Rev. Jeremy Belter (Plano, TX)
As pastors we encourage and ask our people to share their faith. If you’re like me, maybe you struggle with the thought, “How do I do that?” Praise and Proclaim provided an easy-to-use opportunity not only to receive that training but to immediately put it into practice. Dave’s method of teaching is calm and inspiring. He loves his Savior and that is evident in his positive encouragement to all participants. He understands the power of the gospel and enables God’s people to take that power Word and share it. The excitement among our people who participated on Saturday’s outreach was through the roof. We’re thankful for the experience. Now we have a team of people equipped to share their faith with guests to worship, community events, and even more door-to-door. Your outreach and people would benefit from using Praise and Proclaim. (Rev. Jeremy Belter, Atonement Lutheran Church, Plano, TX)
Rev. Kevin Schultz (Coeur d’Alene, ID)
We wanted our new mission church to get off to a good start. So we asked Dave Malnes of Praise & Proclaim Ministries to come and lead us in an outreach campaign in our community. He trained our launch team how to go door-to-door and proclaim the gospel in a very simple way. Then we put it into practice by actually going into our church neighborhood and doing it. What a blessing this was for our launch team and for our new mission! Not only did this campaign train our members how to share the gospel, but it also helped them to overcome their fears of witnessing. In fact, three weeks later at our “End-of-Summer Fun Fest,” I watched as our launch team members continued to proclaim the gospel to the 200+ people from the community who attended the event. I don’t think that kind of confidence would have been seen if it weren’t for the excellent training that Praise & Proclaim Ministries provided us. (Rev. Kevin Schultz, The Vine Church, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho)
Rev. Stephen Apt (Liberty Hill, TX)
We orchestrated a Praise and Proclaim campaign for Palm Sunday weekend. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how many of our people were looking forward to it. It was definitely out of their comfort zone. However, we had a good group show up to knock on doors. They soon realized that when you have the right “tools,” it really isn’t that hard at all. That’s what Praise and Proclaim does so well. They give you the tools to make an easy proclamation of the gospel. Another thing Dave does is he gives the people a correct understanding of outreach. Too often we put all the pressure on ourselves to get people into the doors and to believe. Only God can do that. All we can do is plant the seed, and every seed that is planted deserves celebrating.
Afterward Praise and Proclaim Ministry’s outreach initiative was over, I was thinking of different ways to use this same approach to keep it fresh in people’s minds. So, what we did was we used the same training and the same idea at our 4th of July booth. In addition to having a prize wheel for kids to spin, we also passed out postcards to a sermon series we were starting entitled “Freedom”. While the children were spinning the wheel waiting for their prize, our members were talking to their parents inviting them to our new sermon series entitled freedom. It’s a series based around the freedom that Jesus gives us from sin. Over 4 hours, we planted over 150 gospel seeds. What a night! (Rev. Stephen Apt, Peace Lutheran Church, Liberty Hill, TX)
Rev. Rob Guenther (Kenai, AK)
Praise and Proclaim was a great experience for us at Grace. For me as a pastor it was exciting to hear members say of evangelism, “Hey, that was a little scary, but not too bad. We can do this!” In large part, that was due to Dave’s approach and his training. One man had sworn off ever going door to door again because of previous bad experiences. But with some coaxing from me, he agreed to give Praise and Proclaim a try. After the training, he was not only ready to go, but took his 8-year-old son along with him. After the event, he said it was fun getting to share his faith and show his son that it wasn’t scary. What a difference Dave’s training made for him! Now, the excitement for outreach and especially for evangelism is palpable around here. Members are now excited to share the Gospel with their friends, neighbors and community. That’s the biggest impact Praise and Proclaim has had on us: a renewed zeal to reach our neighbors with Jesus’ love! Since the event less than a month ago, we’ve gone out proclaiming twice more. We’ve planted even more “Gospel seeds” and have had a number of new visitors in just the last few weeks. We’re thanking God for these gifts and are planning ways to better follow-up on these first and second-time visitors. (Rev. Rob Guenther, Grace Lutheran Church, Kenai, AK)
Is Canvassing an Effective Outreach Tool?
Many pastors and congregational members express a strong hesitancy over the prospect of canvassing in their community. They ask, “Does it really work? How will people respond at the door? How will it impact my church?” These are good questions that deserves some good answers.
