Outreach can be defined as any event that gathers the churched with the unchurched for the sole purpose of meeting a need. In my experience, outreach has always been a way for churches to meet the unchurched or dechurched and invite them to church. This is not a harmful motive because the gospel is preached when the people of God meet together. The gospel is experienced when the people of God gather. However it typically has an ulterior motive, that is baiting people for church attendance.
My experience has shown that outreach is more focused on the numbers game rather than being Jesus to one another. What I mean by that is Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV). Three times in two verses Jesus said “Love one another.”
Notice the motive is love and not church growth. I know it may seem forced to say that church growth is not fulfilling the command of love but what I’m trying to say is the ultimate motive to loving others is because Jesus first loved us (1 John 4:19). Most outreaches are focused first with church growth then love. It’s backwards.
What if we had a paradigm shift?
What if we first focused on loving others by serving others just as Jesus served us. What if we viewed outreach in the sense that we are meeting needs for the sole purpose of meeting needs because that’s what Jesus would do. Instead of even having an ounce of thought in our heart that outreach might inform someone of our church, our gatherings, our worship, or our preaching, what if we focused primarily on feeding the ones who are hungry, loving the unloved, meeting tangible needs, and being an encouragement to the hurting?
We can shift this paradigm by seeing people as God sees them and not as business sees them. God sees people as His creation who need one another for maturity and not as a business who needs others for profitable gain. It is possible to do outreach with one motive, love.
What if we literally threw out the thought that if we reach out to someone (in love) we could get another church attender. What if we seriously considered helping someone, serve someone or give to someone for the sole purpose of seeing them become successful and blessed? I can’t possible believe Jesus would want it any other way.
Recently, here in southern Tennessee, we had ice storms that caused a lot of power outages and electric crews were out for many hours at a time to repair everyone’s electricity. That is their job. I heard testimonies from linemen’s families that they may have gotten four hours of sleep a day during a week of cold hard winter. They risked their lives to find electric lines down and repair them.
A Facebook page was set up to show our appreciation by providing them a lunch and to simply show our gratitude. It’s not a Christian event. It simply is people gathering to give a pat on the back and to thank men for their hard work. We could easily say that was your job. However, the encouragement and blessing to provide them with a small token of gratification does more than we could possibly imagine.
The Church should be doing the same thing. Reaching out to love on people simply because we are to love them. We were never called to build churches. We were called to love God and love others by sharing the gospel and make disciples. It really is that simple.
We can shift the outreach paradigm. We MUST shift the outreach paradigm and quit offering a bait and switch.