Outreach Ministry – Part 2

My first experiences in outreach were of trying to uphold the established tradition of congregational evangelism.  I’m sure we’re all pretty familiar with the guilt ridden response to sermons that make us question our commitment to Christ.  Those sermons are good for getting us to want to baptize our co-workers or give money to orphanages.  The problem with me is that I’m not one to do things mindlessly or just because they’ve always been done.  I always look at the result of our efforts and evaluate whether they should continue or not.  I’d rather do nothing than do something that doesn’t work.

So, what is the established tradition?  I imagine you could all sing the song if I just hummed the tune.  It typically begins with some type of paper.  This paper is either a "gospel tract" that has artwork from the 60’s or 70’s on it and has people engaging in ridiculously improbable conversations or it is a poorly designed flyer that the church did itself that was photocopied a little bit crooked.

The piece of paper is then carried in ritualistic fashion throughout neighborhoods and delivered to residents by a technique known as door-knocking.  This usually involved standing at doors where no one was home for a couple of awkward seconds before sticking the paper in the door or illegally depositing it in the mailbox (for official post deliveries only!).  When you did find someone home, they always seem to look at you like "Why did the church who’s never taken an interest in me before decide to send this college student from another area to come and talk to me?" The goal of the paper delivery was to accomplish two things: get them to come to church and get them into a Bible study.

It’s the Bible study part of the ritual that has caused me the most trouble.  The ones I observed and were trained to do were little more than stacking our scriptures up against their scriptures in a head to head dual.  The one with scriptures left after the smoke cleared was declared the winner and the loosing party agreed to attend church and possibly take a special bath.  It seems that the bath was particularly embarrassing because those who participated in it seldom had the courage to show their face in the building again.

A year or so after the ritual, someone would say "We ought to do some outreach" and the process would commence again.

I’m being a little hard on the process and this was stated somewhat tongue in cheek, but many of you will identify clearly with the story that is pictured here.  There are those in the world who were converted by this process that will defend it until the day they leave the earth.  I once mocked the process in front of an individual who was converted by finding a tract in their mailbox.  She spent the 30 years after her conversion leaving tracts in people’s mailboxes.  I was embarrassed that I hadn’t considered that possibility, but when someone else in the room asked how many she’d converted through the last 30 years her answer was "zero". 

Tomorrow we’ll look at why this process has failed and what can be done about it.  Before then, why don’t your share your experiences of organized outreach with us.  I’d like to hear both good and bad.

8 Responses to Outreach Ministry – Part 2

  1. Stoogelover says:

    My experience has been very similar to yours. I have always HATED those campaigns and have yet to see any real fruit from them, though I’m sure others have. When we were in college, Janice and I attended an inner-city church in Nashville. I loved everything about it except their visitation program. I always hated to go visit someone for no other reason than I had been assigned a card w/ that person’s name on it. And I’ve never welcomed the person in my home who had a card with my name on it. If we can’t make it any more personable than that, then we’ve really missed the whole aspect of relational evangelism.

  2. Stoogelover says:

    My experience has been very similar to yours. I have always HATED those campaigns and have yet to see any real fruit from them, though I’m sure others have. When we were in college, Janice and I attended an inner-city church in Nashville. I loved everything about it except their visitation program. I always hated to go visit someone for no other reason than I had been assigned a card w/ that person’s name on it. And I’ve never welcomed the person in my home who had a card with my name on it. If we can’t make it any more personable than that, then we’ve really missed the whole aspect of relational evangelism.

  3. James says:

    Okay, first I’m glad you admitted that you were “a little hard on the process.” Second, I don’t think the people you describe in the first paragraph were doing what they did mindlessly or because they’ve always been done. They did it that way because decades of teaching, preaching and prooftexting had pounded into our heads that that’s what must be done. “We’ve got to get them in the door and in the water.” And anybody who’s lived it knows how pervasive and persuasive that kind of rhetorical dogma can be, and how hard it is to overcome.

    Does doorknocking work? The Mormons think so, and it certainly accomplishes their goals. Of course their goals are to increase numbers, increase political power and increase the bank accounts of their cult.

    Does it work to make Christians? Not very well. Doorknocking isn’t outreach, it’s just doorknocking. It’s like a charity drive whose goal is 100% contact. Contact is easy. Caring takes more effort. Getting a significant percentage to actually contribute is a tougher matter.

    If doorknocking isn’t outreach then what is?

    Outreach is providing meals to the elderly, shut-ins and homeless people. Outreach is taking sandwiches and drinks to volunteer firefighters who’ve been working for days on end to keep a wildfire from destroying your town. Outreach is inviting the guy you talk to everyday at work, or on the bus, or wherever to come to a small group or other activity when you can tell he is looking for something more in his life. Outreach is talking to the lady next to you at lunch who overhears your conversations about church matters. Outreach is letting the local Red Cross use the church’s new gym/multi-purpose center as a shelter for people displaced by storms or tornadoes. Better yet, it’s letting the local Methodist church (or any other group) use that same gym for their own functions.

