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And they call it outreach

December 5, 2012

I saw an article online about a church in England that offers “daycare” for husbands while their wives are out Christmas shopping.  Apparently the idea is that the couple drives to the church and the wife drops the hubby off and then goes around to nearby stores doing her Christmas shopping.  When done, she returns and picks him up and he gets to carry all the bags home.  I gather that the church offers some sort of activities for the men to pass the time; probably some sort of manly equivalent to the toys in a preschool daycare.  I confess the whole idea conjures up some funny images in my head.

Not that long ago, when a church used the term “outreach” the range of things they meant was pretty narrow.  Perhaps they were going to go door-to-door with tracts.  Or they might conduct some event at church and invite people.  Then there was the tried-and-true revival meeting you could always hold.  You could probably count the various methods of outreach on your fingers or, at worst, you’d have to add a few toes.

But those days are gone.  Now great energy goes into developing new and creative outreach methods.  Everybody is trying to come up with some sure-fire way to reach out to the unchurched.  I’ve been in churches where we washed cars for free in a Chick-fil-A parking lot.  Since washing a whole car is pretty tedious you can also go around a parking lot washing just the windows.  Service projects by churches at schools have gotten so common that some school districts have developed rules and regulations for them.  The list of projects I’ve been involved in, considered or heard about is endless.  Some are clever, some funny, some downright bizarre.

If some church comes up with an idea that works for them the word spreads, often by them writing a book about it, and before you know it hundreds of churches do it.  Oddly enough “sure-fire” never seems to be a term you can use to describe any such outreach method.

I am sure that the experience of reading about some method that worked wonders in Church A and then trying it, following their detailed instructions, at Church B with dismal results is discouraging.  I am also sure it happens all too often.  I’ve been there.  Several years ago the church I was attending heard about a Christmas outreach by another church where they wrapped Christmas presents for free outside a department store.  The response for that church was amazing.  Yet, somehow, when we tried the same thing, it could only be called a success if you consider getting a lot of people to stare you like you had two heads a success.

I can’t help but wonder if the obsession with “methods” is simply a product of American cultural fascination of “how to” teaching and our obsession with easy steps to follow.  After all, the long process of getting to know people; getting to an open and honest two-way communication of trust; and earning the right to speak truth with love into an abiding friendship sounds a lot harder doesn’t it?

 

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