Since the culture around us has radically changed in our lifetime from mostly Christian to largely non-churched, we can’t keep doing church the way we’ve always done it and expect the results we used to get. Every Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) congregation must adapt to this change in the culture and adopt a more missional approach to everything we do if we are going to thrive in the years to come. To be clear, this doesn’t mean abandoning being Anglican. It is possible to be both Anglican and missional! But here’s the deal, if your Anglican congregation doesn’t adapt to a more missional way of being the church (which is really the way the church was always supposed to be anyway), eventually enough members will move or die to where the church will have to close the doors. It is already happening all over North America across denominations. That doesn’t have to be your churches’ story, though. Revitalization is possible because all things are possible with God!
I’ve already written about Preaching for a Change and Doing Small Groups for a Change on the idea that both need to be adapted to be more missional – toward transforming non-believers into mature, missional disciples of Jesus. Now I want to focus on doing Outreach for a Change based on the same concept.
In the old “Christiandom” model, outreach often wasn’t evangelistic. It didn’t really need to be in the sense that much of the culture was already Christian. And since the congregation was seemingly “doing fine,” outreach was just one more of the Christlike things to have a program for. You know, the whole “caring for the poor and needy” thing seemed to be important to Jesus so it should be included somewhere in the life of our church. It might have looked like having an outreach committee that gave some money to the local foodbank or shelter and maybe even sent some volunteers occasionally. Basically, it was not much different from a Rotary Club or some other civic service organization. Although that way of operating was never the Biblical mission of the church, we kind of got away with it in the old culture. Those days are gone.
Now we must do outreach for a change. Our efforts to reach out to the community around our local congregations and meet the physical and emotional needs of people must be done with the ultimate purpose of evangelism. Our goal must be to eventually address people’s deeper, spiritual need and lead them into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And then bring them into our church families to make them disciples. It’s actually unloving and even cruel if we help someone with their physical needs and never try to help them with their spiritual needs. It’s like being nice to someone and holding their hand as you walk them straight to Hell. Then you, from Heaven, look down at them with a shoulder shrug and say, “Sorry about the whole Hell thing. I wasn’t real comfortable talking about Jesus. Hey, but at least you weren’t as hungry before you died.” The loving thing is to share the Gospel with them along the way.
Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” The goal of outreach is to show love in a practical way, to develop a relationship with them to find common ground with them, and then to point them to Christ to be saved! Even better is to then have a strategy to assimilate them into your church family to make them disciples.
Who are the unchurched living around your congregation? What are their needs? How can your church meet those needs in a practical way?
In the part of town my church was in, we realized the majority of the unchurched people around us had lower incomes and many struggled with addictions. Although we didn’t know anything about recovery, we decided to become experts on it and try to reach them at the point of their addiction need and point them to Christ. It’s a long story, however the result was that we saw many people saved and join the church and grow as disciples.
That led to a local outreach ministry called “Gleaners” joining our church. Gleaners gleans food from businesses to give away to those in need. As an outreach ministry they would serve people in love then lead many to salvation. Not being a church, they didn’t have a means to disciple them. For years they struggled to find a church that would truly welcome the visibly broken people they reached in to. They were thrilled to find us as we had a proven track record welcoming in “those people.” When they joined our church it gave us an established evangelistic outreach ministry to call our own which only brought in more people to our family. God is so good and creative. He’ll bless any church that’s willing to take His mission seriously!
Again, who are the non-believers in your community? What are they like? What are their needs? How can your church do outreach to them for a change: reaching out to them in love, leading them to Christ for salvation, and bringing them into your family to make them disciples?
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.