Healthy churches are inclusive communities, constantly reaching out to those who don’t yet know Jesus. Archbishop Temple got it right when he said that the Church ‘exists for non-members‘. One of the greatest dangers for any local church is that it becomes an exclusive club where Christians have nice meetings and enjoy insular spirituality. This is not only extremely unhealthy but profoundly unbiblical too.
What often happens when a church feels challenged about it’s lack of outreach is that a committee is formed and plans are made for an ‘evangelistic event’. This is something that usually takes place in an alternative venue (so as to look ‘normal‘). The idea is that people bring their friends along and are hopefully impacted by it. Problem is…these isolated events tend to be a bit surreal and unreflective of ‘normal’ church, a bit like an office away day to the zoo. They convince Christians they’re achieving something, but actually produce little or nothing. However, what they do provide is some temporary relief from the guilt which many church leaders feel about their lack of outreach, thus allowing the church to get back to normal thereafter…at least until the next outreach event.
In my experience, these kind of events do more harm than good if they’re not feeding into great culture. For a start, they highlight an intrinsic problem. Reaching out is NOT an event. It’s a culture. For example, in the book of Acts, people were added to the early Church because of the exuberant and uncontainable passion of those who already followed Jesus. There was lots of misunderstanding and it could all look a bit messy at times….but in the mess, miracles happened. There was massive growth, not because of ‘events’ but a culture of outreach. This was just the norm.
Sometimes, I talk to church leaders and will ask them ‘how many people have started following Jesus in your church over the past year?’. The numbers mentioned are often very low, which indicates a lack of practical commitment to inclusivity, even if the heart and sentiment is otherwise. Remember, facts are stubborn things which speak for themselves. So good leaders don’t deny them but rather make facts their friends.
If John Maxwell is right when he says that ‘everything rises or falls on leaders‘, then it stands to reason that leaders must personally carry the culture they’re believing for before they can ever expect anyone else to catch it. In other words, leaders must model outreach and inclusivity. This means everything we do is open to constant challenge…from the way we speak to how we worship, what needs to be stopped and what needs to begin, the way we shape our services, how we schedule our week and prioritise our goals etc etc…it ALL matters if we’re serious about reaching out.
In the end, what’s normal becomes culture. Everything that happens in the life of a local church should be seen as an opportunity to connect with more people…everything. When this way of thinking becomes the new normal, it’s amazing what can happen.