I remember being a youth pastor and watching my pastor minister in the community. He went on police ride-alongs, he visited the fire department, he had relationships with community leaders. He knew the needs because he saw them firsthand. His example instilled in me a passion for evangelism and outreach that carried over when I planted the Rock Church.
Mike showed me that the reason God has put the church in the world is to bring hope to hopeless people. When a church reaches out, they shine a light in a dark place. When God plants a church in the community, He puts it there for the purpose of the people who are crying out to Him for help. So wherever you are in your church plant—pre-launch, launch or post-launch—I want to encourage you to lead your church to seek out the dark places in your community and find ways to bring hope and light. Below, I share a few practices that I believe are essential to effective and passionate outreach.
Measure the pain in your community. When Jesus said that we would have power when the Holy Spirit comes on us, and be His witnesses, He basically said, “I’m going to empower you to be hope in hopeless places, and to be light in dark places.” To me, that’s outreach. So it’s very important for church planters to understand the condition of their community, which will help you understand the needs that God has put you there to address.
Before we launch a campus, we execute a Do-Something church plan, which integrates four practices: Count, Walk, Ask and Love. “Count” is taking a numerical assessment of the pain. And then “Walk” means go to them. “Ask” the most important question: “How can I help you?” And then “Love” is the response.
So before we go into a community, we assess where the schools are, the nightclubs, the convalescent homes, the youth hangouts, etc., and go to the leaders in these areas and ask, “How can we serve you? We’re coming into town. How can we serve you before we even get there?” Essentially, we’re killing several birds with one stone. We’re serving—spreading the love of Christ—but we’re also introducing our church. Of course, some people may never come to your church, but that’s okay because if they see or hear the gospel and receive it, you’ve accomplished your goal.
Once you understand the pain in your community, you’ll have a better idea of who’s walking through your doors, what their needs are based on the neighborhood they’re in, etc. Knowing their pain will help you communicate the relevance of your vision to them.
Before we planted our last campus, we went to the local police department and asked, “What are your needs?” based on our conversations and understanding of their work schedule we built a break room for police officers to come 24 hours a day. The room has drinks, a TV, and bathroom access. They have their own key code. So now we have a partnership with police departments in the area. These officers are going to encounter people that need prayer, that need food, that need counseling, and we’re going to be there for them.
Cast vision for outreach. Use announcements, share stories, video, or testimonies about people whose lives have been transformed. You can also talk about the stats of pain in your city and the streets, alleys, strip clubs, the group homes where that pain is. Bring the manager of a group home on stage, or your police chief or mayor, to talk about needs in the community.
Make it very personal, so that when people are driving to and from church, they are looking at their community very differently. For example, we have a women’s ministry that goes into strip clubs. To get to our church, you have to drive by several strip clubs. So when anyone from our church drives by, they know that women from our church minister there. So now the strip club is not a place that’s “over there”; it’s a place we’re in. Same thing with bars, group homes and convalescent homes.
Make it doable. After you’ve communicated the needs in creative ways, make it doable by getting specific: “We need 10 people to mentor these kids in the foster home.” People understand practical needs and by identifying the specific need, you give them what they need to say, “I can do that today.” We have over 100 ministries that are self-funded by people who have said, “I can do this.” It’s the lifeblood of our church—of any church.
Keep outreach the main thing. The nature of a church itself is outreach. If a church doesn’t see outreach as their purpose, then they’re not a church. They’re a Bible college. The very fact that you exist—to preach the gospel to people who are lost—is outreach. What do we exist for, if not to reach people who don’t know Christ?
Miles McPherson is planter and leader of the Rock Church in San Diego, known for its servant heart toward the community. He also serves on the ARC Lead Team and is the author of Do Something and God in the Mirror. Connect with him at Twitter.com/milesmcpherson.