Meaningful Outreach
December 22, 2022, 8:00 AM

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Depending on when this newsletter is published, I am either a few days early or safely within the 12 days of Christmas. Which means that it is a perfect time to talk about meaningful outreach.

Statistically, your congregation most likely had a larger than normal crowd come to your Christmas Eve service(s), at least larger than the normal Sunday morning crowd. And speaking of Sunday morning, what was the size of attendees on Christmas Day? Or the first Sunday after Christmas? And while you most likely did not have drummers flying around on guywires (like a recent video on social media), your congregation put in a lot of effort into Christmas Eve. Special attention was made to make sure the church building was clean. Bulletins were crisply folded, or hymn boards were neatly arranged. The pastor spent extra time preparing the message. Special music was played, the choir sang the best they have sounded all year, and at the end the congregation sang Silent Night in candlelight (maybe even in the German). After all that, the pastor invited everyone to service the very next day to worship God once again on Jesus’ birthday. So, what happened? Where did the crowd go?

You can replace Christmas Eve with any single big event a congregation does: VBS, a float in the local parade, Trunk or Treat, Fall Festival, Easter Egg Hunt, Community Picnic, Holiday Bazaar, etc.

The problem with “one and done” activities and events is that they don’t provide the time and interaction it takes to develop a relationship. Imagine a young couple going on their first date. Everything is going well. They really enjoy each other’s company, and they discover many common interests. Toward the end of their time together, the young man tells the young lady that he is very much enjoying their date. He explains that this is the best first date he has ever had. She replies that she is also enjoying their date and is pleased with how well it has gone. Then, to her shock and amazement, the young man says to her, “That’s great. Based on this date, I think we should get married. Would you marry me?” How do you think that young lady is going to respond to his spontaneous proposal? How might she respond if he asks her for a second date instead? How would her reaction be different if he proposed to her after several dozen dates instead of on their first date?

As silly as this first-date story is, it reflects how many congregations approach outreach. At or after a single relationship-building event or activity, the congregation invites the nonchurched person to come to worship or join a Bible study. From a nonchurched person’s perspective, it’s like being proposed to on a first date. Relationships take time and require ongoing interaction between people – and not just any people but the same nonchurched people interacting with the same church members over time.[1]

While it is true that churches don’t build relationships, people do, our congregation does have a very important role in building relationships by providing venues for ongoing interaction between our members and the nonchurched people in our community. Having events and activities that create the opportunity for ongoing interaction between church members and the people we connect with is vital to developing and nurturing relationships. The key to doing this effectively is in the words ongoing and interaction.

In the first place, the activity needs to create or facilitate interaction between the nonchurched people and our members. We might have a great activity that many nonchurched people find interesting and appealing, but it won’t help build relationships if none of our members attend or participate. It also won’t be effective if our members group together and stay to themselves during the activity or if they are so busy working on the activity that they can’t interact with the nonchurched people who are present.[2]

This is not to say that congregations should not do things like VBS, Easter Egg hunts, Community Picnics, etc. But they need to be part of a larger ongoing strategy that will consistently bring our members in contact with the nonchurched in a meaningful way, a way in which community and relationships can be fostered and nurtured.

How do we measure this so that we do not just spin our wheels wasting our efforts or focus on the wrong things and then get discouraged?

We must understand that the calling of the Gospel is the work of God.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.[3]

The approach outreach with the mindset that it is all on you, that if you and your congregation can do these steps and do them correctly your church building will be bursting at the seems is works righteousness. It is also crushing when you look around and the church is not any fuller then previously. No, rather we are dependent on the work of the Holy Spirt. And that is a gospel thing for us! It means the results rest on God, not on our individual efforts. So, how can we judge them?

We can gauge the effectiveness of our outreach efforts by tracking how many nonchurched people we are able to make connections with, assessing their responses to our invitations to relationship-building activities, and evaluating which opportunities to enter into Word and Sacrament are of interest to nonchurched people. These gauges can also guide us in making adjustments so our outreach efforts are even more effective.[4]

We will leave it here for now. Next month we will talk about how effective outreach provides multiple points of entry into Word-and-Sacrament ministry and how it always invites and encourages, never forces or manipulates. That will end our section on what makes outreach effective, after which we will start talking about the outreach process and tools.

In Christ,

Daniel Ross


[1] Mark A. Wood, Meaningful Outreach: An Essential Guide for Churches (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2022), 31.

[2] Ibid, 30.

[3] Luther’s Small Catechism, Creed: Art. III.

[4] Mark A. Wood, Meaningful Outreach: An Essential Guide for Churches (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2022), 35.