Throughout my time in ministry, I have often found myself burdened by the nature of the local church. Now that’s not a blanket condemnation of the church. There are, in fact, many things that most churches seem to do pretty well: prayer, fellowship, worship, Bible study.
These tasks of the church, however, are largely self-focused. We tend to design our church experiences for ourselves — rather than for those who are outside the church. It’s been said that the church is the only institution that exists for those who are not members, yet so many times we don’t seem to realize that.
I have always been an advocate for Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and other ministries being largely outreach-oriented. I recently met someone who further underscores that belief. Her name is Vicki.
As a child, Vicki grew up in Missouri in what she describes as a pretty dysfunctional family. While past generations had been quite involved in church — even leadership positions, Vicki’s parents were not. Like so many American families, Vicki’s home had bibles here and there, but they only served to collect dust.
When Vicki was six, she walked down the street to a Lutheran church and jokes that she “didn’t understand a thing!” Through the years, Vicki attended church from time to time with several neighbors. However, her spiritual experience did not begin in earnest until the Vanderpool family moved into the neighborhood. Vicki said, “They truly took me in and saw to it that I was in church and involved in all things that a child should be involved in to learn the ways of our Lord!”
Vicki credits the Vanderpool family with leading her to a life-changing relationship with Christ. And while her own adult life in some ways has mirrored that of her parents, who divorced when she was barely a teenager, Vicki knows that God loves her and gives her the strength she needs to face every challenge of life. Vicki admits that she is somewhat shy by nature and, as a result, frequently finds herself reciting Philippians 4:13 even when walking into a room full of new people.
And although her current occupation pretty much prevents her from attending regular church services, Vicki is intentional about maintaining a regular time of prayer and personal Bible study, a support group of Christian friends, and a steady diet of God’s Word presented through CD’s and television. Vicki is someone who is passionate about growing in her relationship with God, and she uses her life to encourage other people to find relationship with him as well. Through her work and her connections on social networking sites, Vicki is an unashamed follower of Christ.
Vicki takes to heart the old adage that she may be the only Jesus that some people ever see. And she wants to represent Him well.
I can’t help but wonder how many lives have been touched — all because a Christian family in her neighborhood took seriously their responsibility to the Great Commission. The Vanderpools understood that their own mission field was right in their neighborhood.
Vicki, more than most, understands full well the importance of outreach in the life of a congregation. She explains,
I truly believe we have to get OUTSIDE the walls of church! Why? Because we are called to be like Christ. And although He did teach and read in the temple, His main outreach was going where the people were!”
There’s no better time than now to begin evaluating all the church’s ministries through a lens of outreach. With so many American congregations experiencing decline, I believe we must get back to the basics and renew our commitment to not only nourish our own souls but also to go and reach and teach and disciple those who have yet to understand the message of Christ.
Statistics consistently show that if a person has not accepted Christ by the age of 19, then they likely never will. I can think of no greater motivation to ‘think outreach’ in all we do as a church.
. . . open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35b)
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