What Our First Converts Taught Us About Outreach
by Randall Wright
Most churches with a passion to fulfill the Great Commission are constantly seeking effective ways to reach people. They often spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours searching for new and exciting methods. Sometimes, the tactics and programs we embrace verge on sensational, and we suddenly realize that this year’s outreach event must top last year’s in order to remain effective. It can become an endless and frustrating cycle.
I am convinced, however, that every church can embrace several simple and effective strategies to strengthen their outreach. They are lessons we learned from our first convert in Texas.
Ryan came to our opening service. She had told us the week before that she would, but if you have been involved in outreach, you know that most “I’ll come to church” promises turn out to be empty words. Ryan was different. She and her three children came to our launch service, just as they said. We were so excited. We were even more excited when Ryan later acknowledged that she prayed to receive Christ during the service. It had been 18 years since she had been in church, and it was the first time for her three children.
Since the launch in October, Ryan and her children have attended every service. She has a wonderful excitement about her new relationship with Christ and recently began bringing family and friends to church with her. As I thought about Ryan’s conversion and her continued growth, I realized she has taught us several things we need to remember when reaching our community for Christ.
Connect rather than create.
We first met Ryan and her children after we connected with a local agency sponsoring free oil changes for single mothers. We jumped at the opportunity to get involved. We made phone calls, scheduled appointments, planned events for the kids, and had ladies on hand to distribute literature and talk to these mothers about their needs (and our church) while their cars were being serviced.
Often, a new church does not have financial or personnel resources to provide and promote an event like this, so connecting with a larger agency can be a great help. Most cities and communities sponsor regular events. They do most of the planning, promoting, and financing.
We simply look for these events, volunteer our services, plan ahead, and provide volunteers. By connecting, we enjoy an effective outreach effort we could not do alone. In our city, several agencies sponsor multiple events throughout the year—The Performing Arts Center, The Parks and Recreation Department, the Independent School Districts, and others.
Work from the outside in.
I have always been amazed at how Jesus often shared the gospel or offered forgiveness of sins while meeting a physical need in someone’s life. Whether He was commanding the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11) or telling the paralytic that his “sins are forgiven,” while telling him to take up his bed and walk (Mark 2:9-11), His ministry touched both the spiritual and physical needs of people’s lives.
As we prepared for the oil-change outreach event, we contacted local schools and shared information about what we were doing. We asked if they could direct us to any single mothers who would benefit from the free oil change. They embraced the opportunity.
Most people are glad to help churches meet physical needs in the community. I am convinced that God will bless churches that seek to meet the needs of their community (Jeremiah 29:7). As we sought to meet Ryan’s physical need, it provided an opportunity to meet her greatest need, a personal relationship with Christ. Working from the outside in reminds us that outreach soars on the wings of ministry.
Make it easy to invite. We were amazed when only seven weeks after Ryan’s first visit, she came to church with 12 visitors. We had planned a small Christmas program. The children dressed in Nativity attire, sang songs, and recited Scripture. Ryan’s children had special parts in the program. She told us she would have several visitors with her for the program, and she did. In fact, the entire congregation worked hard to invite family and friends. With their work and Ryan’s effort, our young church set an attendance record of 67.
It is vital for our church to provide regular opportunities to promote and encourage members to invite family and friends. We plan events and services that they will want others to see, hear, and experience with them, making it easy for them to invite others. We plan sermon series, children’s programs, baptisms, baby dedications, and attendance goals that provide natural opportunities to invite others. Often guests are more inclined to attend if they believe their attendance will help someone other than themselves.
In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if our church would have connected with Ryan had we not reached out to a specific need in our area. How many of those 12 visitors would have come with her had we not planned a special event? We may never know the answers to the questions. We do know, however, that connecting with a local agency to help meet the needs of people allowed this opportunity to reach one more for Christ. We also know just one convert can teach us a great deal about effective outreach.
About the Writer: Randall Wright and his family are planting a church in North Dallas, Texas. For more information about the Wrights and other Free Will Baptist church planters, visit www.homemissions.net.