My past few posts have been about the link between Sunday School and outreach/evangelism. For some background, you can review these posts here:
- 5 Reasons to Consider Organized Outreach
- A Theology of Evangelism
- A Philosophy of Sunday School Outreach
- Evangelism and Sunday School
My perspective of the current trend in many churches today is that outreach is not being done in an organized way. It is not being done by the Sunday School or any other church organization. A survey I took last year at the BGCO Annual Meeting and the BGCO Evangelism Conference revealed that only 6 of 148 churches in the survey considered evangelism to be a strength of their small group organization. Also, this same survey results reveal that 96 of the 148 churches consider evangelism to be the weakest aspect of their Sunday School.
Outreach began falling out of favor in the 90’s and 2000’s and churches began winding down the Tuesday night outreach plan. Unfortunately, churches did not replace old outreach strategies with new strategies. As a result, Sunday School was re-engineered as an assimilation strategy and most churches moved their evangelism emphasis to worship services and events. Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger seems to relegate Sunday School and small groups into step two, assimilation. For many churches, Sunday School or small group has become where people are sent after they have been reached through front-door events. This only reinforces the view that Sunday School and small groups are not effective at outreach.
Enter Saddleback! For the past 10 years, Saddleback has higher participation in their small groups than in their worship. How have they accomplished this? By making small groups their evangelism strategy. Each year, Saddleback does some type of “40 Days Campaign“. During this 40 day emphasis, they major on three things:
1) Start new groups;
2) Fill those new groups with unreached people.
3) Emphasize a simple Gospel explanation.
Saddleback’s primary strategy to reach lost people with the Gospel is accomplished through its small group organization. Saddleback is an example that Sunday School/small groups are effective in evangelism in today’s world. Seriously, if you can reach lost people with the Gospel through small groups in a city like Los Angeles, you can do it just about anywhere. As a result of Saddleback’s success in this area, 40 Days style campaigns are popping up everywhere as churches learn that they can use their Sunday School or small group organization as a strategy to reach people with no religious affiliation.
Why are Saddleback’s 40 Day Campaigns so effective?
- Expansion. New groups are started. New people are not squeezed into existing groups where social circles have already formed.
- New groups expand the church’s base of ministry. Let’s bring Saddleback’s example down to size for most churches. If your church’s average attendance is 75 and you want reach 50 new people this year (which would be very aggressive for a smaller attendance church), which would be the most effective way to reach them? a) Try to push new people into your existing 5 groups? b) Start 5 new groups for new people to join?
- Responsibility. The people in the church, especially those starting new groups, are responsible to invite and bring their friends to their group. In many churches, the responsibility for reaching people is held by the church institution. Not so in a 40 days campaign.
- Intentionality. For 40 days, the church’s primary emphasis is reaching as many people as possible by inviting them to a group. Evangelizing through groups is emphasized in every worship experience. Small groups is “the thing” for 40 days.
- Evangelism. In a Saddleback 40 days campaign, they present a clear explanation of the Gospel and then ask for commitment.
Look at my list from the post “Evangelism and Sunday School” and compare the list on that post (which has a traditional look to it) to what Saddleback is doing in a 40 Days campaign. Do you see any similarities?
I am not suggesting that you immediately adopt a “40 Days” approach to outreach and evangelism. It is not for everyone. However, there are options out there and some of them (like Saddleback’s) are very creative.
In my next post, I am going to present a more traditional approach to outreach and evangelism that many of our churches in Oklahoma can adapt and accomplish.