I have been leading outreaches and helping both new church plants and “stuck” older churches energize their outreaches for almost forty years now and I have come up with a litmus test of sorts in the field: I ask the church planter/outreach leader to show me the tool kit they keep in the backseat or trunk of their personal vehicle.
You can tell much about a ministry leader by the tools they feel are essential. If there is not a roll of duct tape and a can of WD-40 in their kit, we might have serious problems. Everyone can use these two tools, regardless of mechanical ability. Not having them on hand very clearly indicates your diminished level of readiness for the unexpected and your lack of comfort with adaptation. Simply being available, is the first step towards becoming more outwardly focused as a leader of a church or ministry. Being available, means having a posture of readiness and adaptability. You are going to make mistakes, but remember to embrace those mistakes and learn from them. Some of my best outreach ideas were the results of trial and error. I am always making tweaks and adjustments, even on my best outreaches.
Over the years I have learned that church leadership can be boiled down into two basic tasks: make some things go faster and easier, make other things stop. This may sound like an oversimplification, but indulge me on this extended metaphor. As a leader, your primary job is to make things run more smoothly. At many times as a leader, you will need to properly lubricate the gears and cogs of your church: The volunteers. The best outreaches are fun, fast, and free of friction. In other words, your involvement is to be the oil that keeps things running smooth. At other times, you are going to need to be the MacGyver of your church. You are going to need to be proficient at duct tape engineering, which is a step up from the chewing gum and bailing wire most church planters make do with. You need to role model that adaptation is fun and exciting. You need to lead by example and not just accept change, embrace it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and if you want to be innovative as a church leader, you need to put yourself in situations that you not only hope God shows up, your success is completely dependent on it. That means you need to be like the people in The Book of Acts. Read the first two chapters and notice the emphasis: They Were Out Among The People!
If you are planting a church today you need to focus less on your meeting place and more on being out and about engaging strangers. The old model of growing your church through relationship (inviting only your neighbors, friends, and family to attend a church service) is not only terribly ineffective, it isn’t even biblical. How many times did Jesus admonish His followers, telling them that anyone can love their own friends, but if you want to follow me, you have to love strangers? The way you meet new people, is the same way Jesus did: always be on the move and among the people.
Most church pastors and planters are astonished when I suggest the majority of the problems they are facing, regardless of the stage they are at, can be fixed by simply doing more outreach. Just like duct tape, if something is broken, and outreach can’t fix it, you just aren’t using enough of it. This sounds like folksy wisdom, but sometimes horse sense is exactly what you need.
You will often hear me say that a church planter really needs to spend at least 500 hours in the field, per year doing outreach. I don’t mean by delegation or leading from afar. They need to roll up their sleeves and do some work. Do you have a difficult member in your church, or somebody in conflict? Don’t just invite them out for a cup of coffee or to your office for a navel gazing session, take them out and go serve someone together! You can still have meaningful dialogue as you rake leaves or wash a car together, in fact I promise you that the dialogue will be even better. Sweat equity improves everything, especially perspective. Nothing gets you out of your own funk like focusing on the needs of someone else.
Sadly, I can’t count on one hand the number of times I have been sent to a church to help “energize” their stuck outreach program, only too find the core leadership has not adopted outreach as a lifestyle. They may organize a handful of activities every year, but they are not spontaneously serving throughout the week in person, outside of a church event. You can’t develop outward focused leaders, unless you are living in God’s outflow of kindness. Have you ever seen the show Bar Rescue? I can become a bit like Jon Taffer if I arrive at a church pretending to be outward with lip service, only to find that the core leadership has not been leading by example. In fact, I can get downright ornery if a person tells me they are called to plant churches, but only want to do it from the comfort of their home of office. The best way to grow your your church is to hit the streets and serve your city, over, over again. If you serve them generously, they will come, follow, and eventually lead.