We, periodically, get told about what a great job we’re doing at reaching out to our community. So… thanks! And I think it fair to say, relative to our size, we punch above our weight in the outreach and community activity stakes. If nothing else, it should tell you that being a little church is no barrier to being an active presence in your area and isn’t a reason not to be about the work of the gospel.
But there is something that I have definitely noticed that does help with all that. When people note what we’re doing, they usually want to know how they might be able to do it in their church too. Now, if your church isn’t surrounded by South Asian Muslims and heaps of deprivation, like ours is, then a whole bunch of things we do just won’t fly in your area. Trying to replicate Muslim-Christian dialogue in a West Berkshire village is not clever. So some stuff just isn’t going to be replicable.
But let’s say you find something that looks like it might be. Maybe you live in an area with these things or perhaps we are doing something that has more universal application. Going back to your church and just deciding to implement it may not work either. Unless you are planning to set it up and run it yourself, it may not get off the ground. If that is your approach to things, you will also find that you have limited capacity as you must be the one to instigate everything and your church’s capacity will align exactly with your personal capacity.
Instead, we have found it helpful to let people generate their ideas and then encourage them in what they want to do. We have found that people are more inclined to get involved with what they are excited about than they are to do what we think they should be excited about. And so, generally speaking, we prefer the church to come up with ideas for outreach and then support them in the things that they are keen to do.
Obviously, if somebody comes to us and suggests something so off the wall that it would damage the witness of the church, we aren’t going to sanction that. But, more often than not, that isn’t what we’re presented with. And, truth be told, our general position when people come to us with ideas is that we want to say ‘yes’. So, in effect, if somebody wants to do something and they have a plan to make it happen, we are generally looking for reasons to sanction it than shut it down. So, our desire is to say yes, even if that means we do have to say no to things sometimes.
The sum total of that approach is that we tend to have things running and happening because the church themselves want to do them. The things we do have usually been started up by somebody with a desire to do it and others, looking on, have grasped their vision and gotten involved too. It also means not everybody is involved in everything. Some people are excited about different things to others. As long as each is serving the Lord, seeking to glorify him and reach the lost with the gospel, and as long as the means they are using are not ungodly, we praise God for the idea and free people up to do it.
For this reason, we have English Classes running every week. We have weekly food distribution for those struggling in the community. We have weekly football that is available for those on low incomes. We have a monthly dialogue evening with Muslim folks in the community. We have a few other irons in the fire we are thinking about setting up too. And only one of those things mentioned was set up by me. I may go to several of them, though I don’t go to all, but I only setup one that I felt particularly well placed to do. Almost all the things we do as a church have come from the members who are keen to reach the community in the various ways they feel led to do.
So, if you want your church to be about the business of evangelism and active in your community let me suggest just two things that will help. First, make it part of your membership criteria. All members at Bethel Church are expected to be involved in evangelism, just as the Lord Jesus commands us. We, frankly, don’t care so much what form your particular evangelism takes so long as you are seeking to do it with some consistency. We have found this make evangelism a key part of what we do as a church and makes every member aware of the need to reach out to our local community.
Second, as an extension of the previous point, free your people up to do the evangelism that excites them. People are far more likely to commit to what excites them than what excites you. They are far more likely to do what they are interested in, or that the Lord has given them a heart for, than they are to do what you have decided the church should be doing but they have no desire to do. Rather than taking a top-down approach – telling everyone exactly what form everything must take and then looking for recruits to do it – take a bottom up approach, and allow your people the freedom to do what they are interested in. They may want to do some things that you wouldn’t, that aren’t what you think are the best, but you may just find much more headway is made by giving that freedom than if you don’t.