Leonard C. Albert
Elton Trueblood said, “The church is intended as a concrete answer to the prayer that laborers be sent forth to the harvest. The company of Jesus is not people streaming to a shrine; and it is not people making up an audience for a speaker; it is laborers engaged in the harvesting task of reaching their perplexed and seeking brethren with something so vital that, if received, it will change their lives.” During the past 26 years I have visited hundreds of churches of all types and sizes. The ones I remember as being truly powerful, successful congregations are those who used the talents and abilities of the lay members to minister to the lost through weekly, ongoing, consistent outreaches. A healthy church will always be involved in at least five ministries:
- Edification—the members worship and pray together
- Fellowship—the people of God build up and encourage one another
- Service—the church develops ministries to touch human needs in the community
- Evangelism—the members find and reach the lost with the message of salvation
- Outreach—the people conduct church services outside the sanctuary on a regular basis
Here’s how your church can begin.
See the Need
Jesus looked upon this old world as a vast harvest field that needed to be reaped. He said in John 4:35 (NIV), “. . . Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” In Matthew 25 He gives the church a clear mandate to establish ministry outside the four walls of the building. In just two verses (35 & 36), He tells us to feed and clothe the needy, visit the hospitals and nursing homes, minister to strangers (outreach chapels) and set up a jail and prison outreaches. In Acts 2:41-47 (read this passage!) the believers became better Christians (v. 42), they were committed to each other in the Body (v. 44), they remained in touch with the lost around them (v. 47a), and new people being saved was a normal thing (v. 47b).
Find the Places
To begin with, check out the population demographics. Look carefully into the characteristics of the community in which the church is located. What is the ethnic mix of the area? What is the income base? The average income? The professional and educational level of the people. Next, take a good look around your church community. Look at the many places that outreach ministries are needed. Begin by checking out the nursing homes in the area and see if a Sunday morning Bible study could be organized (usually other churches go in the afternoon). Find out about public housing. Is there a community room where a Sunday morning outreach could be conducted? Try to first begin a non-denominational class and then progress to a worship service in these types of outreaches. City and county jails are excellent places to minister on a weekly schedule. Unchurched neighborhoods are good places to begin outreaches. Look for a vacant home or office building that would be suitable for worship services. Begin with a children’s ministry, then expand to a Bible study and then to a worship service. One church has started four other church congregations this way. Retirement homes, senior adult housing, and convalescent centers are also great places for outreaches.
If you’re in the wrong place, the right place is empty!
Select the Workers
Jesus prayed all night before He called the disciples into full-time service. Begin by praying for God to send laborers. Look for those who might be capable but are not yet involved in the church. Some congregations are small and there are “slim pickings” as far as workers are concerned but when they are given the right circumstances, they have the potential for ministry. Look for faithful people, not just those who seem to have ability. God will give the ability if we are faithful to Him (1 Corinthians 4:2). Recruit the people privately and on a one-on-one basis. When Jesus called His disciples He did not go to the temple and publicly call people on a random basis. How many would have answered His call if He said, “We’re going to have something called disciples. If you would like to be one meet me at the base of the mount tomorrow at 9 a.m.”? He went to where the workers were living and working and recruited them personally.
Robert Schuller once said, “Find a hurt and heal it.” That is what outreach services are all about—going out and finding needs, and, through the power of God’s Word and the Holy Ghost, filling those needs.