Three New Trends in an Outward-Focused Church

In a previous post, I recalled the decline of traditional outreach ministries in many churches. I further noted that most churches no longer try to connect with people through “cold call” visits in their homes. These churches, more often than not, begin to see declines in their attendance if they did not replace the traditional approach with something else.

In simple terms, churches without any ongoing outreach approach were likely to decline. The ethos of the church changed from other-focused to self-centered.

Churches That Made Positive Changes

A relatively small number of churches, however, did not leave the void of outwardly focused ministries unfilled. They, like the declining churches, stopped doing traditional outreach ministries. But, unlike the declining churches, they replaced the traditional approach with something new.

Though my research is more anecdotal at this point, I did review several dozens churches that have transitioned well. Thus far I have noted three major new approaches toward an outward focus.

Three Successful and Relevant Outreach Approaches

My research to this point is by no means exhaustive, so I will likely have more approaches in the future. For now, here are three outwardly focused ministries that have filled the void left by the abandonment of more traditional approaches.

  1. Additional worship venue. In the 1960s and 1970s many congregations moved to multiple worship services on Sunday mornings. Such transitions were not without their critics and detractors. Today a number of churches are adding a worship service on a different day; or adding a new campus in close proximity to the church; or adding a different venue in the same facility; or moving to video venues. These new starts tend to grow faster and reach unchurched persons more effectively than existing services. While churches above 500 in attendance were more likely to add a venue, many smaller churches are moving in this direction as well.
  2.  Ongoing community ministries. Some churches regularly send their members into the community to minister to those who live and work there. Typically they find the greatest needs and seek to fill two or three of those needs. This approach is not to be confused with the community ministries that require people to come to the church facilities. While those ministries are vitally needed, the members must be going into the community on a regular basis for the church as a whole to become outwardly focused.
  3. Inviting with accountability. Still other churches have developed ministries that encourage and equip members to invite persons to church on an ongoing basis. Those that have proved successful have some type of accountability built into the process. It is not a simple exhortation from the pastor to invite someone to church. It is rather an organized system that can account for the number of people invited to church each week.

The Research Continues

It appears that many churches began to decline when they abandoned traditional outreach programs but did not replace them with anything else. And it appears that the churches that continued to grow made certain that such a void was filled. For that reason, I will continue to research the different approaches of congregations toward keeping an outward focus.

I could use your help in this process. If your church is growing, I would love to hear what outreach methodologies you are using. I have already heard from several church members and their contributions are invaluable. I have even heard from some church leaders where they have continued with the more traditional approaches with great success.

This one thing is clear: If your church does not have some ongoing approach to reach those outside the walls of the congregation, it is likely to be in decline.

I look forward to interacting with many of you on this vital issue. And thanks for the way you love the bride of Christ.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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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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