Crosswalk.com aims to offer the most compelling biblically-based content to Christians on their walk with Jesus. Crosswalk.com is your online destination for all areas of Christian Living – faith, family, fun, and community. Each category is further divided into areas important to you and your Christian faith including Bible study, daily devotions, marriage, parenting, movie reviews, music, news, and more.

Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

With culture in such a rapid state of flux, with the dominant headline being the increasingly post-Christian nature of our world, many churches are uncertain how best to respond in terms of outreach. They know they aren’t reaching the unchurched as effectively as they would like, but they don’t always feel comfortable trying to emulate the fast-growing models they see and hear so much about.

More specifically, they don’t feel they can. You walk through a megachurch children’s ministry and see a built-in climbing wall in a first-grade room, and it’s hard to know what there is to feel except envy.

Fair enough.

So here are five outreach shifts that almost every church should be able to make – regardless of style or structure, tradition or denomination – that will help situate your church toward greater effectiveness at reaching the unchurched. And each one can be followed no matter your church size and no matter your budget. 

1.  Change Your Outreach Focus from Easter to Christmas Eve.

Here’s something that isn’t often talked about, but I’m prepared to say is a new principle: Christmas Eve is the Super Bowl of outreach, not Easter. 

There are many reasons for this, and none of them have anything to do with the church. Here are two: 1) an ever-increasing number of schools and colleges schedule their spring breaks around Easter, making Easter weekend one of the biggest “suitcase” weekends (travel/vacation weekends) of the year; 2) Easter has been effectively secularized into little more than the bunnies and egg hunts.

So why is Christmas Eve better for outreach?

First, unlike Easter and the resurrection, it continues to be primarily related to the birth of Jesus. Second, it is not a “suitcase” night – if people travel, it is to gather with other family members, not vacation. Third, unlike the “weekend” or Sunday-centric nature of Easter, Christmas Eve services can be scheduled for multiple days leading up to and including Christmas Eve. Fourth – and most important –  there is a larger number of unchurched people present at Christmas Eve, undoubtedly due to attending being more of a family event than Easter (which is viewed as more of a spiritual event).

At Meck, we routinely have larger attendance figures for our Christmas Eve services than we do our Easter services. Easter weekend is big, to be sure, and is our second-largest series of services. But it’s not as big as Christmas Eve.

Lesson? Quit putting all of your eggs in the Easter basket and get serious about Christmas Eve. 

2.  Drop Direct Mail and Move to Social Media.

When I started Meck, nothing was better than direct mail. That was, of course, 25 years ago. It’s not better anymore. In fact, it’s often a waste of Kingdom money. It can still be effective if targeted toward new residents, or specific demographics, but the more specific direct mail becomes, the more expensive it becomes.

(And please, don’t even think about an ad on the “church” page of your newspaper. You are after the unchurched, right?)

A better use of your marketing efforts is online, such as ads on Pandora or, even better, through targeted pop-up ad responses to Google searches, or banner ads on the websites of local subdivisions, or the vast opportunities that exist on social media.

Speaking of social media, prepare things that your attenders can share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

And the good news for small churches? So much of this is not simply cheap, but free, with technology almost everyone already owns.

Lesson? No matter what style your church may be, there is no excuse to be out of style with media.

3.  Let Them Belong Before They Believe.

The most common way of thinking about outreach is that you get someone to believe in Jesus, and then you get them to belong to your church.

What if I told you the new reality is the opposite?

Today, people want to belong before they believe. They often have a lengthy adoption process as they move from spiritual and biblical illiteracy toward an understanding and acceptance of faith. So evaluate your outreach strategy in light of offering “belonging” opportunities that enable a movement toward believing. If you think I’m fishing for instituting a “seeker” service, think again.  

Yes, I believe that the front door of the church is still the weekend service.

Yes, I believe that biblically (e.g., I Cor. 14:23), we should make sure our services are understandable to those far from God.

But no, a full-blown seeker service strategy (which no one really does anymore, anyway) is not what is at hand. But that doesn’t mean you can’t provide lots of opportunity to belong before believing.

Examples might include “exploring” small groups, low-key serving opportunities that don’t require the embrace of the Christian faith (much less membership), as well as a simple atmosphere of acceptance for those who simply with to come and see, come and hear, come and explore.

Lesson? Believing is at the end of the process, not belonging.

4.  From Reach the Woman to Reach the Man.

For decades there has been a reality that no one owned: the church was designed for women and, as a result, that’s who they attracted. The service was for women, the music was for women, the décor was for women. I’m not saying this was intentional; it’s almost as if it happened by default. And don’t get me wrong – I am completely for women in the life of the church. Just not women as the life of the church in such a way that men are alienated.

So if the church has been unduly feminized, we shouldn’t wonder why there are so few men in attendance. Just like an African-American walking into a lily-white congregation might not feel comfortable returning, a man walking into a service decorated in pastels and flowers and “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs may not either.

Coupled with this is another truth that is seldom discussed related to how the dynamics of family outreach work. I don’t have a definitive study to back this up, just three-plus decades of being in the game: if you reach the man, you reach the rest of the family. But if all you do is reach the woman, you don’t tend to get much further in that family beyond the children. And without a supportive, involved, attending father, you don’t often keep the kids long after puberty. 

Lesson? The absence of men from the life of church is legendary; work on their presence, and you can change the size and scope of your church.

5.  From “You Build It They Will Come” to “You Create It They Will Invite.”

The old “Field of Dreams” mentality was that if you build something… like a great weekend event… they will come. Meaning crowds of unchurched people looking for a church home.

