Amplifying Evangelism—The Future of Outreach and Mission
The Future of Outreach
Because of the overall ineffectiveness of the North American church’s ability to evangelize, I frequently get asked about the future of outreach. The truth is that outreach will not get any easier. Why? There are at least three reasons.
So more people will distance themselves from Christianity and cease to even identify as Christian. This will create more skepticism towards Christianity and the institutional church.
Second, our culture will continue to be dominated by secular people, both in worldview and in numbers.
Many who hold a secular worldview in the halls of power—especially in the media or Hollywood—will attempt to marginalize the Christian faith. This attempt to discredit Christianity will continue to seek to push the church into the periphery of American culture.
Third, our culture will continue to experience a rise in religious pluralism, where Christianity will increasingly become one voice among a sea of competing voices (and narratives).
The continued rise of pluralism will give credence to individual autonomy and relativism, where truth for one person isn’t seen as truth for another.
Given that all of these elements are present now means that we are in the present future. So the future of outreach is now. But, what will be the most effective forms of outreach? I believe churches that make the following three shifts will be more effective at outreach in an increasingly skeptical, secular, and pluralistic culture.
1. Churches that shift from a temple mindset to a network mindset will be more effective at evangelism.
Many have bought into the assumption that evangelism takes place at church, not through the church. As a result, church people are encouraged constantly to invite their neighbors, co-workers, and friends to the corporate gathering.
I am a firm believer that we should encourage our people to invite others; however, this is a temple mindset that will need to be offset by a network one. In other words, instead of solely relying on the invite method so that people will come to a place and hear a “professional," we must equip our people to go and share with their network—their neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. This is how the early church grew.
Making the shift from building-based to home-based outreach will require intentional training. I believe resources and programs like Alpha, Christianity Explored, and Billy Graham's My Hope are examples of how believers can invite their networks to a safe place for guided video conversations that explore the Christian faith.
2. Churches that move start to shift from an attractional mindset to an incarnational mindset will be more effective at evangelism.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m getting at here. I’m not saying that using attractional elements are bad or wrong; I believe them to be quite useful and in many contexts contextual. However, if more and more people are skeptical about “coming” to a place then we must teach and train our people to “be” the church—the incarnational presence of Christ in the places they occupy. In essence, teaching and equipping our people about the implications of the gospel lived out in real life is the true attraction anyway.
As the early church lived out the implications of the gospel in their networks—how they treated women, slaves and outsiders; how the family was oriented; and how they were joyful even in the face of persecution and suffering—believers displayed an alternative reality, an alternative narrative the other faiths and religions simply couldn’t replicate. Essentially, gospel living in the real world became the attractional means by which God drew people to himself. The contemporary church would do well to draw from this legacy, embracing this same approach to evangelism.
In other words, though we need them both, more people will "go and tell" rather than just "come and see."
3. Churches that shift from traditional forms and structures to innovative ones will be more effective at evangelism.
As the mission field changes, churches will change. The changes will be methodological, not primarily theological; they will be contextual, not textual. In other words, churches will continue to have the marks of a biblical church, but those marks might be lived out in a restaurant, coffee house, movie-theater, community center, or a network of homes.
Not only will gathering places be different, but the way churches choose to invest some of its resources will change. Instead of churches using resources to bless themselves, churches will look to see how they can bless the community.
Churches that are passionate about doing whatever it takes to reach the people in culture will be innovative and fresh in their methods. Why? Because they realize that just as the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus has sent them into the world. Thus, by understanding its “sentness” the mission force adapts to each and every context in an effort to share and show the gospel of King Jesus, thereby making disciples of all nations.
I believe churches that make these three shifts within our culture will, over time, prove to be more effective at evangelism and outreach.