    Doorknocking doesn’t make you a part of the community around you. Doorknocking is just doorknocking. It makes people suspect your motives and wonder what you really want. And community is what outreach is about: being invested, being interested, being visible and being available.

  4. James says:

    Okay, first I’m glad you admitted that you were “a little hard on the process.” Second, I don’t think the people you describe in the first paragraph were doing what they did mindlessly or because they’ve always been done. They did it that way because decades of teaching, preaching and prooftexting had pounded into our heads that that’s what must be done. “We’ve got to get them in the door and in the water.” And anybody who’s lived it knows how pervasive and persuasive that kind of rhetorical dogma can be, and how hard it is to overcome.

    Does doorknocking work? The Mormons think so, and it certainly accomplishes their goals. Of course their goals are to increase numbers, increase political power and increase the bank accounts of their cult.

    Does it work to make Christians? Not very well. Doorknocking isn’t outreach, it’s just doorknocking. It’s like a charity drive whose goal is 100% contact. Contact is easy. Caring takes more effort. Getting a significant percentage to actually contribute is a tougher matter.

    If doorknocking isn’t outreach then what is?

    Outreach is providing meals to the elderly, shut-ins and homeless people. Outreach is taking sandwiches and drinks to volunteer firefighters who’ve been working for days on end to keep a wildfire from destroying your town. Outreach is inviting the guy you talk to everyday at work, or on the bus, or wherever to come to a small group or other activity when you can tell he is looking for something more in his life. Outreach is talking to the lady next to you at lunch who overhears your conversations about church matters. Outreach is letting the local Red Cross use the church’s new gym/multi-purpose center as a shelter for people displaced by storms or tornadoes. Better yet, it’s letting the local Methodist church (or any other group) use that same gym for their own functions.

    Doorknocking doesn’t make you a part of the community around you. Doorknocking is just doorknocking. It makes people suspect your motives and wonder what you really want. And community is what outreach is about: being invested, being interested, being visible and being available.

  5. James says:

    Sorry, Brad. After rereading the above I realized I never got off my soapbox long enough to actually talk about my experiences with outreach.

    My personal problem with outreach is I’m not comfortable trying to talk to a total stranger about where they’re going to spend eternity. To me outreach has to be personal. You’ve got to have some investment in the person your reaching out to, even if it’s as small as wanting to help them because they need a meal. Being handed a “contact card” or taking the first 10 names off a visitation list or even just knocking on every door on this side of a street doesn’t require any investment. It’s a numbers game.

    Ooops, let me step off this box again. Sorry. My experience with outreach is I don’t like it and it isn’t effective. It’s not a good way to bring people into a relationship with Christ and His family.

  6. Kerry says:

    I can relate.

    But when I think of outreach, I think of my experience of coming to Christ.

    I was skeptical of Christianity for several reasons. But those who influenced me most, have no idea that they did. If we are looking for “scores” maybe we may miss it. Those who thought they “scored” with me, when I surrendered to Christ, happen to be at the right place at the right time.

    I kept running into Christians on campus and when I was doing an internship. Some kindly handed me tracts (which I actually read), while some befriended me. I remember the names of those who befriended me, and those who had the courage to say something to me, even when we weren’t friends.

    I remember the name of one guy who gave me a bible to read. That affected me more than I let on to him. And then there was the time some Christian’s invited me to a party.

    But I didn’t become a Christian until sometime after I had graduated. When I was working at a publication on Capitol Hill, a guy kept talking to me about Jesus. He stumbled and bumbled a lot. He probably thought he was ineffective. But I attribute my conversion to him and his witness.

    He doesn’t know what happened to me after I had left that job. And he probably has gone on with the rest of his life wondering why he hadn’t converted anybody. But I thank him for having the fortitude to deal with me honestly, and he was more effective than he would every had known.

  7. Kerry says:

    I can relate.

    But when I think of outreach, I think of my experience of coming to Christ.

    I was skeptical of Christianity for several reasons. But those who influenced me most, have no idea that they did. If we are looking for “scores” maybe we may miss it. Those who thought they “scored” with me, when I surrendered to Christ, happen to be at the right place at the right time.

    I kept running into Christians on campus and when I was doing an internship. Some kindly handed me tracts (which I actually read), while some befriended me. I remember the names of those who befriended me, and those who had the courage to say something to me, even when we weren’t friends.

    I remember the name of one guy who gave me a bible to read. That affected me more than I let on to him. And then there was the time some Christian’s invited me to a party.

    But I didn’t become a Christian until sometime after I had graduated. When I was working at a publication on Capitol Hill, a guy kept talking to me about Jesus. He stumbled and bumbled a lot. He probably thought he was ineffective. But I attribute my conversion to him and his witness.

    He doesn’t know what happened to me after I had left that job. And he probably has gone on with the rest of his life wondering why he hadn’t converted anybody. But I thank him for having the fortitude to deal with me honestly, and he was more effective than he would every had known.

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