Have you heard of the Hawthorne Effect? It has to do with something that researchers noticed during a study back in the 1958 (conducted at the Hawthorne Works factory near Chicago). While studying the effects of lighting on productivity, the researchers realized that the participants had apparently increased their productivity because they realized they were being studied. Whether the lighting was increased or decreased, productivity went up.
At Herald of Truth, we see the same thing happen as churches begin talking about evangelism. It’s amazing how just thinking about reaching out to other people effects what is going on at a church. We believe that the training we offer increases that effect, but it’s nice to know that people can increase their effectiveness just by focusing on the people around them.
One growing conviction that I have is that people need to embrace their role in the spectrum of how people approach God. That is, some people have a real talent for spotting hurting people and establishing a connection with them. Others have a gift for explaining theology in ways ordinary people can understand. There are people who have the ability to feel and convey a sense of urgency regarding our need to reconcile with God; others have the patience for working with new Christians.
We all need to grow in these different areas, yet I feel that each of us will always have one or two areas in which we excel. We need to embrace that.
What does that mean?
- We seek to identify the ministry that God has gifted with us, looking to use it to help people draw closer to God.
- We observe the body we are a part of, affirming and enabling others as they exercise their ministries. We don’t call them to do ours, nor deride ourselves for not having their ministry. We embrace our ministry and help others do the same.
- We work in a concerted way with other Christians to make our ministries glorify God by helping the Kingdom grow in three directions: inward, outward, upward.
We have different areas of service, but those ministries are to mesh together in a coordinated way. It’s not about what I do, nor what you do. It’s about what the body does. And one of the main things the body does is help people get closer to God. We do that through bringing in outsiders, discipling new Christians, and enabling the ministries of all believers.
It’s okay not to know all the answers. One of the biggest fears people have when it comes to the idea of sharing the faith is the fear that they will be asked a question they can’t respond to. I think an important thing to do when preparing people for evangelism is to assure them that they don’t have to know everything.
In a meeting on Sunday, we were discussing the need for greeting visitors and working with newcomers. Someone observed that we should always have someone in charge of that who could answer all of the questions. I disagree. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know the answer to that. Let’s go talk to Sister Johnson, who’s been here for many years. She probably knows the answer.” And if Sister Johnson doesn’t know, she’ll probably know someone who does know.
But here’s the secret I want to share with you: people like to see a little vulnerability. If you come across as the skilled professional with all the answers, you set yourself apart from the person you’re talking to. If I’m talking about astrophysics with a NASA engineer, I’ll probably learn some things, but I won’t come away saying, “I can see myself being like them.” If we present ourselves as sinless saints who know everything there is to know about Christianity, we project an image that people can’t relate to.
In evangelism, we want to show ourselves as imperfect people who are trying to become like a perfect Jesus. We don’t want them to see us as perfect, or they’ll feel like they can never really join us. We want them to see Jesus as perfect and understand that they take a lifelong journey down the road to being like Jesus, just like we’re doing.
People don’t need someone who has all the answers. They need someone who can point them to where the answers are.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” (James 2:1–7)
I think we need to hear the warnings in this passage. In today’s church, it’s not always money that we give deference to. Sometimes it’s training or occupation… though these are often closely connected with money.
Here’s the test: which potential new members get celebrated in your congregation? Are you jumping up and down about the recovering addict who is on food stamps? The single mom with no regular job? Do you look at the elderly widow and say, “What a great addition to our congregation”?
How about the lawyer with a stable marriage and three well-developed kids? The young articulate school teacher? The former missionary who is a talented song leader and Bible class teacher?
Does your church show partiality?
Do I show partiality?
Yes, I do. More often than I care to admit.
Do we know what outreach is? I know we think we know, but as I hear church people talk, I get the feeling that we don’t really have a good handle on what it is to reach out.
First off, I’ll admit that outreach is a funny word. Back when I was in college, we had a group called Mission Outreach. A student from Germany complained that there wasn’t a good word in German to express “outreach”; the same is true for Spanish. And I think many of us have trouble with the concept behind the word even if we have a general idea what the word means.
Churches mistakenly think that outreach is:
- Trying to attract outsiders through improved buildings, special seeker services, and effective programs at the church’s site. This attractional model is very nice for us because it allows us to stay in a safe place while asking outsiders to step out of their comfort zone. Buildings, services, and programs are a nice complement to outreach, but they aren’t outreach.
- Recruiting existing Christians to attend our church. Whether they be people who just moved to town or disgruntled members from other congregations, we often get excited when such people place membership with us. These new members come in already knowing how to “do church”; they are typically proclaimed to be a great addition to our church family. They are a great addition; any business prefers new employees to have experience and training. But let’s keep in mind that this isn’t outreach. The Kingdom isn’t growing; what was added to our numbers was subtracted somewhere else.
- Performing service projects around town. This comes closer to being outreach. It definitely achieves the “out-” part of the word, which is an essential part of outreach. Like the things mentioned in my first point, service projects make a great complement to outreach and can be a vital first step in outreach. But if we don’t reach the point of telling people about Jesus, we haven’t really reached out. We’ve just handed out.
Outreach involves Christians helping those who don’t know Christ come to know Christ. It requires that we go out: out of our building, out of our comfort zones, outside of ourselves. And it involves a conscious, coordinated effort to achieve the goal of making disciples; that’s where the “-reach” part of the word comes in.
We go out to bring others in… not just in to us, but in to a relationship with God. If we aren’t doing those things (going out, reaching others), then we aren’t doing outreach.