Monday, May 23, 2016

Seven Ways Church Outreach Has Changed in 15 Years

“So what are churches doing to reach people today, Thom?”

I hear some version of that question on a regular basis. The difficult response is that more churches are doing nothing rather than something.
But, to be fair, thousands of churches are doing some type of outreach to their communities and beyond. But the times have definitely changed. Here are seven of the most common changes in church outreach practices over the past one to two decades.
  1. From in-home visitation to lunch or coffee shop visits. Relatively few churches do in-home visits. But many are connecting with people at lunch or at a coffee shop. In fact, I believe every church should have some budget dollars allocated for this type of outreach. More on that later.
  2. From newspaper ads to Facebook ads. Facebook ads are not only affordable; their algorithms allow a church to be highly focused on the target audience. Starting as low as $15 per month, almost every church can afford some level of Facebook ads.
  3. From worship services to the church website as the front door. Guests to a church in the past would check out the church first by visiting the worship services. Guests today often make their first impression decisions by checking the church website. There is no excuse for a church to have a poor and dated website today. They are affordable and user-friendly.
  4. From complex gospel presentations to simple gospel presentations. The most popular gospel presentation of the past several decades was “Evangelism Explosion.” Theologically rich and highly effective for a season, EE did, however, require a great deal of memorization and training. Today many churches look for an effective gospel presentation that requires less training. My favorite simple gospel presentation is “Three Circles,” conceptualized by Family Church in South Florida, and its lead pastor, Jimmy Scroggins. Here is Jimmy explaining Three Circles.
  5. From multi-service to multi-venue and multi-site. While churches still use the multi-service approach as a strategic means to reach people, more resources are being invested in new sites and new venues. I have written on this issue extensively. I am still amazed how quickly this practice has become so widespread.
  6. From attractional to going. Many churches have invested significant resources in attracting people to their worship services or to some big event. More resources are now being expended on members going into the community. Hands-on ministry and small group connections are becoming a more normative approach to reaching people today.
  7. From national and international giving to contextual giving. Churches are now more likely to fund outreach ministries where they know the ministry or people involved in the ministry. They are becoming less likely to fund a national or denominational fund that then decides funding recipients. Of course, this issue is presenting challenges to many denominations, including my own.
These are not merely shifts; they are dramatic changes. And most of the changes took place in a relatively brief period.
What do you think of these changes? Let me hear from you.