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 PRESENTS

ADVANTAGES OF SMALL GROUP OUTREACH

The Following Information is Taken from “Outside the Walls” . . .  A network of House Churchs,

but can be helpful to the Traditional Church that is Pursuing  a Small Group Oureach Ministry.

INTRODUCTION:

The main purpose of the Church is to bring non-believers to Christ.

We believe that meeting in small groups gives us more opportunity to reach out to the community and to grow the church more spiritually mature.

If you are a House Church . . .  tithing is not committed to paying for buildings utilities, paid leaders, etc., and frees the offering to be used to help the brethren and reach out to our neighbors.

In the Gospel according to John, every Christian has been sent by Jesus, with the gospel, together as
a community, to those in the surrounding culture for the sake of the King and His kingdom:

The Church is sent into the world to continue that which he came to do, in the power of the same Spirit, reconciling people to God. Jesus said, As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you (John 20:21).

 

THERE ARE TWO WAYS A CHURCH CAN REACH THE LOST

ATTRACTIONAL

Church leaders as well as Christians in general have often regarded the Church as an institution to which
outsiders must come, in order to receive a certain product, namely, the gospel and all its associated benefits. Institutional churches are sometimes perceived to exist for the members and depend on pastors and staff to evangelize the lost.

This is the format that most traditional churches operate under today. Only about 3% of their offering is committed to outreach.

MISSIONAL

The “missional church”, on the other hand, attempts to take Christ to “the lost” and its members are personally engaged in reaching their communities with the message of Jesus Christ.

The best way to reach people outside the church is through organized activities outside the walls of the church that people have in common. This allows you to show them the love of Christ through your actions, without judging them and sounding preachy.

This provides a way to reach people that will never enter a church. Throughout the years Christians have managed to turn away many people from the church because, regardless of their good intentions, they came off as judgmental, telling them what they are doing wrong, or quoting scripture that an unchurched person may not even understand.

To be on mission with Jesus, instead of for Jesus, is to remember that we  were plucked from death through the grace of Christ. It wasn’t our astute theology that saved us. We were once heretics, rebels, and heathens who hated God until He turned His face toward us. Therefore, telling people about the truth of Christ must first be inspired by compassion and then we can engage our neighbors in discourse and say, I know what you are looking for; I was once there looking for it too, and I found the answer in Jesus.

Jesus rebukes religious people who see the culture’s needs and do nothing to meet them. Too often, the people of God justify ignoring the needs of others. We offer our sympathy and prayers, but don’t actually pray nor do we try to help. We assume it is someone else’s responsibility. Others just pretend the problems don’t exist. We hide behind ignorance. We don’t know what the needs are in our community because we don’t want to know.

“Outside the Walls” elders attend a special training program to learn how to lead their House Church in outreach activities that will gently bring new members into the church where they may come to know Christ. All members learn how to reach out without feeling uncomfortable.

Overseers are are chosen by Christ through the Holy Spirit and when properly trained . . . and when the church reaches 16 members the new Overseer will take part of the members and establish a new House Church. Each Church collects it’s own tithes & offerings and decides how it is distributed.

The missional church defines itself in terms of its mission being the ones sent to take the gospel to, and practice the gospel within your neighborhood.

SPACES OF ENGAGEMENT

There are four basic spaces in which Church Outreach Groups can exist within their neighborhoods —  Fellowship, hospitality, service, and participation. These spaces are how we belong to one another and how we engage with the culture around us.

We can see these spaces in the description of the church in Acts 2:42-47:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Today’s House Churches don’t need to look exactly like the first church, but we should use what we know of that church, and the convictions that inspired it, to influence how we interact with our communities today.

We see the space of fellowship in their devotion to the teaching of the apostles, prayer, worship, confession, and repentance. We see the space of hospitality as they broke bread, had favor with all people, shared food and possessions, and many were added to their community. By distributing food and possessions to those in need, we see that they served the practical needs of those around them. Further, their reputation among the people indicates that they served them and participated in life with them.

Let’s say we were to take a traditional church (that’s not doing any outreach), with a membership of 200 and redistribute them into a network of 20 trained Home Churches of 10 members which could grow to 16 and then divide. This would saturate a 5 mile radius.

If each of these groups followed the format of the first church . . . by engaging with their neighbors in fellowship, hospitality, service, and participation, this would open doors for change and effect on the culture as a whole. 

INWARD AND OUTWARD MINISTRIES

The spaces of fellowship and hospitality are different, from the spaces of service and participation. This is because there is a fundamental difference between these spaces. These spaces break down into inward ministries (fellowship and hospitality) and outward ministries (service and participation).