Praise and Proclaim Ministries conducts outreach initiatives at congregations throughout the U.S. Our ministry trains Christians how to boldly and confidently share the gospel of Jesus Christ by teaching a simple methodology and approach. But we don’t stop there. We immediately provide a well-organized opportunity for participants to put their training into action by going out door-to-door to proclaim the gospel. This enables church members to conquer their fears of evangelism, discover how our methodology and approach works, and find out how proclaiming the gospel is not about ourselves, but trusting in the power of the gospel. This experience has proved to be an invaluable component of the outreach initiative.
Going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel is certainly not the only way for a church to carry out outreach. I would even say that it’s not the best way to proclaim the gospel. However, I believe that churches ought to seriously consider including door-to-door proclaiming as part of their overall outreach strategy. It works!
In this article, I would like to address five common FAQ’s about canvassing that we typically address with many congregations. They are:
- “Is canvassing an effective way to do outreach?”
2. “What benefits will our church receive from canvassing?”
3. “How can I get members from my church to participate?”
4. “Why is canvassing so terrifying?”
5. “What if my community already belongs to a church?”
“Our church has already tried going door-to-door and it doesn’t work!”
“Canvassing is scary and takes a lot of work. But after you are done, you are always glad that you did it.”
“I understand that going door-to-door is one way of sharing the gospel, but I just don’t like to do that.”
These are common responses from pastors.
The effectiveness of canvassing is typically judged by poor experiences, low participation, great efforts with little fruit, or the ongoing battle with fear. It is my experience that methodology, training, organization, and the amount of preparation for the canvassing are huge factors in having a positive experience.
Congregations will more than likely receive a poor experience or unfruitful responses if one of the following occurs:
The pastor is primarily responsible for organizing the campaign.
The pastor is solely responsible for carrying out all follow-up visits and contacts.
The people are not well-trained and do not know what to say or do.
They utilize a dated methodology that creates tension and mistrust at the door.
There is an inadequate follow-up system in place.
An outreach campaign that involves canvassing requires an extensive amount of energy. The pastor cannot do it all himself, nor should he. Too often, when all energy is placed on the actual event, a congregation will forget that the most important activity for a successful door-to-door campaign is what happens afterwards. Consistent and meaningful follow-up is a critical component for any door-to-door campaign and most congregations have not prepared themselves for this ongoing work. Potential fruit is left hanging on the branch when congregations either exhaust themselves in preparing an outreach activity or too disorganized to follow through.
Determining the success or the effectiveness of a door-to-door campaign really depends upon setting the right goals and expectations.
Advertise or Evangelize?
There are different ways to carry out canvassing. One popular methodology of canvassing includes hanging plastic bags of information on people’s door. This is an effective way to advertise a church-sponsored event or worship service. Another methodology is surveying people that includes a question about whether that person has a church home or not. These are not bad methodologies for canvassing, but I believe we may be missing out on a golden opportunity.
I believe Christians can proclaim the gospel in a very comfortable, non-threatening manner when they go door-to door.
I believe there is power in God’s Word.
I believe there is power in the proclamation of God’s Word.
A verbal proclamation of the gospel provides a transforming experience for the Christian. In the strictest sense, whenever the New Testaments utilizes the word “evangelism,” it means a verbal proclamation of the Good News. When a believer steps out in faith to verbally share their faith, they are exercising spiritual muscles by “working out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12) In doing so, they are trusting that the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit is with them through the proclamation of his Word.
It is the proclamation of the gospel that makes canvassing a meaningful experience and completely changes the dynamic of going door-to-door.
Our ministry is discovering that this transforming experience is what inspires a Spirit-filled zeal to continue to do outreach, conduct follow-up visits, and actively assist the pastor in organizing future efforts to confidently and boldly share the gospel. Witnessing no longer becomes a scary prospect, but a joyful exercise to look forward to.
When an outreach campaign focuses on proclaiming the gospel, the goals and expectations change. They center on the number of times the Lord opens doors to proclaim the gospel. They trust that the Lord of the harvest will bring lost souls to faith from the gospel seeds being planted. How unchurched members of the community respond is God’s business. When congregations focus on activities that they can control, it minimizes the frustration when people are not coming through the church door. This change in perspective prompts congregation members to actively continue their outreach activity to reach the lost. The Lord has a way of blessing activity by sending people through the side door.
