Part 2: The Purpose of Community Outreach
When God called me to work with churches, I found many similarities to the businesses I had worked with as a consultant for many years. Businesses and churches alike seem to struggle to simultaneously build infrastructure and grow outwardly. Focusing on infrastructure usually interferes with externally-focused efforts in sales and marketing (for businesses) or community outreach (for churches). It is understandable, often even necessary, for a business to shift focus from time to time. But outreach is a primary responsibility of a church. God does not call Christians to “seasons” of outreach ministry but rather to lives dedicated to Him and to reaching others. Without sustained, effective outreach, a church cannot fulfill its purpose and cannot survive.
Prepare People to Hear the Gospel
The underlying purpose of outreach is not just to meeting needs in the community, it is “establishing a beachhead for evangelism in a person’s life.” Dr. Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Church, writes that “anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart…the most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.” Because the spiritual, material, physical, financial emotional, intellectual and social needs of people in the community are so diverse, several different types of outreach programs are necessary.
I spent much of my consulting career advising companies on how to attract new customers and retain existing customers using the principles of Customer Relationship Management or CRM. One of the most fundamental CRM principles is “Needs-Based Segmentation,” which simply means understanding what customers value most in their relationship with the company. Only then can a company target its products and services to meet the specific needs of each customer segment. The same logic applies to outreach. As an example, Dr. Warren’s Saddleback Church has “over seventy targeted ministries…each built around a specific need”.
Church outreach is also means to introduce people in the community to the church by making them aware of God’s love for them. Outreach stimulates church growth by mobilizing members to minister to the un-churched. However, growth should not be measured by the number of people in attendance on Sunday morning, but by the number of disciples being produced.
Outreach is only a starting point for many people on their path to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Churches must pick up where outreach ends, providing the worship, fellowship and discipleship opportunities that, along with ministry and evangelism (ie outreach), make up Dr. Warren’s five purposes of the church.
The role of community outreach is to persuade people to come to church, where they will have the opportunity to enter into that discipleship process. Individual members within the church must be motivated and equipped to go beyond the four walls of the church and do the persuading – through meeting their felt needs and illustrating God’s love. For those who are skeptical about Christianity and churches, reaching out to them in a personal and loving way certainly will be much more effective than advertisements or direct mail marketing.
Besides leading people to Christ and drawing people into the church, bringing healing and help to our communities, outreach encourages the church volunteer as well. This is an important part of the process for growing disciples and fostering fellowship among believers (two of the five purposes of the Purpose-Driven Church listed above). Discipleship involves much more than training and education; it requires practical application. Fellowship involves bringing people together around a common purpose, and to quote Dr. Warren, “I don’t know of a more significant cause to give one’s life to” than “bringing people into God’s eternal family.” A church goal of reaching out to the community in love and service, with the ultimate purpose of witnessing to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, will absolutely unify a congregation.
Outreach should involve the entire congregation in the common goal of ministry. Meet the Need can help churches accomplish this by making all members aware of specific needs they can meet in their community and empowering each church volunteer to meet those needs directly.
In the five areas of focus laid out by Dr. Warren in the book, we see that two are directly outreach-focused: ministry and evangelism. We see that ministry to the felt needs of individuals in the community is an effective prelude to evangelism. After the community outreach takes place, Dr. Warren shows churches their responsibility to worship, fellowship, and discipleship. Outreach plays a continuing role in these focus areas as outreach activities serve as a tremendous impetus for meaningful fellowship and discipleship within the church. Outreach simply cannot be forsaken or back-burnered for a church to be effective in its community and in its mission.