I once heard a pastor introduce a new local missions program he called “sign evangelism”. As an outreach-minded person who knew that this church was not active in serving the community, I thought, “This should be interesting”. The pastor went on to explain that “sign evangelism” would be taking place next Friday after work, consisting of putting signs on street corners all over the city inviting people to come to their church! Their community service was advertising! Ok, that was an extreme case, but hopefully it illustrates that many churches see the community as a “target market” rather than a place to serve.
Not to get too dramatic, but it’s also interesting to note that the words “ministry” and “outreach” have been effectively hijacked. I’m not sure who’s the culprit, but the original meanings of the words are definitely MIA. “Ministry” used to mean serving and evangelizing. If you ask a church today about their “ministries”, they’ll talk about the Women’s groups, Men’s groups, ushers team, greeters, etc. Ministry somehow came to mean “inside” the church. Likewise, “outreach” used to mean helping those in need. Now it means recruiting members to come to your church. Outreach Magazine is full of creative programs, materials and tools mostly designed to attract new attendees to your church. At first, we used the term “outreach management software” to describe Meet The Need, but most churches thought we were talking about a system to manage and communicate with their members – so we had to stop using that term. What happened to the meaning of “ministry” and “outreach”?
Somewhere along the way, another major shift took place – the idea of the church as the primary source of help for those in need. Today, the church is not a first thought or even a second one. Government is. But unfortunately the government can’t provide hope. Not to get too political, and I’m certainly not saying that the church abdicated that role. But I’m also not saying that the government usurped that role from the church without its knowledge or against its will. TO BE CONTINUED….