In today’s culture, churches must build bridges with the community and introduce themselves as a living, caring, active, and growing family of believers. The best way to connect and engage with people is by providing a face for your church. A Christian is not only representing their church, but they are also serving as an ambassador for Christ to deliver an all-important message with eternal consequences. There are people in their community who are struggling, hurting, and looking for answers.
A well-organized door-to-door effort that includes solid training, proper expectations, and the intention of proclaiming the message of what Christ has already done for us on the cross can be an effective way for members to receive the joy of being God’s messengers.
Whenever congregations reach out and connect face-to-face with members of their community, the Lord uses that activity to shine His light and reveal His presence through those who believe and remain in Him. Canvassing a local neighborhood can accomplish that.
There is joy when a lost soul receives faith from going canvassing. A family who leaves nearby may accept an invitation to come to a worship service and hear the gospel. That is a great benefit the Lord provides through the power of His Word.
Increasing church membership is a direct benefit from outreach activities, but that should not necessarily be the number one goal. Evangelism is not about statistics. It is all about a lost soul receiving citizenship to heaven. When this becomes the over-riding concern for all outreach activities, a congregation will receive benefits that are often overlooked.
I would like to suggest that there is a powerful benefit that many churches often overlook.
There is power in the verbal proclamation of the gospel.
When church members are trained how to proclaim a short gospel message with a stranger, the activity no longer becomes canvassing a neighborhood, but proclaiming the gospel. I believe this is a huge, but subtle difference that will have a great impact on a congregation.
The experience of being God’s messenger and providing a short gospel witness is transforming. Proclaiming the gospel becomes a spiritual adventure when Christians step out of their comfort zones, conquer their fears, and realize that evangelism is not about us. The impact on Christians directly translates into a benefit for a congregation. They help provide outreach momentum for a congregation.
This is what Praise and Proclaim is experiencing when we launch an outreach initiative at congregations. A core group of members who participate in proclaiming the gospel provide an immediate and long-term benefit in the ongoing outreach activities at their church. They not only volunteer for future outreach activities, but are actively recruiting other members to participate. They not only participate in future opportunities to proclaim the gospel, but will help lead and organize the activity. They readily volunteer the assist the pastoral team in carrying out visits with people who express interest to learn more about the congregation.
The greatest benefit a congregation receives from members who have received a meaningful experience in proclaiming the gospel is a core group of Christians who have a zeal for reaching the lost – and are willing and able to do it.
How can a congregation to take full advantage of the benefits associated with door-to-door witnessing?
By producing first-class materials that are well-designed and have thought-provoking gospel messages, the congregation will receive credibility from the community and be fully utilized by those who are trained to use these tools to verbally proclaim the gospel.
A congregation will position themselves to receive benefits from a campaign when the evangelism committee have established a well-organized system to continue to connect and engage with prospects and visitors.
When a congregation focuses its goals on outreach activities they can control, namely planting the seeds of the gospel, they can trust that the Lord will lead and guide these activities to further His kingdom.
A door-to-door witnessing campaign helps build a bridge between the congregation and members of the community who do not know Christ.
A well-organized door-to-door witnessing campaign allows many Christians to fulfill what they have always desired to do – to carry out the Great Commission.
When congregational members learn how to proclaim the gospel with strangers, and overcome the fears and trepidations associated with evangelism, they become far more inclined to tackle the “fear of follow-up.”
The greatest benefit a congregation receives from a well-organized, door-to-door campaign that centers on proclaiming the gospel is a core group of Christians who are willing and excited to do it on a regular basis.
“Lord, may you count me worthy of your calling – so that by your power – you may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act carried out that is prompted by your faithfulness. With fervent prayer and resolve to know nothing except Christ crucified – may the name of Christ be glorified in me according to your overflowing grace.” (2 Thess 1:11-12)
The empty signup sheets asking members to participate in canvassing hang on clipboards at the back of the church. The thought of knocking on another person’s door is horrifying… even for pastors.
Past experiences of going door-to-door prompt people to say, “It doesn’t work!” It is frustrating and disheartening when most unchurched people at the door don’t respond well when confronted with the questions, “Do you have a church home?” or “If you died tonight, will you go to heaven?” To avoid talking to people and run the risk of being offensive, many churches will use “door-hangers.”
