community outreach in your church:
Define your community.
If you want to reach your community, you need to define what you mean by the term. Now, I don’t mean this in the Pharisaical “who is my neighbor” sense. Of course, the whole world is the community that Christ has called the Church to serve. Instead, I’m talking about defining the strategic answer to the question: what is our community? If your church is in Atlanta, it’s unwise to say, “Atlanta is our community.” Atlanta is huge. Be more specific. Which suburb, town, or neighborhood is your community?
See your community from an outsider’s perspective.
It’s really easy to lose touch with the needs of your community when you’re too close to it. Every day you drive past the broken things in your neighborhood: the hurts, the problems, the needs. Yet it’s easy to become desensitized to them. Be intentional about putting “fresh eyes” on the community, seeing the places where only the “proof side” of the gospel can bring healing and light. You may need to bring in actual outside eyes to help with this; it’s often just too difficult to see the issues objectively if you’ve been rooted in the community for a long time.
Become a better listener.
Take a step back from the week-to-week grind of the Sunday ministry machine. If you let it, planning weekend services, managing staff, writing sermons, and meeting with lay leaders will fill up your entire week, every week. Nowhere in that list was there any sort of connection to your community. Build “missionary time” into your weekly schedule, where your sole goal is to listen. Eat and shop at locally owned and operated establishments, and listen to the owners. They have a pulse on the neighborhood. Meet with community leaders and don’t talk, listen. Discover the best ways to serve your community by hearing it directly from their lips of those in your community.
Partner in events instead of planning events.
Gut check: will your church participate in an outreach event if it won’t get the credit? Churches often feel like they’re the end-all in doing community work “the right way.” Here’s the truth: there are organizations in your community who do a better and more consistent job of meeting needs in your community. They are serving people today. They’ll be serving them tomorrow. While most churches are fighting over which version of the lyrics to sing in “How He Loves,” there are community organizations that are meeting the direct needs of people right now. Do you know what those organizations need? Your help. Partner with events and organizations that are already doing the work rather than plan “competing” events. This strategy is a double-win. Not only will you be meeting community needs, but you’ll be developing relationships with community partners who will give you even more opportunities to serve moving forward.
Audit your congregation.
How much like your outside community does the inside of your church look like? I mentioned my church growing up in the intro. My church in high school matched what our community looked like ten years before: mostly white, upper-middle class, white-collar people. But by the time I was in high school, our community looked different: more diverse, more lower-income, more immigrant populations. The inside of our church didn’t match our outside community. What about your church? I would highly recommend a formal analysis, but even an informal glance around your sanctuary on a Sunday morning will give you a general idea to the answer to the question: does the inside of our church match the neighborhood outside the doors?
See your church from an outsider’s perspective.
Just like you need to see your community from a fresh perspective, you need to see your church from an outsider’s perspective. What sights, sounds, smells are you ignoring that are off-putting to the community? Even simple things like landscaping can send a message. If you looked at the previous tip and discovered that your church doesn’t match your community, it’s worth asking: what is your church actively or passively doing that communicates to your neighborhood that they aren’t welcome or that they shouldn’t come? Again, I highly recommend getting an expert, comprehensive analysis that will give you thorough and extensive input that focuses more on solutions than problems. But if this isn’t possible, ask a friend from the next town over to give you honest feedback on what about your church is off-putting. Also, take a couple of weeks off from preaching. Spend one week at a church in another town, looking at their church with fresh eyes. Notice what kinds of things that you pay attention to: facilities, signage, publications, etc. The second week, come to your church like a visitor. Show up when a visitor would, sit in the pews, etc. Look at things the same way you just did the week before at a church you’d never been to before.
Unleash your hidden resources.
Every church has hidden resources. Sometimes these are facilities, sometimes it’s manpower resources. But there are resources in your church that your church has only used internally that it’s time to unleash for community outreach purposes. For example, lots of churches have a gym that they primarily use for youth functions once-a-week. Open it up every school day, and allow community kids to shoot basketball after school. Become a place where they’re used to coming Monday to Friday. Get volunteers to be on-hand to play with them, or to help them with homework. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate program–just a safe place where kids can be kids. Obviously, do your homework on insurance and liability, but the primary point is this: use the resources you have for external purposes and not just internal ministries.
Preach the priesthood of believers.
There is still a prevalent stigma in the western church that the congregation gives a tithe, and as a part of that “payment” is the delegation of ministry responsibility to paid “professionals.” People often believe that because they support ministry financially that they’re meeting their responsibility for “doing” ministry. While the ministry of generosity is critical, it’s far from the vision that Christ had for his Church! It’s God’s desire that every believer would become a mature disciple, making disciples wherever he or she goes. As a result, we must preach this concept of “the priesthood of all believers.” Community outreach can only happen well when everyone is involved in the process. If it’s only the staff of a church doing the effort, it will fail. People must understand that community outreach isn’t an event you’re asking them to attend, it’s a lifestyle that God is calling all believers to live out.
Ask for help.
I’ve been mentioning this along the way, but it deserves it’s own tip. Depending on where your church is on its life cycle (birth, growth, plateau, decline, death), it can be incredibly difficult to re-boot the life cycle–or what Aubrey Malphurs calls “the sigmoid curve.” Re-booting this curve is the critical step to prevent church death. All churches, even vibrant ones, will eventually die if they aren’t intentional about starting a second sigmoid curve. It’s not impossible to do on your own, but it’s exponentially harder and takes more time. Getting outside help is Biblical. Think about the New Testament churches. If they could have solved their problems on their own, we wouldn’t have any of the epistles. Paul wasn’t just a church planter, he was the first church consultant. His relative objectivity in dealing with the early churches gave him the ability to see problems and offer the necessary solutions. Likewise, getting outside help to increase community outreach efforts is often the quickest and most effective route.
If you’d be interested in learning more about how to get outside help to increase community outreach at your church, or even just touch base with us to ask a question, click here. Our mission at The Malphurs Group is to equip your church to break through barriers, and maximize your impact for Christ. Our work with churches is our ministry. We love churches, and desire to see a movement of God within our country as congregations awaken to God’s call to make disciples.