By Ryan Tuten
The year was 1985, the song was Ronnie Milsap’s 27th number 1 hit. The song was praised by critics and fans alike, and remains as one of Milsap’s most popular recordings. The title of the song was… “Lost in the Fifties Tonight.”
I believe the title of this song well describes the mentality of many congregations of the Lord’s church today. In other words, if the 1950’s ever come back around, we will be ready. No doubt, during that period of time the church experienced phenomenal growth that we have not seen since. Yet how sad it is that many leaders in the church today want to recreate those days of old not realizing that times have changed and what worked then, regardless of how good and effective it was, may not work today.
I believe for most of us it has been a long time since we put ourselves in the place of a guest visiting with us. We have forgotten how intimidating it was the first time we visited the church. We have forgotten the questions we once had, “Am I late?” “Am I early?” “Where do I go?” “Will my children be safe?” “Will my family be comfortable?” “Will I know what to do in the service?” “Will someone call on me or point me out?” Experts believe that most visitors may determine whether they return to a church based on the experience they have in the first five minutes. If that is true, should we not be asking ourselves if anything is standing in the way of our guest having a positive experience at our services?
Yet before we can ever discuss “keeping” our visitors coming to services, we must first be able to get them to visit us. What can we do to encourage our community to visit the Lord’s church for the first time? What evangelistic ideas can we use that will contribute to church growth? Can we get out of the fifties and into the 21st century before it is too late?
Communicating our Identity:
I believe in order to have an effective community outreach program, we must first be able to communicate our identity. This is done when we equip our members to be inviters. The Scriptures teach that Jesus had an outreach mentality (Luke 19:10) as well as the early church (Acts 8:4). It is sad but many congregations have had to close their doors because they refuse to change. Of course, we realize that we are not talking about changing the message (Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:17-19), but changing the way we communicate that message to the lost. Any congregation that does not change from ‘status quo ministry’ to ‘mission outreach’ will slowly die or become hopelessly irrelevant. If we want the church to be effective in evangelism, then we must all cultivate a true heart for seeking the lost.
To have successful church growth and evangelistic success, we need to consider several stepping stones that will help contribute to that success. We must be able to effectively communicate God’s saving message with the lost. We must be able to tell them who we are and what we are about. We must know our “product” and be able to present that product to the world. Let us consider some stepping stones that will help communicate our identity:
- What is our mission? Again, we know that Jesus and the early church had a mission, but what is our mission and how well do we communicate that mission to our members? Our mission should be the foundation for all that we build upon. It should define our heart and passion. It should establish our priorities, direct our resources and focus our goals.
- Who are we trying to reach? In order to be effective in outreach, a congregation must know the community they are trying to reach. What are the Geographic’s of the area (where are the homes, how close are they to the building, etc…)? What are the Demographics or make up of the people in your community? What are the Psychographics of the community (the spiritual mindset)? Knowing this will help us direct and focus our attention. There are several websites that give this information and many of them are free.
- What are our resources and how are we using them? We need to evaluate our resources often and ask what are their outreach potential. For example: Are we utilizing our members’ talents and abilities. What do we use our building for? Does every program or ministry have our evangelism mission in mind? How well do we communicate to others about our resources?
- What about our image? Everything from our signage, brochures, advertising pieces, communication materials and even our building communicate our image. This is often overlooked today because we know that the church is the people and not the building. But again, I want to encourage you to step inside the shoes of a visitor who has never visited the church of our Lord and knows nothing about the Bible. The truth is that the community makes judgments about the church based on the image they see. We must be up to date and not back in the fifties.
Learning Evangelistic Outreach From Acts 2
Let us now turn our attention to attracting visitors by communicating our identity. Let us consider Acts 2 as a model of effective evangelistic outreach. Consider these four principles from this chapter.
- Strategic Timing: Why did God wait 40 days after the death and resurrection of Christ to establish the church? Could He have started the church the day after the resurrection? Sure He could have; then why wait several weeks? It may have something to do with strategic timing. Remember Jesus told His apostles to “tarry” (wait) in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). Again, why wait? No doubt it was because the masses of people would soon be gathered there. What about us today? How can we be more effective in evangelism using the same principle of strategic timing? I believe we need to evaluate what we preach and when we preach it. For example: What about the religious holidays we share in our Nation? In our culture today the two most attended services of the “church” are Christmas and Easter. Yet how many good brethren have written articles for their bulletins and preached lessons on why we should not celebrate these holidays and condemned people for doing so? I did not say what they preached was wrong or in error, but was it using strategic timing? Put yourself in the shoes of a visitor. You come to services for the first time on those particular holidays and you read those articles and hear those sermons. Would you ever come back? Why not use these times to take people from where they are and take them to the cross? Instead of condemning people for celebrating these holidays, use it as a spring-board to teach them the truth. We could also use secular holidays and shared cultural events, like elections, world catastrophes, wars, divorce recovery, new parents, money management, etc… The lessons we design and deliver should help bring people closer to God.
- Targeted and receptive audience: Again, why wait or “tarry” in Jerusalem? It may have something to do with the audience that would be gathered there shortly. In Acts 2 we see the Jews are gathered together for the feast and it would be the Jews who would hear the gospel first (Rom. 1:16). If we are ever going to be effective in our evangelistic outreach efforts, we need to know our audience. We must consider the Geographic proximity, the Demographic proximity and the Spiritual proximity. We need to know and understand the audience that makes up our community. Are they young or old, what ethnic group, median age, miles of travel, etc… How are we ever going to reach those that are lost if we do not know who it is?
- Compelling Message: In Acts 2 one quickly realizes that the message Peter and the other apostles were preaching was compelling because of the content. The message was about the Messiah, His death and resurrection. This message got their attention, captured their interest and prepared their hearts to hear the Gospel. We all realize that the power to save souls is the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) but are we speaking to people in their language? Are we answering questions that people are asking? Too many preachers today are preaching and have given little or no thought to their audience.
- Appropriate Communication Methods: In our society today we have access to every form of communication and we should use every one of them. Mass communication through radio, TV, newspaper, billboards, yellow pages, etc… Direct communication through direct mailing and even door to door. Also, personal communication through personal invitations, emails, websites and brochures.
Equip the Members:
We know that the early church grew through relationships (Acts 2:41-47). The church cannot sustain growth beyond its ability to care for people. Let us consider four ways to equip our members to be better inviters and show how much we really care.
- Provide invitations: We need to be able to provide business cards, post cards and brochures to be used as invitations.
- Special Messages: Plan a special message series, events and other activities designed for members to invite their non-Christian friends.
- Evangelism class: Start an evangelism class designed to help the members become more familiar and comfortable with teaching the lost.
- Communicate your identity: Constantly communicate your identity to the congregation and community reminding them who we are and what we are about.
If we want our congregations to grow and be more effective, we must have a true heart for seeking the lost so that Jesus can save them. Evangelism must permeate every part of our congregation. Our ability to reach the lost will be determined by the passion and strength of our outreach identity and mentality.
Ryan's Bio: Ryan Tuten currently preaches for the Forrest Park church of Christ in Valdosta, Georgia, where he has labored since October 2010. He also served as the minister of the Lake City church of Christ in Lake City, FL from May 2001 to October 2010. He is a 1998 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching. He has taught in several preaching schools, gospel meetings and lectureships in the states as well as foreign countries. He has been on twenty two mission trips to Central and South America, Russia, Africa, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. He has also served as session director for the Florida Bible Camp and Georgia Bible Camp. He is very active in his community, coaching and serving on various school councils. He and his wife Michelle have been married since February 1996, and are greatly blessed with two children, Noah (14) and Chloe (12).