Evangelism is not easy.
Sharing the gospel is a terrifying prospect for many Christians.
Busy schedules often get busier when members are asked to participate in evangelism. Members will also readily admit, “I just can’t do that!”
Though there are valid reasons for a person not to go canvassing, fear is still the over-riding factor. This fear is typically based upon a lack of training on what to say or do, poor experiences from the past, or the concern of receiving negative responses from people.
The best way to get people to participate is when fellow members gush about their experience of proclaiming the gospel.
Successful door-to-door experiences require an investment of time and resources. Proper training and excellent coordination are crucial elements to any outreach activity. However, it is our experience that the most important component for outreach is when a Christian verbally proclaims the gospel with another. There is power in God’s Word. There is power in the proclamation of God’s Word. The experience is spiritually transforming, because witnessing is one of the greatest exercises of our faith.
The question remains, “How can I provide a meaningful, transforming experience for members at my congregation?”
Here is a great example from an outreach initiative we conducted in Redmond, Washington.
Praise and Proclaim Ministries was commissioned to help Living Hope Lutheran Church in a large community east of Seattle. Many people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods worked at Microsoft and were largely unchurched. Members were trained how to proclaim the gospel with strangers. The next day, they knocked on hundreds of doors on a typical rainy day in Seattle. They learned how to engage people in a friendly way, seamlessly transition to sharing a short gospel message, then invited to hear a message at church on how we can “Find Freedom” from guilt, worry or a broken past.
The following Sunday morning, no visitors showed up. The next Sunday no visitors showed up. For the next several months, no members of the community showed up for Sunday worship from going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel.
Was the outreach initiative a complete disaster? Was going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel unsuccessful? Were the members depressed and vowed to never do that again?
And here are the reasons why:
The people they met at the door responded very positively. Members at Living Hope were trained to joyfully and confidently share who they are, where they are from, and give a reason why they are at the door. The learned how to transition from sharing a short proclamation of the gospel to providing a call to action with an invitation to come to a worship service.
The experience of going door-to-door turned out to be very meaningful because it centered on the proclamation of the gospel. The approach at the door made it comfortable for the person at the door and the participant. Despite that nobody from the community showed up on Sunday morning, the core group of trained members went out joyfully and confidently to proclaim the gospel two weeks later. They understood their biblical role of being God’s messengers. They appreciated the fact that most of the time, an unchurched family will require four to eight contacts before they make the scary decision of coming to a new, unfamiliar church. They reveled with the honor of being God’s messengers, trusting that the harvest was plentiful and the workers were few.
A big part of setting members up for a meaningful experience is setting the right goals and expectations that focus on what they can control. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring a lost soul to faith. A successful outreach campaign celebrates the opportunities the Lord provides to deliver a saving message of the gospel.
There is joy in being God’s messenger. There is a sense of privilege of being an ambassador for Christ. The experience of proclaiming the gospel is transforming when a Christian conquers the fears of evangelism and receive the promises Jesus gives that are attached to proclaiming His name.
Word of mouth is everything.
A well-organized and well-trained outreach event that focuses on proclaiming the gospel is what builds outreach momentum and increases the participation for future campaigns. The invitation to participate doesn’t come from the pastor, but from church members who exhibit a joy and zeal to be God’s messengers.
When angels spoke to people in the Bible their first words were usually, “Do not be afraid!”
When Jesus sent out his disciples (Matthew 10) to the towns and villages to proclaim His name, he only gave them six words to proclaim. He spent the rest of the chapter letting them know how challenging it was going to be.
Evangelism is difficult and scary!
Some people think that sharing the gospel is terrifying because they don’t know what to say or feel that they just can’t do it.
I don’t believe that is necessarily true.
There is something deeper and more prevailing that causes terror for Christians when the invitation to proclaim the gospel is graciously extended by the gospel.
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
With Praise and Proclaim Ministries, I have had the opportunity to train Christians and lead them to go door-to-door to proclaim the gospel to strangers. Conquering the fear of evangelism is a component of our training and the reason why many Christians choose to stay at home.
Why is that?
I believe there are three reasons why proclaiming the gospel is so terrifying.
- Proclaiming the gospel is totally contrary to our human nature.
