Five Movements to Maximize Outreach Effectiveness

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.

Fair enough.

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.

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 attending being more of a family event than Easter (which is viewed as more of a spiritual event).

At Meck, we routinely have larger attendance figures for our Christmas Eve services than we do our Easter services. Easter weekend is big, to be sure, and is our second-largest series of services. But it’s not as big as Christmas Eve.

Lesson? Quit putting all of your eggs in the Easter basket and get serious about Christmas Eve.

2. Drop Direct Mail and Move to Social Media.

When I started Meck, 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 Pandora 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? No matter what style your church may be, there is no excuse to be out of style with media.

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 with to come and see, come and hear, come and explore.

Lesson? Believing is at the end of the process, not belonging.

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 puberty.

Lesson? 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.

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 intuitively 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.

At Meck, yes, we hear that people like our music and style of communication, but we just as often (if not more) hear that they appreciate our parking team, our signage that guides first-time guests, security within our children’s ministry and, most of all, friendliness.

Lesson? 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.

Connect with an Auxano Navigator to explore options for reaching more people.

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James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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