Um, no.

At least, not anymore. And it hasn’t been that way for a long, long time.

But if you create something that your current attenders intuitively sense would be perfect for their unchurched friends, they will begin inviting them to attend.

Yes, this may mean some changes to your current service on the front-end, but you might be surprised (and relieved) at how many of them are simply qualitative, and not necessarily stylistic.

At Meck, yes, we hear that people like our music and style of communication, but we just as often (if not more) hear that they appreciate our parking team, our signage that guides first-time guests, security within our children’s ministry and, most of all, friendliness.

Lesson? You can’t “build it” and have them come, but you can “create it” and have them be invited.

So there are just five things, among many others, that any church can take advantage of. 

No matter your size, no matter your budget.

James Emery White


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

This is a blog with a very specific audience. I know it may exclude some of you, but it may be healthy for you to eavesdrop.

This is for all the church planters and their volunteers on post-Easter Monday, struggling to make it from week-to-week, and for the leaders and members of established churches that are anything but “mega” – well below the 200 threshold in terms of average attendance.

I don’t know how Easter Sunday went for you, but I have a hunch. 

It was bigger than normal, but less than breakthrough. It was good, but not great. Your attendance was large, but not staggering; worth being happy about, but not writing home about. You are grateful to God, but now that Easter is over, there’s a bit of a letdown. You wanted so much more.

It was, in the end, a typical Easter Sunday.

And you are normal.

When you lead a church, you can't help but dream – and dream big. I think that’s one of the marks of a leader. But for most, it’s not long before the dream comes face to face with reality.

When I planted Meck, I just knew the mailer I sent out (We started churches with mailers in those days.) would break every record of response, and that we would be a church in the hundreds, if not already approaching a thousand, in a matter of weeks or months.

Willow Creek? Eat our dust. Saddleback? Come to our conference.

The reality was starting in a Hilton hotel in the midst of a tropical storm with 112 dripping wet people, and by the third weekend – through the strength of my preaching – cutting that sucker in half to a mere 56.

Actually, not even 56, because our total attendance was 56. This means there were 15 or 20 kids, so maybe 30 or so people actually sitting in the auditorium. 

(As a good church planter, I think we also counted people who walked slowly past the hotel ballroom doors in the hallway.)

Yes, we’ve grown over the years. 

But that’s the point. 

It’s taken years.

It usually does.

I know the soup of the day is rapid growth, but please don’t benchmark yourself against that. It’s not typical. It’s not even (usually) healthy. So stop playing that dark, awful game called comparison. It’s sick and terribly toxic. 

Really, stop it.

I don’t care who you are, there will always be someone bigger or faster-growing. So why torment yourself? Or worse, fall prey to the sins of envy and competition, as if you are benchmarked against other churches?

(Rumor has it the true “competition” is a deeply fallen secular culture that is held in the grip of the evil one. Just rumor, mind you.)

The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams. After a few months, or a year or two, it's morphed from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.

That’s okay.

You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call, or God’s love for you. 

I know it’s frustrating. We’ve got a lot of the world in us and thus look to worldly marks of success and affirmation.

But what matters is whether you are being faithful, not whether you are being successful. You’re not in this for human affirmation, but a “well done” from God at the end.

Did you preach the gospel yesterday?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your team do the best you could with what you had?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your church invite your unchurched friends to attend?

Then “well done.”

Did you pray on the front end, have faith, and trust?

Then “well done.”

Ignore the megachurches that tweet, blog and boast about their thousands in attendance.

Yep, even mine.

It’s not that we don’t matter. We do, and we’re very proud of the hard work of our volunteers and the lives we have the privilege of changing. There’s a place for us.

It’s just that you matter, too.

And you may need to remember that.

And perhaps most of all on the Monday after Easter.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note: This blog was first published in 2012 and has been offered annually on Easter Monday since that first publication.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

"Good" Friday (2017)

good (good) adj. bet∙ter, best a) a general term of approval or commendation; b) suitable to a purpose; effective; c) producing favorable results; beneficial

The amazing thing about Good Friday is that it was – and is – part of the “good” declared by God at creation. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV). The fall was not good; sin, disobedience and suffering are not good. But God’s purpose in creation and the redemptive drama that ensued were – and are – good.

Some would put God in the dock for placing such a burden on human life – that through our creation and giving us free will He knew the suffering we would experience. What is less noticed is how God always knew of Good Friday. In the rapture of creation, the cross loomed large. Yes, there would be suffering, but none more so than for God Himself. 

C.S. Lewis writes:

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

What an ultimate “good” this must have been; declared at creation, consummated on Golgotha. But it wasn’t a good designed for God; there is no good to be added, or deficit to be addressed, in His being. 

It was a good for us.

Many books have come out of late portraying the heart of God toward us as a lover pursuing the beloved, a fairy tale where God is the prince and we are the maiden. “Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden,” begins Soren Kierkegaard, who first fashioned the popular analogy. 

The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist – no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, or course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it’s only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

Yes, this is the heart of God, and He is on just such a mission.

But the deeper truth lies in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. We are not a beautiful maiden. There is nothing becoming in us whatsoever. Instead, we are desperately criminal, and the only rescue grace would bring would demand storming the Bastille in which we are rightfully held. This is precisely what He did. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8-9, NIV).

And that’s an even better story. And it’s the one story that the world does not already have, and most needs to hear.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note: This blog was first distributed in 2005, and has been offered annually on or near Good Friday since that first publication.


Sources

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.

Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments.


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Follow Crosswalk.com