Disobeying God’s great commission is a sin. There are a few who have the gift of evangelism, but there are no qualifications for Christians to participate in evangelism. With a heart full of praise and thanksgiving for what Christ has already done for us, eager lips ought to proclaim His name. That is Christ’s desire. He asks his children to have compassion for his lost sheep and to help him go out and find them. Our human nature easily succumbs to fear that is prompted by sin and selfishness.
(Like you, I am guilty and confess my fear, selfishness, and sin. Praise be to God! We are forgiven because what Christ has already done for us!)
- Proclaiming the gospel is spiritual warfare.
The Bible clearly tells us that the only way a person can come to faith is through the power of God’s Word. Believers are given the responsibility to share His Word with others.
If this is true, then God’s chief opponent will do everything in his power to prevent the proclamation of the gospel.
The devil is the author of doubt. He is the purveyor of fear. He will whisper in our ears that we are worthless, too busy, and a spiritual wimp to proclaim the gospel. Believers fall victim to these lies.
In the spiritual arena of saving people from eternal death, the devil convinces too many Christians to not even participate. And he is winning by forfeit!
(Like you, I am guilty of succumbing to spiritual warfare. I have too easily become a casualty and disqualified myself from being God’s messenger. Thanks be to God! I am fully forgiven because of what Christ has already done for me.)
- Proclaiming the gospel is risky.
I have heard from pastors and Christians from around the U.S. that verbally proclaiming the gospel to a stranger does not work. It doesn’t matter the type of community. Rich or poor. Suburban or rural. The Midwest or the Bible belt. The Pacific Northwest or the East coast. There is a strong tendency to pre-judge the receptivity of human hearts as an excuse to not verbally proclaim the message at all. People don’t want to risk relationships, be called a religious fool, or have their church be offensive in their communities.
Whether a church or a Christian, we seem to be overly bothered by the question, “What will people think of me?”
Evangelism is risky. Jesus warned his disciples about that. His disciples risked imprisonment, family betrayal, even death. Christians in American live in a time where we do not have to worry about persecution, but the perceived risks are real.
Proclaiming the gospel to a stranger doesn’t mean that we treat them rudely, confront them with difficult questions, or tell them a damning message without taking the time to build a bridge of love and respect. Evangelism can mean that we can learn how to speak the truth in love and provide a gospel message that is simple, respectful, and confident. When Christians do that, many risks associated with evangelism are eliminated.
(Like you, I am guilty of being overly concerned of what people may think of me if I proclaim the gospel to them. Praise be to God! He has forgiven my sins of omission when I have completely failed at opportunities the Lord provides to proclaim the gospel to a lost soul.)
One of the best way to confront terror in going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel is to define our biblical role in evangelism. Christians are messengers. They are ambassadors appointed by God. They are His representatives who are given a very specific task — to spread the Good News.
We would be stunned with disbelief if we watched a new father be fearful of spreading the good news that his child was born. I think the angels are equally stunned when God’s children are afraid to spread the Good News. We miss out on a wonderful, glorious opportunity to join the chorus of the heavenly host to tell the world what God has done for us through Christ.
Like a father of a newborn son, spreading Good News can be a joyful experience. By commissioning us to go and make disciples, God is granting his children the opportunity to share in that joy by sharing this Good News with others. The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all
this for the sake of the gospel so that I may share in its blessing.” (1 Cor. 9:23) The blessings that Christians receive by sharing the gospel with others is the sense of privilege and joy by being God’s messenger.
Proclaiming the gospel is not nearly as terrifying when we trust Christ’s promises that He is with us. Like the Apostle Paul, Christians are transformed in Christ when they humbly conquer fear and timidity, graciously take risks, and profoundly recognize that they are in a spiritual battle with a target on their back.
Faith alone – given by the Holy Spirit – receives the full benefit of Jesus’ finished work – the full forgiveness of sins, a right standing with God, and assurance of life eternal.
Now that’s good news!
Frustrated by a lack of results and disappointed my negative reactions, congregations are wary to consider any type of stranger evangelism. Scared, perhaps even intimidated, most evangelism efforts primarily focus on inviting people to attend Christmas or Easter service, or a children’s program.
These are not bad ideas, but I don’t think congregational members need to necessarily refrain from verbally proclaiming the gospel to the lost.
One of the most common objections we receive come from congregations in the Midwest or the Southwest who believe that a majority of their community already belong to a church and will not have a desire or interest to come to their church.
