4 Things I Learned Doing a City Wide Outreach
Rather than inviting people to come “in” to our services and programs, what if we took the message “out” to every home?
I had always preached about “reaching our community” and everyone would nod in grand approval. But what were we really doing to accomplish that vision?
There came a day when I decided to take concerted action on this point, and to start floating to my leadership team the idea that we should develop a coordinated strategy to reach the city we were in – the entire city – as in every home! I had heard of other churches approaching things this way, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed right for us. Rather than inviting people to come “in” to our services and programs, what if we took the message “out” to every home?
After a few meetings to discern what our community needed, and what skill sets we had, our church landed on developing a magazine-style print campaign that would land in more than 28,000 mailboxes – six times in a row! For us, it felt like a dramatic undertaking, but we knew that the topics our magazines would address (finances, marriage, purpose, forgiveness, addictions, and stress) were exactly what our community needed to discuss, particularly the Bible’s wisdom in those areas.
We formed teams to study each topic and also to prepare for any response that might come in from the mailings, and these teams took on the identity of “their issue” of the magazine. (Being a member of the “love” team was much more attractive than being on the “addictions” team to be sure!)
The whole process was good for our church. Not only did we involve most of our adult congregation in a direct community outreach, but we did actually reach our whole city with the gospel. In six separate magazines over a little more than a year-long period, we offered the truth right in mailboxes – not just promotions to “come and hear” the answer, but – here, in friendly four-color – is the answer!
Church Growth – Our Experience:
The success is difficult to measure, but here’s what happened to us:
- In the year of the mailings and then the following few months, I believe nearly 1,000 people visited our church for the first time.
- The conversation of our town was remarkably shaped by this. Our members reported countless conversations that started with, “Wait, are you from the church that sent me the…”
- A large number of adult attenders of our fellowship got involved in small groups (teams) and evangelistic conversation – many of whom had never done so before.
Here are four things I learned from our city-wide outreach:
1. People want to share the gospel, but they need a practical pathway. We had no problem finding volunteers and donors to make the whole program happen – but they wouldn’t have gotten involved without a specific pathway to do so. The plan itself is all they were waiting for! I didn’t need to preach more about outreaching, I needed to lead the way.
2. A strategic plan was necessary from the outset. Those who made the project possible (our church family) needed to see that initial PowerPoint presentation where I showed charts of the number of households in our church area, the religious affiliations of those households, cost projections for reaching out, and more. They needed to see the plan before they could work the plan! And that process required prayer, creativity, lots of meetings and plenty of offline conversations. It was well worth it in the end!
3. City-reaching is a wide-open market. Most churches build their organizational structures and keep things afloat for the general benefit of their members. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, except that Jesus didn’t found the church to be an end in itself! Elevating outreach to the top of the priority list at our church changed the temperature of the people. It also gave our internal ministries renewed purpose and vision. When I say city-reaching is an “open market” I mean that very few churches are really doing it. Many talk, but few get strategic and practical with that talk.
4. Bolder is better, as long as its realistic. I don’t suspect the momentum or change in our church (or the actual effect of the effort) would have been the same if we had taken action on a smaller scale. We did have voices in our church arguing for smaller or more conservative plans. “Isn’t this too expensive? Shouldn’t we do _______ first?” My favorite piece of feedback came from a non-Christian after the mailing of our first issue. He wrote, “This is awfully aggressive for a church. Please remove me from your list.” Amen! Imagine, people who believe the gospel is the only way to heaven – being aggressive!
As you contemplate strategic planning and leadership coaching in your congregation, my encouragement is to think out of the box. Gather a leadership and creative team together and begin with the question: “How can we complete the Great Commission in our community?”