Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Outreach: Small is often Better Than Big

When over two hundred people showed up for the Christmas outreach we were understandably excited. The combined membership of our two new churches in Kyushu was about ten (including the missionaries) so this was a big event for us. We rented a nice room in a local mall, had decorations, music, a gospel message, and everyone received bags of homemade goodies prepared by the church ladies. It seemed to have been a great success.

However, there were problems: the church ladies complained that it had been too much work; there was disappointment that no one had gotten saved; the event cost more than we could afford; it wore us out. I tried to follow up on the new contacts we made but when I called a few of them they clearly did not like the intrusion.

Several years later we were on staff with a new church in Yokosuka. At this church we established a “Gospel Live House.” The concept is from mainstream “Live Houses” popular in Japan which are venues with live music, food and drinks.

We held our “Gospel Live House” four times a year. It was easy to create a relaxed atmosphere in our church by moving out most of the chairs, adding some tables, and providing simple homemade snacks and drinks. We had a live performance and charged 500 yen per person.

The quality and type of music varied a lot. One time we had smooth jazz by skilled musicians. Another time an awful rock band from a local college performed. We never had preaching on the program. Usually, one of the performers would share a short testimony and most, but not all, of the music had gospel themes.

We had a lot of fun with our Gospel Live Houses and they were one of the reasons that we had a thriving church. This was effective outreach. Why did it work out so well?

Doable: The quarterly rhythm did not wear us out and gave us adequate time to prepare for the next one. We held it in the church and it did not require a big staff; the 500 yen per person cover charge paid most, if not all, expenses.

Consistent: People looked forward to the next Gospel Live House. They knew what to expect so they were able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Contextual: What we did and how we did it was appropriate for our church and for our community, it was a good “fit” for our situation. Almost any wholesome activity that a few people in your community are interested in can be a means of gathering people.

Relational: Rather than gathering a large crowd so we could preach at them (very few people like to be preached at and those that do are almost ALL in the church already) we tried to build relationships. The warm atmosphere made it possible to get to know individuals, to become friends and to let them know that we cared about them.

Enjoyable: Did I say it was a lot of fun? This was an important reason people kept coming back and why they brought their friends. We all enjoyed it.

Are big events bad? No, they have their place and can work well.

The good news is, small groups can effectively do outreach because intimate gatherings are often better for building relationships. The single most important factor is genuine love for people. If we don’t have that, we have nothing. And, how we do outreach is not nearly as important as caring, really caring about people which always involves sacrifice.

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