Summary: Is Outreach Evangelism a compromise of the Great Commission?
The "Outreach" approach to evangelism and inviting people to church has become a fast-growing phenomenon in recent years. In light of that fact it has also come under heavy criticism with such accusations as “they are compromising the Great Commission to please people" or, "they water down the message just so they can grow large church’s", etc. It has also been said that becoming Outreach oriented will cause the church to ignore the Bible, address only "safe" subjects, and use "gimmicks" to draw a crowd.
Not too long ago a survey of churches representing a wide variety of denominations was taken by the Barna Research Group. The church members were asked what they felt the purpose of the Church was. 89% responded that the Church was there to meet their own needs. 11% responded that the purpose of the Church was to win people to Jesus. The pastors were asked the same questions and in complete contrast 91% responded that the main purpose of the church was to win people to Jesus with only 9% responding that it was to meet members needs. It’s no wonder that churches aren’t growing and pastors are constantly changing churches.
Fulfilling The Great Commission
The primary reason many churches take an “Outreach” approach to ministry is to win the lost by presenting biblical truths in terms people can understand, in ways that are culturally relevant, not in traditional "Christianeze". Conducting ministry in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the spiritual seeker is to present biblical truth through various means of communication that is interesting, stimulating, credible, and compelling. We no longer speak in Shakespearean English because our culture has changed. If it had not been for Gutenberg, the Bible may have remained for only the “religious” and not for the common people as well. Some of the early revivalists attached Christian lyrics to the cultural music played in the local bars to help attract the lost.
The emphasis of the "Great Commission" is to go and “MAKE DISCIPLES". That means leaving the ninety-nine and going after the one lost sheep. That is the fundamental purpose of the Church. We are to reach “out” to the world for Jesus by becoming “fishers of men” not “keepers of the aquarium”. You can’t clean the fish until you catch them. The Holy Spirit first speaks to the fish and tells them its time to eat. In order to attract the fish you need a lure that will grab their attention. However, even with a great lure, you can’t catch the fish with a bare hook, you need bait that the fish likes and is attracted to. The bait is what the church has to offer - its programs, style, music, teaching, small groups, etc. Yet, even after catching the fish there is still the problem of keeping the fish in the boat. If the church does not offer specific connection and integration strategies to assimilate the unchurched they will work their way out of the net and back into the water.
Additional research by the Barna Group tells us that less than 25% of those who currently attend church were personally invited to church. Even more frightening is the fact that only 10% of first time visitors ever return. What does that say about the state of the church?