I've been thinking about outreach a lot lately, especially as I have read the book Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. I don't know if it's my age or maturity in my walk with Jesus, but I feel the American church needs to lean more toward reaching out and less toward taking care of the people already in the pews. God has called us to be a family and to help each other, but I believe we have focused too long on us and too little on the unsaved.
Most of the people in churches who want to reach out to people outside the church do it because they want more people in the pews and more people supporting the church. They want to return to the days when the sanctuary was packed, and the church seemed healthy. They want to see more children, families, teenagers, young adults... with the hope that these groups of people will keep the church going. Which is not a bad thing, yet...
The trouble with outreach in America is that almost everyone is aware of Christ and Christians, and they don't care much for Christians. One person who was interviewed for the book Unchristian wrote, "Christians are too concerned with converting people. They are insincere. All I ever hear is, 'Get saved.' I tried that whole 'Jesus thing' already. It didn't work for me before, and I am not interested now. (Unchristian, 67) Before we can step out of the church and do outreach, I believe we need to understand what others think of Christians and how we can change that perception. I also believe we need to do outreach for the correct reasons.
I like your Christ. I do not like your Chrisians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. Mahatma Gandhi
Remember, Jesus didn't say make your church numbers look good; he said, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:19 We can't make disciples worldwide if we never leave the church building to do ministry. Our job is to prepare ourselves and others to share the good news and disciple those in the world.
When we plan outreach activities, we need to think about the perception unbelievers have of Christians and design our activities to dispel those opinions and open hearts to Jesus. We have to eliminate the mindset of us vs. them. We are all sinners, we all need Jesus, and we are not better than others because we have called on Jesus for the same reason we are asking them to call on his name. Jeff, 25, writes, "Christians talk about hating sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is. They hate the sin and the sinner. (Unchristian, 181)
If our outreach programs do not focus on building relationships outside of the church, we're wasting our time. Nobody wants to hear about our Jesus if we don't show love and respect because of our Jesus. Christians complain about how sports are held on Sunday mornings, which causes us to lose people for worship. Obviously, fellow parents at the games make them feel they are more of a family than what they feel when they join us for worship. Maybe some of us need to join them on Sunday morning and find out why.
I felt discouraged as I read the book Unchristian. I wonder if it is possible to reverse society's opinions and perceptions about Christians. But then I remembered that it was not us who built the church but Christ through his followers. Perhaps we must return to the Book of Acts and study how the early church grew. The church grew, not through building churches and insisting that people come in; it grew because the early Christians went out and loved the people. We need to do the same.