Tag: outreach

The Ethics of Outreach

‘No Muslim Parking’ Sign Angers US MuslimsI have read lots of articles on church outreach in my thirty years of ministry. I’ve even written a few myself. However, I have never read an article on the ethics of outreach. Maybe it’s time for a look at the ethics of outreach. Here’s why.

In Hibbing, Minnesota, according to the KSMP-TV, the local Fox affiliate, a Muslim woman who had registered for a September 28 conference was asked to leave when she showed up for the meeting wearing a hijab. Previously the women’s conference advertising had stated, “All women are invited,” according to the station.

Ironically, the event organizers were People of the Book Ministries, a Christian outreach ministry to Muslims. Cynthia Khan, presenter for the conference, said that videos and material “offensive” to Muslims would be distributed. For that reason Khan asked that Rania Elsweisy, the hijab-wearing Muslim woman, be escorted from the conference.

As a result of Ms. Elsweisy’s ejection, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a discrimination lawsuit against People of the Book Ministries.

“The only reason I was kicked out of the event was because of my religion, Islam,” said Elsweisy. “It is truly hurtful to be treated like you are lesser than somebody or that you don’t qualify to be talked to and treated equally as others,” according to the station’s website.

While the public discrimination suit will be worked out in civil courts, there is something ironic about a Christian ministry ejecting a member of the very group they claim to be trying to reach.

While I do not question the intentions of People of the Book, I do take issue with the ethics, or lack of ethics, involved here. Add to this incident a Texas megachurch that offered cars, flat-screen TVs, bikes, and other prizes for attending church on Easter, and my conclusion is that Christians do have an ethical problem with some forms of outreach.

All of this brings up the question, “Is there an ethical standard for Christian outreach programs and ministries?” Let me suggest five ethical standards that Christian outreach programs should adhere to:

1. Outreach must be open and transparent to all, including those being reached. In the Minnesota example, presenters knew that their material was offensive to Muslims, and probably for self-evident reasons, did not want Muslims present. However, Christians must ask themselves if our attitudes, strategies, and materials aimed toward those we are trying to reach are hostile, demeaning, or degrading, should we use them at all. Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary to China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lobbied to have the label “heathen” dropped when referring to the Chinese people she ministered to.

2. Outreach must exhibit a genuine love and respect for individuals and their cultures. Demonizing the “other,” especially in the fraught relationships between the Muslim and Western worlds, may be an effective fundraising technique but is a poor strategy for loving neighbors who may not be like us. Jesus used the “other” — a Samaritan — as example of neighborliness in his parable we call the Good Samaritan. That’s quite a difference from presenting material that is known to be offensive to another culture.

3. Outreach must be grounded in the Deuteronomic command to “love God” and to “love your neighbor.” Jesus taught that these two commandments summarized all the Law and the Prophets. In other words, all we need to know and practice as followers of Jesus is love for God and love for others.

4. Outreach ends do not justify unscrupulous means. Evangelism methodologies continue to struggle with the idea that Christians must do “whatever it takes” to reach the world for Christ. However, the means we use to reach the world must be consistent with the message we present to the world. Christians cannot trick, deceive, misrepresent or mislead others into the Kingdom of God. Neither can we buy the attention of non-Christians through games of chance, lucky numbers, or attendance incentives. Jesus fed people, but he fed them after they listened all day, not to get them to listen.

5. Finally, although this is the first ethical principle, outreach must be modeled on the Trinitarian action of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The theology of the Triune God must inform our purpose, our practice, and our presence to those who do not know the good news of God. Trinitarian outreach is characterized by love, self-giving, incarnation, sacrifice, humility, patience, winsomeness, and hospitality.

