Check Your Church’s Outreach Heartbeat
God wants to draw people into our fellowship with the assurance that they will be embraced by grace and introduced to the Savior, Jesus. But this can happen only when the people in our church are deeply in love with God.
When we are, our heartbeat is strong. When we do not love God, it is difficult for us to love others. As God looks at the spiritual monitor that registers the evangelistic heartbeat of a church, he sees one of several different patterns. What do you think God sees when he looks at your church?
Some churches have a loud, high drone and a flatline on their heart monitor. There is no love for God, nor is there a relentless love for the lost. These churches are closed off to visitors, their community, and the world. They don’t reach out or train their members to share Jesus’ love.
Prayer for their community is nonexistent. There was a heartbeat at some time in the distant past, but today the church is flatlining.
If this describes your church, don’t lose hope! We believe in a God who can raise the dead. Heaven is watching your church’s heart monitor, and the Spirit of God is always ready to send a pulse of heavenly energy into your congregation’s heart to bring it back to life. God is ready to return your church to her first love, Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit is ready to move your church from apathy to passion.
Sometimes when a doctor checks for a pulse, he’ll say, “I have a pulse, but it’s weak.” There is still life in the body, but action needs to be taken quickly to sustain it.
Many churches have a pulse and there is life, but it’s faint. There is love for God and for people, but it is waning.
If this is a picture of your church, be honest and admit it. You might have a map on a wall somewhere with several pins showing where you send money to support missionaries. You might do an event or two each year that “spiritual seekers” are welcome to attend. You might even try to be friendly if a guest or visitor happens to wander into your church on a Sunday morning.
But honestly, your passion for outreach is gone.
Your church lacks a desperate love for God that will drive you into the world with his good news. You are nice to people who visit your church, but you don’t go out of your way to reach those who are far from God. You send money overseas, but you don’t engage the mission field right next door.
If this describes your congregation, you too need to fall in love with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all over again. Yes, you still care. You love God, and you love people. But it is time to rehabilitate your congregation’s heart.
You might need to do some spiritual exercise and fortify your heart to make it beat strongly again. The heart is a muscle, and if you use it, it becomes stronger.
Sometimes a heart races wildly. This can be very dangerous, because if a person’s heart pumps too fast for too long, it can lead to cardiac arrest and eventually death.
Some churches’ monitor shows that their heart is beating two or three times faster than a healthy heart. Because these churches love God and want to be faithful to his love for lost people, they launch outreach program after outreach program and initiative after initiative. Church members grow tired and exhausted as the congregation jumps into the latest evangelistic fads.
Outreach is not organic in a church like this. Instead, it feels fabricated and inauthentic. While the motives are right, the practice of outreach is so forced that it fails to bear much fruit. Churches like this often experience frustration when they try lots of programs but never find something that works. They invest lots of money and time, and they genuinely love God, but lost people rarely come to know and embrace Jesus.
These churches need to love God enough to slow down. If they want to establish an organic culture of outreach, they need to do less to accomplish more. Better yet, they need to channel their energy, time, and resources into a sustainable approach to church-wide evangelism. Whatever the condition of your church’s heart, know that God is ready to increase your love quotient. Evangelism is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s not a fad; it’s the fabric of a healthy church. It’s not a system or a program; it’s the natural fruit of a church that loves God.
GETTING BACK TO YOUR FIRST LOVE
The first and most critical step a church needs to take to move toward healthy outreach is to develop a growing love for God. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says to the church of Ephesus, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Whenever our love for God ceases to be first place in our hearts, our vision for reaching out wanes.
Jesus made this clear when he taught his disciples that the first and most important of all the commandments is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” This is not just our calling as individual followers of Christ; it is also our calling as a church. If we forget our first love, our collective heart will grow cold, and nothing that we do will have the impact we desire.
Loving God does not begin with our own efforts. It is based on the awareness that God was passionately seeking us long before we ever sought him. In the letter of First John, we find a powerful tutorial on the love of God. We learn, first and foremost, that God is love. Because of his love for us, we can become children of God. The depth of the Father’s love was revealed when he sent his only Son to this earth to die in our place, on the cross, for our sins. As we are grounded in God’s love for us and as we learn to walk in this love, we will continue to grow in our love for people and for God.
If your church is struggling to invest in reaching your community and the world, ask yourself this question: are we a church that is on fire with a passion for God? If reaching out to others has been pushed to the back burner (or off the stove entirely), it probably won’t help to add some spice to the meal. You need to start by turning up the heat.
Maybe your church has lost its first love.
Remember, God so loved the world that he gave.
Love gives. And when a congregation’s heart pounds hard for God, we give of ourselves—our time, our resources, our lives—to love others.
This article adapted from Organic Outreach for Churches.
Kevin Harney is the Lead Pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, CA. He is the author of many books on outreach and church health including: Organic Outreach for Ordinary People, The U-Turn Church, and Organic Outreach for Churches. He has also launched a yearly outreach training event called The Organic Outreach Conference along with the web site OrganicOutreach.org with free outreach resources.