In Matthew 25, Mark 12, and other passages, Jesus clearly expresses His expectation that His followers be committed to loving and helping their communities. Whether providing meals for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, or companionship for the imprisoned, Christians are called to devotedly care for their neighbors.
However, as demonstrated by the Barna Group’s research in our previous blog post, only seven percent of non-Christian United States citizens see the church as a primary resource in times of need. While the 93 percent’s response may be a result of respondents’ ignorance to the ministries of their local churches, it is also a possibility that churches in their regions are not active enough in their communities to warrant recognition.
Though ignorance and inactivity present unique challenges, these two hindrances to outreach are solvable. First, the organization providing outreach must recognize their shortcomings. Then, once they analyze their ineffective spots, they must develop and implement corrections that ensure the success of their ministries. To equip you, we have provided a list of some common problems with outreaches and potential solutions. We pray you find this information helpful.
Problem: When we don’t have a personal connection to an issue in our communities (such as homelessness, food insecurity, addiction, or inaccessible medical treatment), it can be easy to use “It’s not my problem” as a justification for failing to act. Humans are naturally selfish creatures, and our absorption in the details of our own lives can distract us from the ways we can make a difference for Christ in our communities.
Solution: The best method for eliminating apathy is to pray that God helps you to see your neighbors as He does. Over time, He will fill your heart with compassion and empathy for the hurting and broken in your community. At the same time, establish a personal connection to a specific issue in your town. Volunteer or partner with an organization in your area that serves a population affected by a particular difficulty. Talk to your friends, coworkers, or people in your church about how community problems have influenced their lives. These interactions will eliminate your ignorance about other people’s struggles and help you develop a heart for outreach.
Lack of Time and Money
Problem: Many who don’t participate in outreach cite a lack of time, money, space, or other resources. These individuals can let what they perceive as insufficiency prevent them from getting involved in their communities.
Solution: Many outreach opportunities require no money and minimal time commitment. In fact, the community being served may even provide the tools to carry out the task; all they need is a little help with labor. For example, a school asking for assistance with repainting will generally provide the paint, rollers, brushes, and drop cloths; all they need is manpower to finish the job. A person can also contribute the skills and resources they already possess to help a community. For instance, if a nursing home’s grounds seem unkempt, an individual with landscaping experience is in an excellent position to provide their expertise. Further, government agencies and private foundations offer grants to pay for ministry opportunities. Finding these financial benefits takes nothing more than a little time, an internet connection, and some writing experience. For those who say they have no time, it is important to remember that helping our communities is a mandate from Christ. In cases where availability is lacking, a person may need to fast an activity (which will likely amount to no more than a couple hours per month) to make time for outreach opportunities.
Lack of Knowledge/Training
Problem: Some may have a great burden to help their communities but feel that they lack experience or understanding necessary to establish an effective outreach.
Solution: This problem can be resolved with only a few keystrokes on a phone or computer. Several helpful websites exist to equip people interested in Christ-centered community service. We recommend Outreach.com, an organization devoted to training and educating churches to expand their community presence. Outreach.com provides several valuable tools, including a blog, a print and online magazine, free webinars, and several other means of boosting community presence. In addition, the Barna Group offers Better Together, a report and toolkit designed to help Christians become a welcome influence in their communities. Also useful is a blog post by Thom Rainer, founder and CEO of Church Answers. In this article, Rainer provides several reasons why outreaches fail. For those looking to start a program, this post will help you identify potential weak spots and protect against them. Finally, we suggest Loving Your Community by Stephen Viars, a practical primer on building sustainable outreaches that draw community members into relationship with Christ.
Establishing and maintaining outreach is a noble endeavor, but it is not easy. As we seek to bring the love of Jesus Christ to our communities, the enemy will often throw obstacles in our path to prevent us from accomplishing God’s will. When we face these challenges, we must remind ourselves of Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV).