Modern Outreach Has Shifted: 5 Keys Your Church Needs to Know
With culture in such a rapid state of flux, with the dominant headline being the
increasingly post-Christian nature of our world, many churches are uncertain
how best to respond in terms of outreach. They know they aren’t reaching the
unchurched as effectively as they would like, but they don’t always feel
comfortable trying to emulate the fast-growing models they see and hear so
much about. More specifically, they don’t feel they can. You walk through a
megachurch children’s ministry and see a built-in climbing wall in a first-grade
room, and it’s hard to know what there is to feel except envy. So here are five
outreach shifts that almost every church should be able to make—regardless of
style or structure, tradition or denomination—that will help situate your church
toward greater effectiveness at reaching the unchurched. And each one can be
followed no matter your church size and no matter your budget.
Key 1. Change Your Outreach Focus From Easter to Christmas Eve.
Here’s something that isn’t often talked about, but I’m prepared to say is a new
principle: Christmas Eve is the Super Bowl of outreach, not Easter. There are
many reasons for this, and none of them have anything to do with the church.
Here are two: 1) an ever-increasing number of schools and colleges schedule
their spring breaks around Easter, making Easter weekend one of the biggest
“suitcase” weekends (travel/vacation weekends) of the year; 2) Easter has been
effectively secularized into little more than the bunnies and egg hunts. So why
is Christmas Eve better for outreach?
First, unlike Easter and the resurrection, it continues to be primarily related to
the birth of Jesus. Second, it is not a “suitcase” night—if people travel, it is to
gather with other family members, not vacation. Third, unlike the “weekend” or
Sunday-centric nature of Easter, Christmas Eve services can be scheduled for
multiple days leading up to and including Christmas Eve. Fourth—and most
important—there is a larger number of unchurched people present at Christmas
Eve, undoubtedly due to it being more of a family event than Easter (which is
viewed as more of a spiritual event).
Lesson One? Quit putting all of your eggs in the Easter basket and get serious about Christmas Eve.
Key 2. Drop Direct Mail and Move to Social Media.
In the previous century, nothing was better than direct mail. That was, of
course, 25 years ago. It’s not better anymore. In fact, it’s often a waste of
Kingdom money. It can still be effective if targeted toward new residents, or
specific demographics, but the more specific direct mail becomes, the more
expensive it becomes. (And please, don’t even think about an ad on the
“church” page of your newspaper. You are after the unchurched, right?)
A better use of your marketing efforts is online, such as ads on facebook or,
even better, through targeted pop-up ad responses to Google searches, or
banner ads on the websites of local subdivisions, or the vast opportunities that
exist on social media. Speaking of social media, prepare things that your
attenders can share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And the good news for
small churches? So much of this is not simply cheap, but free, with technology
almost everyone already owns.
Lesson Two ? No matter what style your church may be, there is no excuse to
be out of style with media.
Key 3. Let Them Belong Before They Believe.
The most common way of thinking about outreach is that you get someone to
believe in Jesus, and then you get them to belong to your church. What if I told
you the new reality is the opposite? Today, people want to belong before they
believe. They often have a lengthy adoption process as they move from spiritual
and biblical illiteracy toward an understanding and acceptance of faith. So
evaluate your outreach strategy in light of offering “belonging” opportunities
that enable a movement toward believing. If you think I’m fishing for instituting
a “seeker” service, think again. Yes, I believe that the front door of the church
is still the weekend service. Yes, I believe that biblically (e.g., I Cor. 14:23),
we should make sure our services are understandable to those far from God.
But no, a full-blown seeker service strategy (which no one really does anymore,
anyway) is not what is at hand. But that doesn’t mean you can’t provide lots of
opportunity to belong before believing.
Examples might include “exploring” small groups, low-key serving opportunities
that don’t require the embrace of the Christian faith (much less membership),
as well as a simple atmosphere of acceptance for those who simply would like to
come and see, come and hear or come and explore.
Lesson Three? Believing is at the end of the process, not belonging.
Key 4. From Reach the Woman to Reach the Man.
For decades there has been a reality that no one owned: The church was
designed for women and, as a result, that’s who they attracted. The service was
for women, the music was for women, the décor was for women. I’m not saying
this was intentional; it’s almost as if it happened by default. And don’t get me
wrong—I am completely for women in the life of the church. Just not women as
the life of the church in such a way that men are alienated.
So if the church has been unduly feminized, we shouldn’t wonder why there are
so few men in attendance. Just like an African-American walking into a lily-
white congregation might not feel comfortable returning, a man walking into a
service decorated in pastels and flowers and “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs may
not either.Coupled with this is another truth that is seldom discussed related to
how the dynamics of family outreach work. I don’t have a definitive study to
back this up, just three-plus decades of being in the game: If you reach the
man, you reach the rest of the family. But if all you do is reach the woman, you
don’t tend to get much further in that family beyond the children. And without a
supportive, involved, attending father, you don’t often keep the kids long after
Lesson Four? The absence of men from the life of church is legendary; work on
their presence, and you can change the size and scope of your church.
Key 5. From “You Build It They Will Come” to “You Create It They Will Invite.”
The old Field of Dreams mentality was that if you build something…like a great
weekend event…they will come. Meaning crowds of unchurched people looking
for a church home. Um, no. At least, not anymore. And it hasn’t been that way
for a long, long time. But if you create something that your current attenders
sense would be perfect for their unchurched friends, they will begin
inviting them to attend. Yes, this may mean some changes to your current
service on the front-end, but you might be surprised (and relieved) at how
many of them are simply qualitative, and not necessarily stylistic.
Lesson 5? You can’t “build it” and have them come, but you can “create it” and have them be invited.
So there are just five things, among many others, that any church can take advantage of. No matter
your size, no matter your budget.