Inward ministries are those ministries that require someone to come to you. In one sense, they are passive. Like the mantra from Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come. As we breakdown these spaces, you will notice that they require people outside the church to make the effort to participate. Many will have a relatively high energy of resistance.

Outward ministries, on the other hand, require the Church Outreach Groups to go. These spaces are active. They require the group to get involved outside of their living rooms.

The early church met in homes, but they didn’t hide there. They lived where they would be seen. As the church, they lived in multiple spaces, both public and personal.

In doing this, they set an example for us of what it means to be sent by a sent and sending God. Jesus commands us to go. He wants us to be active and seen. As we consider what it means to live in multiple spaces in our community, we need to find a balance of both inward and outward ministry.

With that in mind, let’s break down each of these spaces as they pertain to our Church Outreach Groups.

 

The First is:

FELLOWSHIP: Times to encourage one another in our lives with Jesus.

The most common place for a Church Missionary Group to find itself is in the space called fellowship. This is the space for Bible study, prayer, confession, and repentance. This is where most small groups spend the majority of their time together, and it is an essential space for community within the church.

Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. The study of the Bible and prayer are hallmarks of the church living in community with one another.

As we discuss other spaces, we need to remember that our Home Church Groups should be devoted foundationally to Scripture, prayer, worship, confession, and repentance.

As a matter of fact, most groups are comfortable with these expectations. The challenge is to build a Home Church Group, where these are natural and authentic.  We know we should be a Church marked by confession and repentance, but we don’t always know what that looks like. Even a devotion to Scripture can have the life sucked out of it if we don’t approach the Scriptures as a life-giving source of living water. 

The space of fellowship is about building a natural, authentic community that loves Jesus and His Word and pursues one another with the gospel intentionality.

At the end of the day, we are a community of believers. We follow and worship Jesus as our Lord and savior. If we connect with our culture and neighbors but don’t bring them into a fellowship of worship of Jesus, then we have missed the point of church.

Additionally, we need to be aware of where unchurched people are spiritually, when they join us in our bible study group. Teaching a bible study group requires leaders to explain and teach the group about what we are doing. This won’t only be helpful for the guest, but will be valuable for the entire group.

Don’t assume that because someone has gone to your church for a while that they know how to pray or what repentance looks like. Having a guest or new member join your group can be a great time to explore the groups understanding of these elements.

When Christians meet together, Jesus is the center of attention and the Holy Spirit is the leader, and all things are done decently and in order.

When we only exist in the fellowship space, we have a problem. When we do this we form a holy ghetto. No one but the most religious would dare to venture into our time of fellowship. (That’s why the first step to reach out, like hospitality, are so important)

People will take the long way to avoid that block. Taking a wrong turn and finding themselves in such a group, nonbelievers slowly lock the car doors and pray, maybe for the first time that they will get out alive, never to return. We must understand that fellowship is the most intimate of spaces and is therefore the most intimidating place for a new relationship to be built.

When we live only in the fellowship space, we become isolated. The church lives in the tension between syncretism and separatism. Understanding this tension isn’t just important in the way we articulate our values, but in how we live our lives as well.

However: The lack of emphasis on Bible, prayer, and other aspects of fellowship in Home Church Groups, leaves us in danger of becoming: of the world, while exclusively living in this fellowship space keeps us from being in the world to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.

Keys:

  • Be Christ centered and devoted to scripture.
  • Be intentional and authentic.
  • Be grace filled and truth telling.
  • Avoid the holy ghetto.

 

# 2 is:

HOSPITALITY: A safe place for anyone to belong to our communities.

Hospitality is the first step to being a missional Church Outreach Group. Most forms of hospitality will still be on your turf, making a “come” ministry, but it shows intentionality to invite people to belong to your Church Outreach Group. Developing hospitality is as easy as throwing a party. Christians really need to repent of their inability to party. Jesus announced Himself by performing His first miracle at a wedding party and was accused of being a drunkard and sinner because, presumably, He wasn’t afraid to enjoy himself in the company of sinners. He didn’t sin while having a good time, nor should we. But He wasn’t afraid to mix it up. We should repent and throw some parties and invite our neighbors.

However, parties aren’t the only event in the space of hospitality. Any time we provide the opportunity for someone to belong in our Church Outreach Group before belief . . . we are operating in this space. That might be a standing reservation at your favorite restaurant, a bowling league, a football game on Saturday morning. A knitting club, a coupon clipping party or any other regular event to which you can invite someone new. These are called bridge ministries that can last from 1 to 6 weeks and sometimes extended.

Bridge ministries gives everyone an opportunity to exercise their natural gifts.

The purpose of hospitality is to welcome people into the group by lowering the energy barrier for them to feel as though they belong. This means we have to be thoughtful of the experience they might be having. Christians are notorious for not being self-aware. We get so entrenched in Christian culture that we don’t realize that what feels normal to us may be very intimidating for someone else.

