Earlier today I was on a conference call with the ministry team leaders of a local church. In addition to discussing the new healthy eating and nutrition classes, urban garden project, tutoring and mentoring programs, we also discussed how to best engage friends, families, and people in the community around why they should come to church.
As we talked about the importance of what the church has to offer, several people suggested that as each of us talks to friends and community members about why they should come to Church. In doing so, it was stated that each person should share their personal passion and why they attend.
Although expressing our personal passion for church and faith is important, we have to be mindful that outreach is self-centered. What I mean by that is this: when you read the Gospel and look at the ministry of Jesus, many people came to him because of their self-interest. They heard about what Jesus was doing in the lives of other people and wanted Him to do the same in their lives. Some came because they wanted physical healing for their bodies, such as the lame, blind and sick. Others came because they wanted healing for someone they knew, such as the Centurion (Luke 7:1-10). There were also times when Jesus heard about or came across people in need of healing and He met their need. All of which are self-interest.
When we talk to people about our faith and why they should want a relationship with God, we should not only talk about salvation but about how God can meet their self-interest much like Jesus with many of the people He encountered. If they are hungry you should talk about our ministries that offer food, if they are ill you should talk about our health ministries, if they need shelter you should talk about housing ministries, if they are looking for a job we should talk about your employment ministries, etc.
Self-interest has drawn many people to church and then to Christ. It's in the Bible. Our ministries and evangelism efforts are not about what we want, they are about what other people want and what God wants. When you are trying to reach others for Christ, the best strategy is to be a good listener. Listen and look for their self-interest and seek to offer them what they are looking for not what you believe they should want.
During my workshops on gangs and why they are successful at recruiting, I often share that gangs are good at paying attention to what young people want and then offering to meet those needs. Sometimes our challenge in the church is that we offer people what we think they need and what we think they should want, without paying attention to their self-interest. One of the reasons why in some cities gangs are growing faster than youth ministries or even faster than churches is because the recruit based on self-interest (meeting tangible needs).
When the ministries of the church do a good job of addressing self-interest, the word gets out about what the church is doing and it starts to spread until you begin to see people showing up because they heard about what Jesus has been doing through those who are called by His name.
As you think about people you would like to invite to church, ask yourself "what are their self-interest and does the church offer any ministries that can meet their need?"
There's a saying, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." Actually you can if you put a little salt in the oats and make them thirsty. That's how we draw people to Christ. When we show them the love of Christ through our genuine desire to meet their needs, by the grace of God they will thirst for living waters.