I spent four summers (2012-2015) going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel in Utah with Truth in Love Ministry. I loved it! In Provo County, the census data reports that 89% of the people who live in the county belong to the LDS Church. This meant that if I knocked on a door and asked, “Do you have a church home?” there is an excellent chance that at least 90% of the people would proudly say, “Yes!”
If I wanted to plant a church in Provo County, Utah, would that be the right question to ask?
Throughout 2016, Praise and Proclaim Ministries helped congregations knock on doors in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Seattle. A congregational member or pastor would expect that religious people living in the Bible belt or anti-religious people living in Seattle would not express interest. Either they already belong to a church home and are saved – or don’t care about church and are not saved.
It’s shocking how misconceptions can lead to inactivity.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center (“How religious is your state?”), Wisconsin is tied for 44th in being the least religious state in the U.S. with 45% of the adults consider themselves “highly religious”. Who is Wisconsin tied with? Washington.
How did people respond at the door in Provo County, Utah?
We didn’t ask them if they had a church home. Instead, we lovingly and respectfully asked them if they were already perfect in Christ. If not, then we could explain how by faith alone we can receive the perfection of Christ and be forgiven of all our sins.
How did people respond in Texas if they already belonged to a church? We expressed thanksgiving while lovingly and respectfully sharing with them the benefits from Christ’s completed work on the cross. Trusting in Christ’s work receives the benefits of complete assurance that every sin is forgiven. Right now! The work was finished on the cross.
How did people respond in Seattle? When we lovingly and respectfully identified ourselves in the first fifteen seconds and asked if they had seen our postcard, they allowed us to witness a brief gospel message. Were they interested? No, not really. But gospel seeds were planted and conversations with started with people who have never heard the gospel before.
And Minneapolis? How did they respond? Amazingly well! The people in Minnesota are spiritual. Many people expressed an affiliation with a church but had not gone to church in the past five, ten, fifteen, or thirty years. Like Seattle and Utah, they had never really heard the gospel before and what Christ has already done for them.
When a pastor tells me that most of the people in his community belong to a church or he doesn’t want to say anything that might offend people, I would like to borrow a popular phrase from a popular ESPN football commentator, “Not so fast.”
When the focus of canvassing is on proclaiming the gospel… expectations change. The focus is not on results, but on the number of gospel seeds that are sown. The emphasis is on God’s work – the miracle of faith through the proclamation of the Word – rather than our work. With a methodology and approach that focuses on love, respect, and building bridges, going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel can be a very meaningful experience. The fear of evangelism can be overcome, and our confidence can grow with experience.
Canvassing does not have to be about uncovering potential prospects, but an aggressive way to reach the lost by proclaiming a gospel message and trusting the power of God’s Word.
A congregation does not have to worry about whether people say that they belong to a church, because what is most important is their relationship with Christ. Besides, what people tell you at the door is not necessarily true or they may have a far different definition of what it means to be a member of a church. Congregations don’t have to worry about being offensive when they treat people with love and respect.
God has a way of blessing activity when congregations center on proclaiming the gospel. He is the God of results, not us. We tend to focus on finding joy in what we control (sowing) instead of what God controls (harvesting). When the pressure and focus is off the proclaimer, we find joy in carrying out God’s commission for all Christians.
Is there any greater way to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us than to proclaim His name to others?
Four Ways to Start Applying Innovation to Outreach
I love innovation. I love discovering innovative ways to proclaim the gospel. How can congregations respond in this rapidly changing world to communicate what Christ has already done for us?
Innovation can be a scary word. It’s hard to know where to start without disrupting faithful church members who are prone to take comfort in what is familiar.
Innovation does not mean making slight adjustments to what churches are already doing, nor change doctrinal teachings to reach the lost. It also does not mean launching a new outreach program because somebody else is doing it. Innovation requires examining where you are, before determining where to go. It means examining, applying, and testing different ways to reach the unchurched that is becoming increasingly disinterested in attending church.
From launching outreach initiatives from across the U.S., I have noticed a common thread that is facing most congregations. A stigma that is attached to organized religion that is making it difficult for congregations to proclaim the truth. This stigma is creating a ten-foot barbed-wire fence that many faithful members are struggling to see. I believe this stigma is a primary reason why people are rejecting familiar evangelism methods and approaches that may have worked twenty years ago.
