The Unfinished Task
Reaching Our Community
By Travis Mackenzie
Have you ever thought about what it means to reach the community? At one time, I thought if people wanted to know about Christ, all they needed to do was watch someone live a Christian life. Over time, I have learned while it is true a well-lived Christian life is a great way to pique someone’s curiosity about salvation, there is more to reaching a person’s heart than lifestyle evangelism.
I learned the importance of sharing the gospel in everyday situations through gospel tracts and evangelistic conversations. But, again, while presentation evangelism may motivate someone to decide one way or the other concerning faith in Christ, it doesn’t always demonstrate the true gift of salvation to a prospective Christ follower.
It wasn’t until we began planting Compassion Church that I fully began to understand a third type of evangelism—community outreach. In 2017, my family and I were commissioned by North American Ministries to plant a Free Will Baptist church in Ashland, Ohio. Prior to starting Compassion Church, I helped lead other Free Will Baptist congregations. These churches all had been established for at least 20 years prior to my arrival, and I thought all we needed to do regarding community outreach was to continue doing what had already been done.
Some churches I helped lead were better at community outreach than others. But my mentality was always the same: adapt to what the church does and do it that way, because that’s how it’s always been done. When we began planting Compassion Church, I began asking myself: “Who do we want in our church, and why do we want them here?” As I began taking this question to the Lord, I really had to examine the outreach efforts I had led in the past. I pondered, “Do we just want numbers? How about membership transfers? After all, isn’t a warm body better than nobody?”
Community outreach should not merely be an event aimed at self-promotion. It must be a culture, a mindset. We can host all kinds of events to reach our community, but if an outreach mentality is not a core value of the congregation, it will never take hold in the minds of our people. The effectiveness of any outreach culture hinges on pastoral involvement. If the pastor doesn’t support this mentality 100%, and if he isn’t actively involved in reaching the community, success will be very limited.
Outreach was important to Jesus. Not only did He command the New Testament church to go and reach the world, but Jesus set the example for His disciples—and ultimately us—to follow. Let me get back to Compassion Church. I knew that if the church plant in Ashland were to reach people for Christ, I had to be the example. And as I searched for ways to help people see their need for Christ, I concluded I would have to change some things about myself, including my approach to fulfilling the Great Commission. This was when I discovered servant evangelism, defined by author Steven Sjogren as “a practical way of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in everyday situations.”
I’ve learned three simple ways to reach our community:
The first involves me, the lead pastor, becoming part of our community. That’s why I have involved myself intentionally in as many community organizations in Ashland as I can. By involving myself with these organizations, I have been able to meet many community leaders and stay informed about the happenings in our city. And, when I became active in the community, the needs became abundantly clear.
In his book, The Good to Great Pastor, author Jim Collins asks, “How do you define the greatness of a church? A great church has a distinctive impact on its community. If it disappeared, it would leave a serious hole in that community.” I’m afraid that if we surveyed many people who live near many of our churches, they either wouldn’t know we were there, or worse yet, would have a negative
response to the church name. When you know the needs of a community, stepping up to meet those needs is simply a matter of doing what you and your church can do.
The next area of outreach requires letting the people of our community know we are here. It can be something as simple as a friendly conversation with a restaurant server or talking to a cashier at Walmart, while wearing a shirt embroidered with the church name and web address. Or setting up a booth for a mass giveaway at a local festival or county fair. When we began planting Compassion Church, I quickly realized we can’t expect anyone to show up on Sunday if no one knows we’re here.
In short, go where the people are. When your community sees your logo and hears your church name, they’ll associate it with the group of friendly people involved in the community. I know this sounds simple, but you’ll never reach them unless they know you’re there.
Finally, the community needs to know we care. The biggest part of reaching our community involves letting people know we care for their needs. After all, isn’t this how Jesus reached people? He performed many miracles to reach people in their need and show them He cared for them. At Compassion Church, it is our goal to meet needs, from washing someone’s car (for free) and raking leaves (without charging) to sharing a steaming cup of coffee on a cold February morning. When you meet needs in your community, you are reaching hearts! And that is what community outreach is all about.
About the Writer: Travis McKenzie is planting Compassion Church in Ashland, Ohio, as a joint project with North American Ministries and the Ohio State Mission Board. Learn more: