A Minister’s Take On Church Steps Outreach (Part 3) by Jimmy Hinton

This is Jimmy Hinton’s third and final blog on how the Church Steps Outreach has been working for their congregation. I am so encouraged by this! Thanks Jimmy for passing this along. Praise God that He is up to some mighty things when it comes to reaching the lost!

In the two previous blogs, I laid down some of the guiding principles and theology behind what we do for our Church Steps Outreach.  This final blog will lay down some specifics for what a typical week looks like. I called Matt last fall to ask specific questions about how they do their steps outreach.  He did give some specifics, but told me that one size doesn’t fit all.  For example, Pennsylvania’s culture is different than Florida’s.  St. Petersburg’s population is 245,000.  Somerset’s is almost 7,000.  You get the picture.  We ended up keeping the same 5 steps that Matt laid out in previous blogs (Attract, Welcome, Relationships, Transformation, and Integrate).  We also use the same template that Matt uses at his congregation for our Wednesday nights (see link below under #2), but with minor adjustments.  For example, instead of a 20 minute devotional, we do 30 minutes, with the remaining 30 minutes working through the template.

Because we are a rural church, Wednesday attendance has always suffered.  Before beginning Steps, our average Sunday attendance was just over 70 and our Wednesday attendance hovered around 20.  Since 20 people were present on Wednesdays, we began with all of them.  I took adequate time to explain what each of the 5 steps were, then had everyone sign up to minister in one group.  Several asked me where I felt they would serve best.  I emphasized that people should pray about it and only sign up for a group where they would best be using their gifts.  In other words, they shouldn’t sign up for a group just because it looked like that group needed more warm bodies.  We all worked together to organize us 20 into the best group possible for each of us.

 Wednesday Nights:

1. 30 minute devotional—The devotional is always rooted in scriptures about evangelism and the church’s response to new converts.  We began with 1 Corinthians 12-14 and are now going through Acts.  This is really helping us all develop a healthy theology of evangelism and the examples laid out in Acts are giving us courage and confidence to model the behavior of the first Christians.

2. 30 minute template—Don’t let the word template scare you.  I probably prefer the word “structure” over template but either way, the point is that you are consistent each week.  You can see a copy of Matt’s template here: https://mattdabbs.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/churchstepsclasstemplate.pdf  We do everything the same except the times have been adjusted.  In 3 months, the only thing we have changed at this point are the time adjustments.  This structure is so important because it allows everyone to communicate and celebrate what blessings have been going on throughout the week, where new visitors are in their journey, and who has/has not been contacted throughout the week.

3.  How do we keep it all together?–Communication, communication, communication.  As I mentioned before, e-mails are a lifeline for us.  I’ve created distribution lists for each of the 5 groups in my e-mail contacts.  They are always kept current as we add people to each group.  I remind each of the 5 groups almost weekly how important each of their ministries are and offer them encouragement (usually through a mass e-mail to all 5 groups at once).  I took a lot of time this week and, for the first time, e-mailed each of the 5 groups a separate e-mail with some reflections and suggestions to fine-tune their specific ministry.  Then I emphasized the need for each of the 5 groups to have weekly contact within their own group so that they know who (of the new people) they are responsible for.  We have tried to not let one week go without having some sort of contact with our new people.  Until they are fully integrated into the church, they will need very consistent contact with their new church family.

4.  Not just a way to get new people—Everything we do is deeply, I mean deeply, rooted in God’s commission for us to reach a lost and dying world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  If people are doing this to pad their numbers at church, new people will see through them immediately and run.  We are all being driven by a love for God and a love of neighbor.  We reach people because we love them and care about them, not because we want to grow the church.  Though there is a structure in place, we must never lose sight that we are doing this because we genuinely love people, want them to join our family, and want to spend eternity with them.  We reach everyone the same regardless of social-economic status.  We have no target demographic.  We have no agenda.  We simply call others to join us in blessing people, teaching them, and joining together as the body of Christ in response, to further grow, equip, and mature.

A Minister’s Take On Church Steps Outreach (Part 2) by Jimmy Hinton

More from Jimmy Hinton on how they have implemented Church Steps Outreach in Pennsylvania!

Hopefully my previous blog brought some encouragement to ministers of small congregations who may feel stuck in a rut or who are just trying to be more evangelistic.  Just to share a little more background—I’ve always believed (and still do!) what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, namely that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  But I have learned that there is far more than just preaching scripture, and it demands real action from everyone in the church.  Sermons alone don’t cut it.  Let’s be real.  How many ministers put every ounce of energy, prayer, and time into sermons, wake up early Sunday morning to pray over their notes, spend time in prayer specifically asking God to prepare hearts, then they deliver the Word with every ounce of raw energy they have left, hoping that the sermon will finally be the holy grail of all sermons?  You know, the one that kick starts your anemic congregation into spiritual fruit-producing action?  The sermon resonates.  You can see it on their faces.  Finally!  A breakthrough!  You get the high fives as people exit the building.  Wheels are turning and ideas are renewed.  Then next Sunday the same tired eyes look toward you longing for another zinger to get them through the week.  You soon realize that you are tired, your elders and deacons (if you have any) are tired, and even the pew potatoes are tired.  What inevitably happens when people are tired, bored, and frustrated?  That’s right. . . church fight!!

I’ve seen fights break out in small churches that, when investigated, began out of sheer boredom.  Kids do this all the time.  Lock 2 or 3 kids in a room with no toys for an hour, tell them to sit still, and see what happens.  A lot of church sickness is rooted in unfocused leadership combined with boredom and ending in frustration.  Unfocused leadership usually results from a failure of us ministers to properly equip, teach, and train the saints, and boredom because, more often than not, ministers at small churches either don’t show others how to help or leaders don’t allow them to.  I’ve seen a lot of burned out ministers of small churches claim that they do most of the work and that many of their members are lazy.  I don’t believe this to be the case at all.  How many Christians show up to church and say, “Let’s see how little I can contribute to these chumps!”?  I’ve found that the majority of people are begging leaders to let them serve and the leaders don’t know how (or seem to have the time to) show them how to serve.  So. . . what have I learned in the last few years that are guiding principles which can help a church become evangelistic?

1.  Structure is vital—Most small churches I’ve been to are warm and genuinely welcome and care for visitors.  But once a visitor has come in the door a few times, the regular members are usually not attentive to their needs anymore and let them slip through the cracks.  Through our Steps Outreach, we have given members specific ministries that are all tied in to directing, guiding, teaching, and discipling our visitors.  No longer do visitors come in and 3 months down the road wonder if anyone even still notices them.  We are now working on a plan to assimilate our new people into the church and give each one of them a clear purpose.

2.  Community is vital—Paul tells us that the church is Christ’s body and that every single member is valued and must work in conjunction with every other member.  Luke tells us that the church “had everything in common.”  Both Paul and Jesus offer warnings against idle members.  If we read it in the Bible, why don’t we practice it?  We must genuinely believe in every single member, faults and all, and believe that they are capable of (and should be) working just the same as the next person beside them.

3.  Communication is vital—In the last 3 months e-mail has become a lifeline, and so has our discussion time on Wednesday evenings.  With almost 30 new visitors, we have a lot to keep track of.  We try to know what the needs of our visitors are—what works for them, what doesn’t, who’s ready for Bible studies, and who isn’t.  As communication breaks down, so does the ministry.

4.  The biblical cycle of Blessing-Gospel message-Church response-Further blessing is vital—Acts 3 & 4 are this cycle in action!  Peter and John heal a crippled man at the Temple (blessing).  That man publicly rejoices in the Lord.  Peter preaches the Gospel to the attentive crowd and 5,000 men believe as a result.  Peter and John are arrested and released.  They return to their church and pray.  The church responds by being one in mind and sharing possessions.  And so the cycle repeats: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33 NIV).  Interestingly, our new people have taken the lead in attracting others to Jesus and inviting them to church!  We are there to bless them and reach them with the Gospel message.  The church is responding in healthy ways, which further blesses others.

5.  Peace is Vital—Believe me when I say that not all agree on method.  We don’t argue about this, we celebrate it.  To be honest, I was quite nervous even suggesting that we change the structure of Wednesday evenings.  We are pretty traditional and have never, to my knowledge, changed the structure of Wednesday evenings in our 113 year history until February of this year.  We communicated it well and let people know that if they disagreed with the way we do something, they needed to offer suggestions rather than attacks.  Peace has been a welcomed friend and has allowed us to grow and mature.

More tomorrow on what this all looks like in action.

From Matt:

This is so encouraging to me to learn from Jimmy’s structure here. I love innovation and transformation. In sharing this, Jimmy is helping me refine our process too! One of the things we are considering is making this a regular part of our small group ministry (1 Sunday night each month, all groups would work through this process). Thanks Jimmy for taking the lead, bringing about change and dealing with people in loving ways. Praise God for the results He is bringing to your congregation!

A Minister’s Take On Church Steps Outreach (Part 1) by Jimmy Hinton

JimmyHintonI minister at the Somerset Church of Christ in Somerset, PA.  The question was brought to me around Thanksgiving 2012—“Could you teach a class on evangelism?”  This was a great topic to teach because in 2012 I preached the entire year on the Great Commission.  Yet, despite the polite pats on my shoulder week after week and the frequent “What a powerful and motivating sermon,” the numbers were beyond troubling—not one single new person was added to our small church in 2012.  Either God had abandoned his church of 75 or we had fallen in love with the idea of evangelism but didn’t know how to actually evangelize (myself included).  Something needed to change or we were one generation away from joining the ranks of the numerous Churches of Christ in the Northeast who are closing their doors for good.

This was going to be our ticket, a class on evangelism!  Then I came across Matt Dabbs’ blog series on their Steps Outreach Ministry.  One line struck me, (paraphrasing) “Isn’t Bible study our answer to everything?”  Instead of teaching about evangelism, Matt had a vision for doing evangelism.  This was my “aha” moment.  A lifetime of “survival mode” church mentality flashed before my very eyes.  I’ve been part of small churches my whole life.  In my 33 years, I can only recall witnessing roughly 40 baptisms and I know of several of those who have left the church.  How did we get to this point?  80% of the Churches of Christ are 100 members or less, yet we ministers are failing to equip the saints to evangelize a lost and dying world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have a deep love for small rural churches and am quite familiar with them—familiar enough to know that most of the ones I’ve visited or have ministered at are wrestling with their own survival.  Many small churches have leaders who are worn out and members (including leaders) who simply do not know how to reach the lost.  It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they’ve never been taught by example.

Something had to change.  I presented the idea of Steps Outreach to our tiny, tired Wednesday night group.  We fleshed it out for a couple of months and in February of this year, decided to implement it.  In 3 months, we more than doubled our Wednesday attendance, we’ve had close to 30 new local visitors with the majority of those having made us their church home, we had 4 baptisms this week, we have more demand for Bible studies than we have people to lead them, we have 4 new people who don’t read or write and who have never before found a church to accept them (one of those 4 was baptized last night!), and our boost in Sunday attendance has given worship a more meaningful direction and purpose for everyone who assembles.

There will be a follow up blog or two about how we actually do Wednesday nights.  At the advice of my friend Matt, it is quite simple.  Boiled down, we simply share our faith in Jesus with others.  We love them.  We welcome them.  We teach them.  And we make disciples of Jesus.  That means everyone who comes in is intentionally cared for and assimilated into the Lord’s church.  They all have a purpose.  This takes time, but we are working to equip our new people just the same as our regular members.  God can and will transform the small rural church if we allow Him to.  To the frustrated minister and the worn out leaders of our small churches, I offer you this message: there is hope through Jesus Christ.  Be willing to re-examine the way you do ministry and listen to God’s calling for you.  Cast the Bible’s vision to reach a lost and dying world on your congregation and invite them to join you.  Offer clear structure, direction and guidance, be flexible, and allow yourselves to be taught by members of the church as well as your new people.  As in the case of our dear sister who was immersed on Wednesday, they have a lot to offer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhWz4e6Zf5I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EZ61jePRTU

A note about Jimmy
I am proud to call Jimmy Hinton my friend. He and I first met at Harding University and again in graduate school at Harding School of Theology. Several months ago Jimmy and I were able to catch up and have a conversation about evangelism that was so encouraging to me. Since then, Jimmy has sent me several updates that have been a joy to me to read as God is bringing the increase in their congregation! Thanks Jimmy for writing such a powerful article on the way God is able to use us if we just make ourselves available!