The Many Faces
by Josh Bennett
Looking around the room, it was obvious that outreach was not an option.
When the Marana team moved across the country to start a church, we knew outreach would be essential. My wife Ashley and I, along with my co-pastor Jeff, his wife Heather, and their daughter Ava, would be a lonely congregation if we never reached new people. Thankfully, we have discovered many avenues of outreach that have worked (or not worked in some cases) for us.
We view outreach as an organized and energized effort to connect with people in a way that will open a door for the gospel to penetrate their lives. The goal of connecting people with the gospel is vital and can be a multi-step process. I would like to share our approach to outreach. While it is far from perfect, God is using it to grow a church in the middle of the desert. It is my prayer that God will use what we are doing to spark some fresh ideas for the outreach in your local church setting.
Every Week Outreach
Our first level is Every Week Outreach, using the same approaches on a regular basis. One example is placing A-frame signs all over the area on weekends. We place these signs near our meeting location as well as at a busy shopping center in the area. We also equip our people with invite cards for church. These cards have different themes and the meeting times and location for our service. The cards are always available, and we encourage everyone in the church to keep these small cards handy. While signs and cards work great for us, the best weekly outreach for any church is word-of-mouth evangelism. People come to our churches because they are invited by people they know.
Our second level of outreach is called Exposure, simply getting the church noticed by as many people as possible. These efforts usually do not result in immediate guests to our church, but in the long run, they establish the church as a place to visit. “Experts” say it takes three “touches” or contacts to get someone to visit your church. I am not sure how many it really takes, but in most cases, it is more than one. In our earliest days, we advertised our church at a local theater. I cannot recall any person who came to our church from those ads. However, several people recall seeing it and remembering it when they decided to visit. It helped establish our existence in the community.
We take any opportunity to put our church in front of people. We attend little league flag football events and set up a free coffee and water stand. We hold drawings and give away footballs. We sponsor a booth at the local Christmas festival and are making plans for future community festivals. We had nine first-time guests two weeks after our first Christmas festival.
The third level of outreach, and perhaps our most effective, is Dynamic Days. We have used this concept to build our church over the last year, and we believe it has a great deal to do with why we have doubled in attendance. I first learned about this type of outreach from Terry Forrest, chairman of the Pastoral Ministry program at Welch College. I later became reacquainted with the idea by reading the book entitled Ignite by Nelson Searcy. We have adapted these ideas into a formula that works well for our setting.
We celebrate four dynamic days a year, beginning in the fall, shortly after school has resumed. Three others follow in late January, on Easter, and one day during the summer. The idea is to have one day when everyone focuses all their attention and effort toward inviting people to church. Our first step is to create a special day for people geared towards attracting the unchurched. This can be done by having a special theme, a popular guest speaker, offering a big giveaway, or providing a meal. The possibilities are endless.
After establishing the special day, we equip our people for outreach. We print special invite cards for the day, challenge our people to invite five people, pray for the invitees during our services, utilize Facebook, and more. On some special days, we create an invite campaign within the church. For example, last Easter we promoted the Invite Your Peeps campaign. We made a funny video challenging the church people to invite their “peeps” to church and gave them helpful suggestions on how to accomplish this task. These dynamic days are a lot of fun and have been crucial to our growth as a church. It is not abnormal to see our church grow 20% from one of these days.
Mini-big days are a form of outreach. These almost always revolve around holidays. Our most common of these is what we call “Church in the Park.” We hold church in a local park, enjoy a meal, and play games in the park as a church family. These days are always effective. For some reason, people will attend these services when they will not first visit an indoor service. We also host special Christmas services. Use mini-big days as an essential part of keeping the outreach temperature high in your church.
When someone asks me for the most important part of outreach, I always respond with follow-up. While getting someone to come to your church once increases their chance to be impacted by the gospel, getting them to return significantly increases those chances. We do everything we can to make people feel welcomed and comfortable in our church. It is important to be up front and clear with them that we take the Bible seriously, and that Scripture has a way of making us uncomfortable. Pastor Jeff does a great job of heading up our follow-up program. Like outreach, our follow-up plan has multi levels, and we are consistent in following the process.
Follow-up cannot be done without good contact information. At The Springs FWB Church, we use connect cards. To encourage people to fill the cards out, we make a donation to our local food bank for every card filled out by a first-time guest. The food bank is able to convert this small donation into $10.50 worth of food. People help feed the hungry, just by filling out the card. We have a gift ready for every first-time visitor, whether or not they fill out the card. The gift is usually a promotional item with the church logo on it and a book entitled The God Questions.
The next step of follow-up is to make contact. Jeff usually sends visitors a text on Sunday afternoon to let them know we enjoyed having them in our service. We try to find them on Facebook. The next day, we take them a small gift bag with chips, salsa, a salsa bowl, a card with a letter from the pastors, and more information about the church.
We like to think of ourselves as the “follow-up ninjas.” In other words, we drop off the bag quietly at the front door and try to leave unnoticed. We have heard more positive feedback about these gifts than anything we have ever done. It is funny to hear church people talking to each other about how important that small gift was in making them decide to return to The Springs.
You may find that some of these methods work in your setting, or they may not be helpful at all. Regardless of how these methods work in your church, don’t give up on outreach. Remember, we view outreach as an organized and energized effort to connect with people in a way that will open a door for the gospel to penetrate their lives. We are commissioned to make disciples of all nations. To do this, we must connect with people in meaningful ways. People want to attend your church…they just don’t know it yet. Make it your business to bring this awareness to them. After all, they need Jesus, and you are their connection to Him.
About the writer: Josh and Ashley Bennett are planting a church in the city of Marana, located about 15 miles north of Tucson, Arizona: www.thespringschurchmarana.com