Pastors and church leaders are assailed weekly with the news that church attendance is declining, baptisms are at all-time lows, and young adults are leaving the church in droves. That news, distressing as it may be, cannot become the pretext for desperate and unethical outreach strategies that discredit the Gospel and further damage the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Reconciliation and the Ministry of the Local Church

I’ve been busy writing my Fuller DMin dissertation on the church as a reconciling community. Two things are becoming more apparent to me each day that I research and write on this topic. First, the church’s primary ministry is reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians:

 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (NIV/1984)

I believe that as part of the two great commandments that Jesus taught — love God, love others — reconciliation is between God and us, and between persons and groups. Reconciliation covers a lot of territory including forgiveness, repentance, apology, mediation, peace-making, restorative justice, race relations, class and gender issues, and so on.  Reconciliation is a big tent that needs further exploration by local churches.

Secondly, the Church is getting left behind in the search for the methods and means to reconciliation between persons and groups. We’re pretty good at proclaiming and teaching about the reconciliation God offers us as God’s creation, but we’re not so good at extending that reconciliation to others, both as individuals and as groups. For example, a recent study (which I’ll write about tomorrow) indicated that “marrying out is in.” In other words, interracial or cross-cultural marriages are increasing in our society. I have yet to see anyone address constructively this developing trend. I know in our community interracial couples (meaning black and white) are rarely part of anybody’s congregation.

I intend to write more about reconciliation, and how churches can develop an intentional and thoughtful ministry of reconciliation including consideration of multiculturalism, race relations, social and economic class, and gender issues.  Marriage is a hot topic right now, and part of the reason for the high level of both interest and hysteria is unreconciled differences between persons and groups of persons within our communities.

Finally, although I’ve used my two points, reconciliation practices open the door to masses of unreached people who are not like us in at least one way — color, country, faith, or class being four of the biggest categories that divide people. Of course, I realize that there are “irreconcilable differences” sometimes, but most of our differences are caused by a lack of understanding and intentionality about reconciliation and all its attendant corollaries. I hope you’ll stick around and comment on some of my thoughts in this area. Peace.

NOC2010 is here!

Wednesday I head off to San Diego for my fourth year at the National Outreach Convention, known affectionately as NOC.  I hope you’ll be there for all of the workshops, discussion forums, worship sessions, major speakers, and more.  One of the really great things about NOC is the wealth of information, resources, and people that you encounter — all focused on outreach.

I’ll be leading a breakout workshop titled, Outreach in the Crises of Life. If you’re at NOC, drop in on Friday afternoon at 2:30 PM for 90-minutes of sharing about reaching out to those who are experiencing the most difficult situations in life.  On Friday morning at 7:15 AM (bring coffee!) I am facilitating the Small Church Ideas Exchange.

Of course, I’ll see my friends at Outreach magazine, which I hope you subscribe to.  Outreach publishes an annual small church issue, plus I write the “Small Church, Big Idea” column in each regular issue.  Lots of small church stuff including good ideas that real people have used in real churches.  I’ll be live blogging, and Facebooking some NOC events, so stay tuned!

Small groups are the building blocks of small churches

Our church is typical of many established, small town churches.  Three years ago, our congregation was made up mostly of older adults.  Of course, older adults are the backbone of many congregations.  They provide a higher-than-average amount of financial support, they attend with above-average faithfulness, and they love their church.

Our senior adults are wonderful, and they realized that for our church’s future we needed to reach out to younger adults and young families.  But the mass mailings we had tried did not produce new visitors.  To add to our difficulty, the region in which we live has been in an economic downturn for several years.  Few jobs exist for younger adults, and few young families were moving to our area.

But three years ago we started a younger adult Sunday School class with about 5 younger adults.  I’m using the term “younger” because age is a relative thing.  We needed to reach folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, but we weren’t going to do that all at once.  We believed that if we started lowering the age-range, we would eventually reach young families with young children.

Yesterday at our church-wide covered-dish lunch, 12 children were running around the fellowship hall while the adults finished eating and talking.  Six of the 12 were preschoolers; 5 are elementary schoolers; and, 1 is a middle schooler. These are our class members’ children.  As the sound of giggles and laughter bounced around the room, all of us were glad to see children playing around us, again.

Our class also had a record attendance yesterday with 19 present. A couple of our class members were out, so the number could have been higher.  These younger adults have already begun taking leadership positions.  One was elected a deacon last year, another takes a turn once a month leading our children’s time during worship, and 6 of the class members are leading our new Family Ministry Team.

