Reading the signs: Does your ministry strategy match your community?
I spent a good portion of the week between Christmas and New Year driving 2,000-plus miles from the Midwest to the deep South and back again. On the way down, I noticed several evangelism billboards. These signs said things such as…
After you die, you will meet God.
If you die tonight, heaven or hell?
There is evidence for God!
Each billboard included an 800 number you could call, I presume for more information.
I tried to picture who would respond to these ads. We know that everyone of us has a deep spiritual need for Jesus. Yet, do we really feel that need in our daily lives? Will someone struggling with uncertainty and the big questions in life pick up the phone and call? What about the person who is too wrapped up in the here and now to even ponder life, death, sin, and hell?
Another type of sign caught my attention on drive back north. We passed countless churches, most with traditional names such as First Baptist, Trinity Lutheran, and St. Paul United Methodist. However, a good number bore names that didn’t fit the traditional mold. In fact, some did not clearly identify themselves as a church at all with ambiguous names such as The Cause and City Life. The signage for these churches often sported modern graphic designs and omitted the traditional faith symbols.
As someone who studies how people come to and live out their faith, I again pondered who would respond to this ministry approach. Does branding that shuns traditional names and images, seeking to blend more with the culture, actually draw more of those who have yet to come to faith? And, once they do, will they come to know Christ and grow as His disciple?
These two examples represent the more extreme ends of a wide variety of evangelism approaches. Perhaps your ministry falls somewhere in the middle as you strive to reach your local community. If you are like most churches, you utilize a mix of outreach events and encouraging your congregants to invite others to worship.
Whatever your approach, it’s important to periodically step back and examine if it matches with—effectively reaches—who God has called you to serve.
This isn’t simply an intellectual exercise. Far from it! In fact, a periodic assessment will help you know where to focus your ministry resources and efforts.
Here are three questions to get you started with your own assessment:
1. What draws people to my ministry? I’ve surveyed churches where the leaders were convinced that the senior pastor was why people came to and stayed. Data from the congregants told another story: They were drawn to biblical teaching—regardless of which pastor was preaching—and to each other as a community.
A wrong perspective on what draws people to your ministry could be deadly. If you have it wrong, you may end up preserving something you don’t need and wasting opportunities to build on your strengths.
2. What spiritual need does our ministry address? If we’re honest, we must admit that this question rarely gets asked. We know why we are in ministry – to share the love Christ. But how we do that can take dozens of different forms, each meeting a unique spiritual need. Today’s reality demands that ministries speak to these spiritual needs or they won’t reach their communities. From young to old, everyone is already overscheduled and maxed out. To break into this busy-ness, you must clearly meet a pressing need.
3. What assumptions have we built into our outreach efforts? I began by comparing two very different ministry outreach efforts. Even if you have the best ministry strategy that will meet the spiritual needs of your community, you must effectively communicate that for the ministry to take place. It’s important to carefully consider what is implied or assumed in those communications. For example, if the promotional materials for your small groups ministry features families gathered together including small children, someone may assume either that children are welcome at the gatherings or that singles or elderly are not welcome. Neither may be true yet both conclusions are logical and could keep people from taking part in this ministry.
Dr. Pamela Ovwigho / Dr. Pamela Ovwigho, a Nebraska-based researcher and psychologist, who writes and speaks about life transformation and spiritual growth. She serves as the Executive Director for the Center for Bible Engagement, a division of Back to the Bible.