Homes are a good example. You may work for a company for years and rarely have dinner at a co-workers home, let alone being invited to the home of their friend whom you’ve never met. Going to a stranger’s home can be intimidating. Therefore, it could help to find a neutral third place if we want someone to feel comfortable.

Being missional begins with thinking of the preferences of the people who aren’t in your Church Outreach Group, rather than your own preferences. This can affect the food you serve at a party to the music you play. As a group, you need to be oriented toward your guests rather than to each other. But please, don’t think it OK to have Black Sabbath blaring in the background.

The worst thing you can do is throw a party and invite the neighbors but ignore and alienate them when they show up. Consider their experience and invite them to belong, just as they are, and just as Jesus did with you. As those relationships grow, you will eventually have an opportunity to invite them into a deeper
fellowship. If you truly care about people, then it will be a natural invitation. If they feel as though they belong and are accepted by your group, then they may be willing to risk the intimacy of joining your fellowship group
to learn about Jesus.

EXAMPLE: Taking these concepts into account, one Church Outreach Group gathers regularly at a local restaurant as part of our natural rhythm of community. They have a standing reservation every other Thursday night. It’s just a natural part of their life together. It’s a time to connect with the group, and provides a neutral, welcoming place to introduce someone new to the group. Some folks only connection to their group is Thursday night happy hour (not an alcoholic one). They aren’t ready to join them for fellowship gathering, but they do get to see how the gospel shapes their lives through these social events. They are still looking in to see if what we say of the power of the gospel is real. As they become more comfortable with us and see the transforming power of the gospel in our lives, they will eventually stick their toes in the water. And when they do, they will have confidence that they already belong to our community and that is a safe place to wrestle with the claims of Jesus.

It really is that easy. It doesn’t take any preparation to eat dinner and enjoy one another, and in a society that is dying to belong to something, it’s an easy invitation. If at a restaurant, first time visitors eat free. (Taken from the outreach offering.)

Keys:

  • Be self-aware
  • Lower the energy barrier to belong.
  • Meet the people where they are.
  • Offer a welcoming experience.

 

#3 is:

SERVICE: Meeting the practical needs of our neighborhoods.

So far we’ve stuck primarily to the inward ministries that are safely within the boundaries of our own turf. Some of the spaces where we venture are neutral territory but are still an invitation into our comfort zone. Most groups live their lives between the fellowship and hospitality spaces.

But as we established earlier, if we are going to be a missional church, then we need to get off the couch, move out of the circle, and go. Tying in the convictions that God uses people to advance His kingdom and that we are created in the image of a sent and sending God  we need to be an active Church Outreach Group in our community. Peter said people would see our good works, and that would cause them to glorify God. This implies that we are doing good works. It also implies that we are doing good works that are noticed by our neighbors and bring glory to God rather than ourselves.

In Jeremiah, God called his people to see the welfare of the city. Even in exile they were to live out their faith in the promises of God. He wanted to bless them and those around them in order to display His glory. We, too, ought to seek the welfare of our cities.

That is what the space of service is all about. It is blessing the city in practical ways. This requires you to understand your neighborhood and know what needs exist that you can meet. Very few of us have any clue about what is going on in our neighborhoods and where we could easily serve them. Ironically, the needs are endless.

Service projects can range from volunteering as a group to help during a local festival to cleaning the yards of elderly in your neighborhood. It might look like helping a neighbor move or planting trees in the median on your street, but the point is to bless the city because Jesus has blessed us.

So how do you find out what the needs in your neighborhood are? You can start by asking. Get to know your neighbors, talk to grocery store clerks, and become members of your neighborhood association and actually attend the meetings. Some groups have had great success just showing up at their local community centers and building relationships with the directors. Visit your neighborhood schools and see what you can help with. If you want to see the needs, they aren’t hard to find.

As you get your group involved in serving your neighborhood, you will begin to find common ground with your neighbors. That is the beauty of serving at the local level. Not only are your neighbors served, but also you can find common purposes to serve together.

Take Jim for example. Jim likes cars. He leads a Church Outreach Group that draws a lot of gear heads. Part of their service and hospitality space involves fixing up cars. They do pro bono mechanical work for low-income families and single moms. Regardless of whether people have met Jesus, it is easy to get them excited about using their talents to help single moms.

In this case, the service aspect of the group provides a great opportunity for nonbelievers to be a part of the community while serving and building relationships on both fronts. The act of serving is in itself a testimony of the love and sacrifice of Jesus. It is a bonus that we can have a great time doing it. Whenever we can combine our personal passions with the gospel and our communities, the more sustainable those communities will be.