Three years ago we started with five.  Now there are over 20.  Our class with their children now account for 20-30% of our attendance each week.

Starting a new class or small group isn’t glamorous, and it’s not a new idea.  But, starting a new class is a strategy that works.  I remember years ago Lyle Schaller, author and church consultant, saying “new people need new groups.”  If you want to attract new people to your church, start a new class, be patient, practice hospitality, and watch as the group grows and matures.  Small groups are still the building blocks of small churches.

Small Detroit Church Overcomes Big Obstacles

The graffiti message scrawled on the building next door to the church screamed, Satan Is Alive! But that did not deter Randy Brown from becoming the pastor of Military Avenue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1989.

Located in inner city Detroit, Military Ave. EPC had enjoyed a distinguished history for a small congregation.  Records show the church in its heyday, gave almost 50% of its income to missions.  The congregation was so well-respected that the renowned Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse spoke there once.

But by 1989, a declining Detroit had swallowed up the former proud working-class neighborhood.  Instead of houses filled with working families, the community around the church teemed with the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes.  Military Avenue EPC was destined to disappear unless something drastic happened.

Nineteen years later, Military Avenue EPC is alive and doing good in its community.  In the past ten years the congregation has built two new buildings including a full-size basketball gym.  Drug addicts have found Christ and become active church members, neighborhood kids swarm into the church for one-on-one tutoring, and struggling families find support each week.  This small church ministers to the urban poor each week by:

  • Meeting real needs.  Each week dozens of families line up at the church to receive a bag of groceries after attending a brief worship service.  Randy said, “Our goal is to show compassion, but we also want to share the gospel, the real bread of life.”  With hard economic times, the food program has grown from 20 families to over 150 each week.
  • Connecting with kids. Each evening dozens of school children come to the church’s gym for tutoring.  Church and community volunteers sit with each child, helping them grasp math and science, but also teaching them valuable life lessons. Several students in the program have become the first in their families to go on to college.
  • Welcoming volunteers. The church welcomes over 300 volunteers a year to  help with its ministry to Detroit’s poor.  Staffed by volunteers, Vacation Bible School reaches dozens of kids each summer.  Volunteer groups have come from all over the country to Detroit’s inner city to work.
  • Seeking broad support. Military Avenue EPC functions like a mission, according to Dr. Brown.  Church members alone could not bear the financial cost of building a gym, or maintaining the church’s food and tutoring programs.  Their presbytery provides some financial support, and interested individuals have given generously for building programs.
  • Focusing on their community. “Our target group is the urban poor,” Brown commented.  The church is committed to staying and serving in its community for as long as it can.  “This is a small church with a big ministry,” he added.

About 100 gather for Sunday worship, but the church touches over 1,000 different people each year.  About 300 kids participate in their after-school programs, including a basketball program that reaches out to street-wise young men in the inner city.  The Satan Is Alive graffiti is gone, too.  A couple of years ago the church bought that building, and turned it into The Solid Rock Cafe for teens.  “In the inner city,” Randy noted, “success means we’re still here.  Ask people to pray for us.  We’re in a battle.”

*This article appeared first in Outreach magazine’s Nov/Dec 2008 issue in my column, ‘Small Church, Big Idea’,  under the title, ‘Making Some Moves in Motown.’

5 Keys to Transformational Youth Ministry

“Kids have better things to do than come to a big event,” youth minister Prentice Park commented.  “Kids are looking for something deeper, more meaningful, and they’re not going to get that at a big event.”  Jeremy Zach, also a youth pastor, echoed Park’s point: “In our setting, youth ministry can’t be event-based because we don’t have the budget or the space.”

Jeremy and Prentice serve neighboring churches in the Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel communities of southern California.  Both churches average about 300 in worship.  Youth ministry in smaller churches like theirs relies on building personal relationships and creating space for conversations about Jesus.  Reaching an always-on, technology-native generation means more than serving pimento cheese sandwiches at an after-church fellowship.  Teens today deal with complex issues of identity, meaning, and the need to belong.  Smaller churches can engage teenagers effectively without having to produce big events requiring huge budgets.

