In Matthew 5, Jesus delivers the radical Sermon on the Mount, a revolutionary discourse in which Christ elaborates on Old Testament law, flips the cultural understanding of the blessed, and calls His followers to greater spiritual purity. In this section of the sermon, Jesus tells the assembled crowd they are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16). With these analogies, Christ reveals His followers’ role as spiritual enhancers and tasks them with sharing the gospel by improving their communities.
However, as we noted in our previous blog, this biblical call to evangelize through outreach can be hampered in several ways. To rectify these issues, we provided some solutions to the problems we proposed. However, a better strategy involves having a thorough plan for your outreach before it even begins. This plan will enhance effectiveness and keep you from headaches in the execution phase. As you bring Christ to your communities, consider the following pointers for creating a successful outreach ministry.
Before you begin planning, you must spend time in prayer. As you draw nearer to God, He will reveal the things you need to carry out His mission in your community. However, if you move forward without Him, your plans are fraught with peril. Make sure that you devote time to seek God’s guidance before, during, and after the event.
Assess the Need
Each community is different. A ministry cannot always replicate or transplant an outreach that works in another neighborhood. For instance, one area may lack basic necessities, so a food and clothing drive is an effective way to resource the community and show them the love of Christ. However, another community may be affluent and possess an abundance of these resources, so the same outreach would not be as effective. Therefore, evaluating your community before determining an issue to tackle is particularly crucial. Some outside-the-box thinking may be required, and it may push you outside your comfort zone.
An excellent example is Missio Dei Chicago, a church encouraging its diverse members to bring the gospel to their specific neighborhoods in unique ways. In an article for Christianity Today, Josh Taylor, Missio Dei’s lead pastor, “We’re not trying to build a mega-church across ZIP codes. We’re going for the presence of Christ in a specific neighborhood. With no strings attached, we’re seeking to live out of the question, ‘How can we be a blessing to this community?'”
On an individual level, community members have built relationships with city officials and joined parent-teacher associations, investing in the governance of their homes. Their small groups provide essentials for refugee families and participate in urban agriculture. Most uniquely, the church holds “You Are Loved” outreaches to express the love of Christ to their neighborhoods. These events include making coffee for commuters, taking family photos in poorer communities, and even providing water for public events. By examining and evaluating the unique needs in their communities, Missio Dei members have been salt and light to many individuals who need Christ.
Take Stock of Your Resources
The category of “resources” is extremely broad. It includes physical tools and provisions, workers, sources of information, and community partnerships. Your workers and ministry members are undoubtedly your greatest resource. They bring talents, connections, ideas, and equipment to your outreach. As you build your team, make sure you place workers where their abilities will be most maximized. For example, put people accustomed to management and strategy in charge of planning and directing the effort. Those with excellent interpersonal skills should have contact with the population you are servicing, and those who prefer not to talk to new people can function in less interactive support roles. Also ensure that your team members are tapping into their contacts to provide necessary equipment, including vehicles, food, volunteers, and other items.
Also important is the source of your object for meeting the need. For instance, if you are holding a school supply drive, you will need to obtain the supplies. If your organization can afford to purchase them, great! However, if donors are necessary, be sure that they provide the resources you need by the time you need them. Connecting with these donors before and after the event is crucial. Send thank-you notes that express your gratitude for their help. This will boost their morale and can potentially inspire them to give again in the future.
You are likely not the first organization in the area to tackle your community’s specific need. Likewise, there are other establishments that possess key information for your outreach. Establish partnerships with both of these groups.
For example, in the school supply drive hypothetical, you will need a list of the materials each student will need. Your local school district is an excellent source of information and may even partner with you to promote the outreach.
Making these connections is crucial because if you decide to go forward uninformed, you could be providing the community with items or services they do not need, which reflects poorly on your ministry. Additionally, companies may be willing to donate resources to stock your outreach, and other service organizations may donate time or money to partner with your mission. Outreach.com calls this “building long-term and short-term bridges.”
Keep Christ Central
Never forget that the ultimate purpose of your outreach. Providing for a community’s needs is a noble and necessary endeavor, but the ultimate necessity for every person is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Make the ministry’s name visible on all promotional materials so attendees know that representatives of Christ are helping them. However, do not turn the outreach into a commercial for your ministry, as this may lead your community to see your organization as more interested in numbers than helping individuals. Always be patient with anyone attending, no matter how difficult they may be. By loving the seemingly unlovable, you show them and other community members that you are different from the world. And, as the apostle Peter writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15b).