People don’t believe that churches have a relevant message anymore. It’s not that people are rejecting God, but they are rejecting church. Because of this stigma, congregations are having to consider being innovative in how they engage their neighbors and communicate the truth of the gospel.
Here are four ways congregations can begin to move forward to becoming innovative churches in their community to communicate the gospel:
I believe this question is the most important step for congregations to consider.
Ministries can run into trouble when they focus on a person rather than the product (mission) when implementing outreach strategies. Many congregations can become too dependent upon the gifts and talents of the pastor. Innovation means that a congregation and the pastor insist that future outreach activities will be based on the gifts, talents, and energy of its members and not the pastor.
Congregations that are innovative requires that the pastor no longer makes themselves more important than the mission. This means that pastors stop trying to do everything and find ways to equip their members to be an integral part of the mission. When members take ownership of outreach and evangelism, and have the freedom to try new ideas, then a congregation is setting themselves up to be innovative.
Sounds simple, but very difficult to carry out. Yet, when pastors and their leadership team carefully and humbly consider this question, it will make a significant difference in their outreach efforts.
Innovative leaders don’t think incrementally. They routinely think of God-sized dreams and strategize to reach them. This can start by trusting the Lord of the harvest when he says, “The harvest is ready, and the workers are few.” It means trusting that your congregation – no matter how small – are the few faithful workers that God can use in extraordinary ways. Innovative churches start asking, “How can we make this activity ten times better?” That question adjusts our thinking.
Congregations have a strong tendency to compare themselves to the mega-churches down the street. They see a large, growing church that offers a myriad of programs and immediately feel intimidated. When they compare their own church to that much larger church as their main source of competition, they will easily feel defeated. Innovative churches recognize that the big church down the road is not their competition… it’s indifference. There are some people that are drawn to large churches, but it only makes up a small percentage of the whole population. Innovative churches trust God’s promises. They trust that God blesses activity. He closes doors to some ideas, and opens doors to others. Competition does not come from other churches, but combating the father of lies who regularly plants seeds of discouragement and apathy.
When congregations feel like they are spinning their wheels, then it’s time to try something else. Great ideas are often stumbled upon. Instead of inviting people to come to an event hosted by their church, it may be time to go to the people. The unchurched can provide amazing feedback on how to be effective in outreach rather than a group of believers brainstorming around a table. Innovative churches are not afraid to fail. They celebrate finding out what doesn’t work and move on to the next idea.
How can a congregation begin to implement innovation?
Innovation can be an intimidating word for church members. Its connotation suggests change and being outside our comfort zone. Yet, innovation plays a key role in helping congregations who feel like they are spinning their wheels with their outreach activities. What are some important steps a congregation can take to start becoming an innovative church?
Transforming a congregation to be innovative does not have to be a scary process. It’s not so much about trying new things, but preparing a congregation to be flexible. It’s learning how to process disappointment, because innovative churches understand that trying new ways to engage the community and proclaim the gospel are going to fail most of the time. We tend to hear only the outreach successes, but we rarely hear about the failures. We don’t hear about how often great ideas often come from adjusting, learning, and tweaking.
An innovative church does not necessarily mean launching new programs or ideas, but having the ability to change course when things are not working out as well as they had hoped.
How can a congregation create and sustain outreach momentum while attempting to find out what works for them? Here are four ideas to help become innovative in outreach strategies. And it all centers upon how ministry leaders communicate implementation to the congregation.
When communicating a new outreach program…..
When you introduce a new idea to the congregation and begin the process of implementation, use the word “try” instead of “change.” Certain words can automatically stir up dissension. The word “experiment” is much safer and will draw less resistance.
Many members are going to stand on the sidelines and watch what happens, but will feel safe and be less resistant when they hear experimental language.
Avoid using persuasive language to “sell” change in the congregation. Since we all tend to want to prove that we are right, compromise or retreat may send a sign of weakness rather than a sign of wisdom. Using the word “experiment” allows plenty of room to make corrections or possibly abandon the original idea to try something else.
Plans are great, but make sure your pencil has an eraser since nothing new ever goes as planned. What sounds good around a table sometimes needs adjustments when ideas hit reality. For this reason, it is best to be flexible and keep other options open for as long as possible. We can say, “This is what we will do for now,” instead of “This is the way it has to be if we are going to survive as a congregation!”