During an interview, Park and Zach identified five keys to reaching and keeping teenagers engaged in ministry:

1.  Build relationships. While this doesn’t sound like new advice, both Park and Zach see relationships with teens as the number one key to effective youth ministry.  “Kids don’t need more ‘hello’ friends,” Park noted.  Building relationships is really about building trust between adult leaders and youth group members.

2.  Share ministry. Zach suggested a ratio of one adult leader for every eight teens when building a youth ministry.  “Students need to see adults living out their faith,” Zach said.  Having a 1-to-8 adult-to-teen ratio allows adults to connect with clusters of kids.  Youth ministry becomes a “network of networks” as adult sponsors get to know teenagers both individually and within their circle of friends.

3.  Create safe space. Both Park and Zach hold about half their youth meetings away from the church campus so that

Continue reading “5 Keys to Transformational Youth Ministry”

A New Reputation for An Old Church

This article first appeared in Outreach magazine in July/August 2009, in my Small Church, Big Idea column.

A New Reputation For An Old Church
by Chuck Warnock

When the doorbell rang at Cradock Baptist Church not long ago, the staff buzzed in a man who announced, “I’m Mike, and I’m homeless. I heard you help people here.” With that, Pastor Rob Edwards knew his small church again had become a vibrant witness to its struggling community.

Cradock Baptist Church was founded 90-years ago in the Portsmouth, Virginia community of Cradock, the first planned community in America. In 1918, the U. S. Housing Corporation built Cradock to provide housing for shipyard workers. Today Cradock’s high-density, urban culture reflects typical big city problems of low income, high unemployment, and struggling families.

Like many churches of its era, Cradock Baptist Church has large buildings, declining membership, and an aging congregation. But Pastor Rob Edwards has led his congregation in new ministries to their multi-ethnic neighborhood, and in the process the church has benefited, too.

Historically, the church has reached out to those with special needs. The Robin Class has taught the developmentally-challenged for over 40-years. Pastor Rob has built on that concern for others, leading the church to reach out to its neighborhood. This summer 250 volunteers from World Changers, Southern Baptists’ volunteer workforce, will rehabilitate homes in the community. A partnership with the city and a grant from HUD for materials will enable the church to help revive its historic neighborhoods. That’s just the beginning. Pastor Rob envisions hiring a housing counselor to help prevent foreclosures among the financially-struggling.

One program, however, really kicked the church’s community engagement into high gear: a coop food ministry where combined ordering doubles a family’s grocery purchasing power. At their last food distribution, over 1,000 families received 27,000-pounds of food, with the help of 50 volunteers from eight different congregations.

Cradock Baptist Church changed their focus from self-service to community engagement by:

Spotlighting established ministries. The Robin Class for the developmentally-challenged joins the congregation for worship frequently, giving higher visibility to this longstanding ministry.
Touching people during the week. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs meet in the church 7-days a week. In turn, the church and staff have gotten to know many by name, caring for them in times of grief, and sharing in their moments of joy.
Believing community renewal creates church renewal. By banding together to help revitalize the community through housing projects, feeding programs, school supply give-aways, and weekday ministries, church members found a new sense of mission.
Creating new worship experiences. The church retains its traditional worship at 11 AM on Sunday morning, but voted unanimously to create casual worship at 5 PM on Sunday evenings to reach their younger, unchurched neighbors. Special, one-time events also have drawn neighbors together at block parties, and musical presentations.
Celebrating the church’s weekday ministries on Sundays. While Sunday morning worship attendance hasn’t grown much, Sundays have become the celebration for what the church is doing during the week.

Today Cradock Baptist’s small Sunday morning crowd of 60 touches the lives of hundreds each week. One family called asking for prayer recently. “We’re one of your food box families,” they said. “Please pray for us.” To many of these unchurched families, Pastor Rob is their pastor, and Cradock Baptist Church is the only church they know. In the process, the church’s spirit has been revived and their reputation in the community changed. Now people in Cradock know when they need help, one small church won’t turn them away.