Yesterday I shared the link to an article by Kevin Harney about using existing ministries as outreach ministries. I thought the ideas presented there were excellent and fit well with the ideas in Church Inside Out.
Harney makes a great statement at the opening:
Churches, by nature, are selfish. Because the church is made up of people, and people are fundamentally self-serving, the church ends up expending much of its time, money, and energy on those who are already part of the family of God.
Yes. Exactly. I think a case in point is the proliferation of short-term mission trips. Churches that balk at sending $5000 to a missionary will easily spend $25000 to take their members to visit that same missionary.
But Harney isn’t talking about mission trips; he’s talking about church events:
I began thinking about the amazing things that could happen if local churches would vector their time, creativity, resources, and ministries out into the community. I call this the “Two-Degree Rule.” The idea is that we would take the effective and plentiful things we do for ourselves and simply direct these same things out into our community.
Your monthly church meals become meals for the whole community. Your funeral ministry expands its reach to include people in your community who don’t have a church home. Baby showers are held not just for church members but also for needy families in your town.
You get the idea. And it’s a great one. Start dreaming about how to transform your “inward” ministries into “outward” ministries.
In today’s Links To Go, there’s a link to a blog post from Wes McAdams. In it, he argues that the secret to sharing the gospel with millennials is to treat them like people and not like “millennials.” (those weren’t Wes’ exact words, but that was the gist of what he had to say)
I think that’s one of the key elements of evangelism that we so often miss. It’s not about a magic formula. It’s not about the special filmstrips or convincing books we might have to hand people. It’s not about knowing the chain of verses in precise order. It’s not about having an answer to every conceivable question.
As Wes said it:
There’s no magic formula. Just get out there, serve people, build relationships with people, and teach them about the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ.
In my Christ and Culture seminar, I say it’s about the LIPS:
Lifestyle, Interest, Prayer, Sharing
So here’s the secret formula for sharing the gospel: Love God. Love people.
I want to bring out one more point from Flavil Yeakley’s Why Churches Grow. This one is especially for preachers.
In his studies, Yeakley looked at the preaching style of the preacher. The preachers were asked to self-report on the style that they favored. One style was deemed positive, seeking to provide encouragement, inspiration, and instruction to the audience, with a focus on believers. The other style was deemed negative (with “corrective” being the term favored by most preachers), seeking to convert non-believers and point out the errors of other religious groups.
It’s interesting to note that the preachers who self-identified as “positive” almost exclusively used the more effective open dialogue style of evangelism. And their churches grew. Those that self-identified as “corrective” favored the more directive evangelistic styles we saw the other day. Only 2 out of 27 in this group were in churches that were experiencing significant growth.
That’s one point that I could definitely see as changing with time and culture. If you were to guess at what we might see today, or in the place where you live, what would you expect the results to be?
Let’s continue to talk about ideas that Flavil Yeakley presents in his book Why Churches Grow. Though the book is several decades old, many of the ideas presented fit today’s churches as well.
The last couple of days we’ve looked at evangelism. Yeakley’s focus is broader than that; he’s also interested in retention. Not surprisingly, just as it showed when looking at evangelism, Yeakley’s research points to relationships being the key to retention.
Succintly, Yeakley states:
These data suggest that when subjects formed personal relationships with members of the congregation, they were likely to remain faithful. When they did not form such personal relationships, they were likely to drop out of the church.
In his study of 100 people, those who formed six or more new friendships after their conversion stayed in the church; those who formed three or less, dropped out. Half of those who dropped out had found two or fewer new relationships. None of those who dropped out had formed more than six. None of those who stayed had formed fewer than three new relationships.
Again, my experience shows much of the same. It’s not about worship style nor church politics. It’s about people. Relationships. Friends.
The one most important thing that a church can do to grow is to be a welcoming church. That needs to go beyond giving a smile and handing someone a bulletin. People want to be a part. They want to find a loving fellowship.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said this: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Yesterday, I started talking about some things I had gleaned from re-reading Flavil Yeakley’s Why Churches Grow. Though the research is dated, I think many of the findings would hold true today.
I talked about the evangelist’s view of outreach, how those who saw it as best accomplished through an open dialogue had the most success. Yeakley also looked at things from the recipient’s point of view, asking them to characterize how they saw the person that had reached out to them. He took those results and grouped them into three broad categories: Teacher, Salesman, and Friend.
His findings largely lined up with what he saw when looking at the evangelist’s point of view. Those who saw the evangelist in a teacher role rarely became Christians; only 5 out of 249 that described their interaction in terms of teacher-student had converted. Those who saw the evangelist as a salesman were most likely to respond, then drop out. This held true for 203 of the 290 who chose that descriptor. Finally, of those who saw the evangelist as a friend, 170 out of 181 became Christians.
All of this points back to the same thing: it’s not about the method. It’s about the relationship. You may have a technique to “get people in the water,” but if you can’t form a relationship dominated by friendship, you’re unlikely to help them become a lasting convert.