Using the language of flexibility allows a congregation to safely make midcourse corrections while maintaining credibility for those who are observing from the sidelines.
Ministry leaders can become very excited about launching a new outreach program or implementing change within a congregation. In doing so, be careful to avoid the hype and making empty promises.
If something succeeds, that’s great. If ministry leaders have been using hype and a new idea or program fails, then they will lose credibility. If leaders hype everything, people will stop listening all together.
Use the language of permission when launching something new. At least half of your congregation are going to resist change until they see that it works for them and observe that everyone else is for it. Ask and receive permission to try something and see if it works. When permission is granted, it will be much easier to adjust plans or even back away entirely from a new idea when it becomes obvious that it’s not working out as well as people hoped.
Pastors who are passionate about outreach are prone to have many irons in the fire. Ideas fuel their passion and don’t mind trying many ideas at the same time with the hope that one of them may stick. It’s easy to become convinced that the current idea is what a congregation needs until the next big idea comes down the path.
Long-time members usually figure it out. They will watch their pastor chase the latest butterfly and feign agreement, but end up doing nothing. They have learned that “this too will pass” and keep doing whatever that have been doing and let the newbies jump on the latest bandwagon.
It’s okay to have great ideas, but keep things in experimental mode. When communicating a new outreach program, ministry leaders can help maintain outreach momentum by trying not to oversell until something has been tried. Instead of full speed ahead on the latest idea, try slowing down so that a congregation can apply all its talents to one idea at a time.
The biggest obstacle a congregation faces when starting to become innovative is not coming up with great ideas, but learning to overcome the fear of disappointment when a program doesn’t measure up to expectations. This can be overcome by adopting ways to communicate change and receiving the permission to fail. Great ideas that work for a congregation often come from trial and error. The Lord blesses activity and will allow a congregation to stumble upon a clear way to engage the community and communicate the gospel.
One of the great joys of evangelism is being surprised by God. He is ultimately in control of bringing people to faith. In his wisdom, God has designed for his faithful children to engage the world and share the message of salvation. Members can take comfort in knowing that every congregation is planted right where they need to be. There are people in your community whom God has set apart to hear the Good News. He is commissioning us to faithfully bring that news to them. In this ever-changing world, congregations that embrace an innovative spirit to bring as many people to heaven are discovering ways to communicate the power of the gospel.
Introduction to Outreach Prayers
In the darkness of unbelief, only the light of the gospel can bring a soul to faith in Christ. The power of God’s Word breaks through the thick layer of hardened crust that veils understanding or receptivity to God’s message of salvation.
Faith is received in an instant, but the process leading up to that point of conversion can take many years. God uses a Christian’s prayer on behalf of a lost soul to be an important part of that process.
An effective prayer relies on the promises of God’s Word. Praise and Proclaim Ministries would like to provide prayers to help Christians pray for lost souls.
Extend invitations with a sense of urgency
In the parable of the great banquet, the doors were about to close and the room was not full. With a sense of urgency, the master sent out His servants to extend invitations to everybody they meet — even those least likely to accept.
“Lord, grant me with a sense of urgency. In these last days, the doors of opportunity are about to close forever. In the country lanes where I work and live, grant me a spirit of urgency and boldness to extend an invitation to hear Your Word. Amen.”
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go our to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:23)
Grant me courage to share God’s Word
Most of us have no idea what it’s like to be threatened for our faith in Christ. Our fears today pale in comparison to receiving death threats for sharing our faith. Yet, timidity is a reality that we need to confess and confront.
“Lord, I confess that I struggle with fear in sharing God’s Word with others. Only You can grant me courage and the desire to speak Your Word of light. When the doors of opportunity open up before me, give me the boldness to walk through them. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
Provide a unique opportunity just for me
Through prayer, we can ask the Lord to open doors of opportunity to share His Word. We can also ask the Lord to open our eyes and ears when those opportunities do come.
“Oh Lord, grant me a discerning heart. Forgive me when I have not perceived the open doors you provided for me. I trust you, Lord. I believe you can and will use me to share the mystery of Christ with your dear souls lost in unbelief. Thank you for the freedom I take for granted to be your messenger in today’s world. Amen.”
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (Colossians 4:3)