Dad and I skipped Sunday school this week and I’m kinda glad we did. As is usually the case, we sat around talking and solving the world’s problems. We’re good at that. One of the things we talked about for awhile was outreach, how Aldan does it and what we think might work best. At some point in the conversation, I made a statement along the lines of “I think the era of big budget outreach is over.” The more we talked about it and the more I’ve thought it over since then, the more I’m convinced that statement is true.
I grew up in the age of attractional outreach. I was a youth group student and leader thoroughly indoctrinated in the old school approach of “If you build it they will come and if you build it bigger, better and louder even more of them will come!” Even as a student, I found this idea somewhat lacking. I remember trying to convince my heathen friends to come to a “Harvest Crusade” with me. “There’s going to be a band there and they sound kinda like this other band who you actually like. Should be a good time, right?” But we soldiered on. We had coffeehouses because everyone else had coffeehouses. We brought in bands and comedians. Each time it seems like there was a secular counterpart for comparisons sake. “This comedian that’s coming wrote for Carrot Top!” It seemed like we took every opportunity to tell the world that we were just like them, only different.
Somehow, I feel like they never really got the message that we were trying to convey. In our eyes, those flashy, big-budget outreach events were screaming “WE LOVE YOU AND SO DOES GOD!” but all they ever seemed to see was the flash. And when it comes down to it, we might do flash well, but the world will always do it just as good if not better. I can’t help but wonder why we’re competing with that.
And while we’re dwelling on the wrong way to do outreach, can we agree to kick the “Jesus just wants a relationship” angle? We tell people that Jesus just wants a relationship with him, that we’re so over rules and regulations and that relationships are what matters most and then we get shocked when they don’t want to follow the rules. Like it or not, Christianity does have rules that we’re expected to follow. In a mature understanding of the faith, we can recognize that these rules work to further the relationship and that the 2 work hand in hand. When we stop short of telling this whole truth in our outreach efforts, I think we do everyone a disservice.
So what then? What should we do? The Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the Lord is good”. I think that instead of trying to show the world a good time and attempting to impress them into the faith, maybe we just need to be more like Jesus. Maybe what our communities need more than another Christmas pageant or live nativity or coffeehouse are hot meals or a safe place for kids to play or adult education programs. Maybe instead of promising a radical transformation based on a truth proposition, we radically transform our communities as we ourselves are transformed. When we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we already have.
There is nothing more fragrant, nothing sweeter, nothing more attractive, than lives transformed by Jesus Christ. Our greatest testimony, our greatest outreach is our lives. Invite the world into our churches and our lives to taste and see God’s goodness as we live out the story of redemption. Invite them to live and experience the Gospel instead of just hearing about it.
Like so many things, the degree to which you agree or disagree with me will no doubt be shaped by your theology. So much of this discussion centers on exactly what it means to be saved but that’s a discussion for another day. So what do you think???