Saturday, November 1, 2014

Outreach or Outgo?

There is a lot of talk in churches these days about "outreach."  The word gives me a word picture of people reaching their hands out of the doors and windows to catch people and pull them in.  Think about it.  If you are reaching for something, you are usually standing in one place and stretching your arms as far as they will go.  As I am not particularly tall, I understand this well.  This is how I get most things out of my kitchen cupboards!

Notice that I said "most things."  There are quite a few things in my cupboards that are too high or too far back for me to "reach out" to.  In these cases, I have to get closer to the items myself.  I have to step on a stool or a chair or the countertop to get closer to the thing I'm trying to procure.  And then there are those times when I get the chair, take everything off the shelves, and then find that I don't have the item at all, so I actually have to remove myself from my house, get into my car, and drive to a store if I want it.

This is where we in the church tend to miss the boat.

The building I worship in is almost 200 years old.  It is on the historic register.  Architecturally and historically, it is a wonderful building.  But that is not enough to make someone want to attend services there.

The people in the church are warm and welcoming.  It is a small congregation, and everyone knows everyone else.  It is racially and economically diverse, reflecting the town it is located in.  We hear Biblical sermons every Sunday and have Sunday School and weekly Bible Study for those who wish to go deeper and learn more.  But these are not enough to make someone come to church rather than go somewhere else or stay at home.

All of the programs and events that we can invent will not make people think that it is worth their limited free time to remove themselves from their usual pursuits and step foot inside the church.

There are several reasons people don't go to church.  And most of these reasons don't have anything to do with our building, people, or programs.  If we want to reach people, to get a chance to tell them about the great hope we have in Jesus Christ, we are going to have to go where they are, both physically and culturally.

Some people haven't ever been in a church.  They have grown up completely without religion, and have no reason to think they need anything other than what they already have.  They figure they are good people, and that's good enough for them.  Why would they spend any of their time in this foreign place called "church" with people they don't know, and don't care that they don't know?  Why should they bother getting up on Sunday morning and getting dressed and driving around in the cold to sit in an uncomfortable seat with a bunch of strangers and listen to songs they don't know and a preacher who is talking about things that don't much sense?  It seems like a lot of work, and much more boring than their usual Sunday routine of sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast with the newspaper or the TV, or going out for brunch with their family or friends.  After all, they work hard during the week, and need this day to relax before the grind starts up again!

Some people have been to church.  Somewhere along the way they became disillusioned.  There are many people walking around out there who have been wounded by the church.  They have concluded either that the church represents a hateful god, or that the church is full of hypocrites who don't follow the god they preach.  So they either leave Christianity for another more friendly religion, or leave the church to worship God in their own way, without the distraction and the politics of the local church.

Some people are living in a way that they are sure the church disapproves of.  So they either go to church once in a while and pretend to be someone they're not, or they steer clear altogether.  I actually fit into the first category for quite a while.  I was a good girl growing up, and always went to church.  I even sang solos and was the treasurer for our youth group for a while.  In college, I started getting into a different lifestyle, and I spent less and less time at church and more and more time at parties and other places that I was sure wouldn't be accepted by the church.  I was a couple hours away from home, so I didn't see the people I grew up with except when I went home for vacations, so then I dropped right back into being the good girl, and went to church with my family.  When I went back to school, I went right back to my "other" life.  I had the "advantage" of knowing how to behave so that I felt loved and accepted at my old church, though I was really living a double life.  If I hadn't grown up in the church, though, I am pretty sure I never would have stepped foot into one during that period of my life.

Some people have been taught that the church is wrong, or even that it is the enemy.  These people will not enter a church no matter what wonderful thing might be going on in there.

I'm sure I've missed some reasons.  There are probably almost as many reasons as there are people.  And most people probably don't even think of why they're not in church.  It doesn't even show up on their radar.  You may have signs and advertisements and even television ads, but how many times do you skim over the things that you aren't interested in?  I am a musician, so I might notice a flyer for a concert, but I would totally not focus on an ad for a 5K race.  It doesn't even hit my radar.  However, the horse farm I volunteer at was hosting a 5K race, and that one I noticed.  I had a reason to see it, because it was related to something I was interested in.

The church has to stop working so much on "outreach" and start working on "outgo.'  We have to bring Jesus out to the people, rather than expecting them to come in to meet him.  I don't have all of the answers, here, and I can't give you a method for doing this.  It will depend on the people you want to reach, and the people available to reach them.  It will depend on the resources you have.  But I think the first thing to do is to find out who those people are.  What are they interested in?  What do they believe?  What do they need?  And what can you do to meet those needs and those beliefs and those interests and in the process lead them to Jesus?  Because it really doesn't matter whether they are in church.  It matters whether they are in Jesus.  We have to stop thinking of the church as a building or even a congregation, and thinking of it as the Bride of Christ.  One body, working together, ready to grow.

Let's start the conversation, and start the revolution!  Together we can reach the world, starting with our own communities.  What ideas do you have?  What has worked, and what hasn't?  What have you been through in your life that could enable you to help someone else who is facing the same thing?  Which group of people touches your heart?  Unwed mothers?  Immigrants?  Businessmen?  Farmers?  People who wear Nikes?  Your neighbor?  Your friend?  Your family?  Think about it.  Find out about them.  Where are they?  Find out, and go!

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