Keys:

  • Meet practical needs.
  • Find common purposes.
  • Use local organizations.
  • Combine passions.

 

 

 #4 is:

 PARTICIPATION: Participation with our neighbors in common spaces and events.

The last space we want Church Outreach Groups to spend time in is what we call participation. This is when we simply participate in neighborhood activities and events as a Church Outreach Group. Fairly easy to do, but as you know, the church has a bit of a reputation of being a recluse, like an albino tiger rarely seen in the wild. This isolation assaults the gospel in two ways.

First, it ignores the command of Jesus to go and make disciples. This isn’t an assault simply because it is a failure to obey. The desire to go and make disciples is rooted in the internalization that Jesus is  worthy to be worshiped. Mission is about seeing the glory of Christ, and wanting to make it known. When we withdraw from culture, we are saying that Jesus isn’t a big enough deal for our neighbors to reckon with.

On the other hand, if we say that we see His glory but are afraid to influence the world, then we assault the gospel in another way. A response of fear ignores the power of the gospel to redeem and communicates a lack of faith in the promises of Jesus. In Matthew 28, after Jesus commands us to go, He promises that He will be with us always, to the end of the age. The church must be seen.

So go to block parties, the chili-cookouts, and fireworks displays. Go to the county fair even if the rides are lame. The space of participation is about being a part of your neighborhood. It’s about building a reputation of caring for people and for the city. It is about meeting people on common ground and not always expecting people to meet you on your turf.

One of the reasons that we have a hard time inviting nonbelievers into Church Outreach Groups is because we don’t know any. As we start to live in the space of participation, we will begin to develop relationships with people who eat dinner thirty yards from your table whom you have never met before.

Participation can take on many forms, but here are some things to consider. Join events rather than starting your own whenever possible. Church coffee shops can be a blessing to a community, but becoming regulars at a locally owned coffee shop will be more welcome than competition for the latte business. Become a member of the neighborhood association and volunteer as a group to help with local festivals and events. Don’t believe the lie that you should be doing church
work instead. This is the work of the kingdom. When people see your good deeds they will give glory to God.

Another key is to understand that participation is about consistency. Being a regular part of the community gives you and your Church Missionary Group relational capital. That capital opens up opportunities to bridge spaces and invite people into service or hospitality spaces. Participating in one event won’t build that type of capital. Your kids never say, Hey, Dad, thanks for coming to that one baseball game; I feel so loved. So make being a part of the neighborhood a priority. That doesn’t mean that every member of your group has to attend every event, but there should be a consistent value of neighborhood participation within
your group.

Keys:

  • Join rather than create.
  • Build relationships.
  • Hold participation as a priority.
  • Emphasize consistency.

 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Now that we understand each space, our next challenge will be linking them together. It’s easy to start providing these spaces within a Church Outreach Group yet still not see fruit. In some cases this is just a matter of time, but often it is because we don’t take time to see how spaces fit together.

The most significant roadblock for nonbelievers attending your Church Outreach Group is a failure to be invited. Surveys among church’s community groups have found that neighbors who are invited to a group, regardless of which space, are exponentially more apt to attend than those who weren’t invited. It is often simply as easy as inviting people.

The picture we have in Acts 2 leaves us with an exciting and convicting statement: And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Remember that the fruit we are praying for is lives transformed by Jesus. We want to see people move from death to life. This is probably not going to happen over a bowl of chili at the community center. But when you link the spaces, you provide bridges for people to become closer to hearing the good news. This gives your group members a natural opportunity to invite people into your Church Outreach Group.

In light of this, remember that a plan inspires confidence. We want Church Outreach Groups to be natural and organic, but that doesn’t mean disorganized. Having a plan can still provide authentic Church Outreach Groups. We plan family nights, vacations, birthday parties, and so on. Planning doesn’t make them less authentic, but it does make them more effective. 

George is a Home Church Overseer. His group has become a staple of the neighborhood. They have participated in events and worked on several service projects. Knowing that a block party was planned for next month, the group lined up some service projects with the community center. Now when they attend the block party, they have an opportunity to invite someone they just met into a new space: Service.

After the service event, the Church Missionary Group is going to throw a party in the park to provide a hospitality space for all volunteers. In one Saturday they will provide multiple spaces to engage their neighborhood and live out the gospel.

As we open our eyes to the opportunities around us, we can begin to identify and dismantle barriers to the gospel. Expanding the spaces in which your Church Outreach Groups exist will increase their effectiveness for the gospel. Linking those spaces will make your Church Outreach Groups a kingdom force. This requires a new understanding of Church Outreach Groups as a vehicle for mission and kingdom. It requires us to be the church. It requires us to live a Christian lifestyle in our community 24/7.

 

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