The Committee on Home Missions
A new mission work is usually small in size and needs to grow in order to provide care for its pastor and its people. But a pragmatic need for numerical growth should not be a motivating factor in the church's outreach and evangelistic efforts. Such efforts flow, rather, from a commitment to being faithful to the Word of God and to the work of Christ's church.
A distinction is made between the concept of outreach and the practice of evangelism. For the purposes of discussing the development of ministries of outreach and evangelism in a mission work, the following definitions will be used:
Outreach is any gospel activity or ministry which brings the work of the church before the people of the community in which the congregation ministers.
Evangelism is any gospel activity or ministry which brings the righteous requirements of God and his plan for the salvation of his elect before the people of the community in which the congregation ministers.
In 1951, the Committee on Christian Education of the OPC published a challenging study on the work of outreach and evangelism from a Reformed perspective, entitled Biblical Evangelism Today. This marvelous document is valuable for two reasons. First, it provides a careful and studied theological discussion of the gospel. Second, written as it was before the rise of the Church Growth movement by contributors including Calvin Knox Cummings and John Murray, the arguments move seamlessly between a discussion of the theological nature of the gospel and the practical methods and means of communicating that gospel to a lost world. Chapter headings include "The Evangelistic Meeting," "Extensive Survey Work," "Group Evangelism," and "Radio Evangelism." One of the values of this document is that it demonstrates that a zeal for evangelism rightly conceived is intimately connected to means and methods of communicating the gospel. So what follows is a brief discussion of means and methods for gospel communication for churches conducting their ministries in the twenty-first century.
Outreach ministries have to do with making the church and its work known. They include the following:
Advertising comprises the various forms of outreach that have to do with letting people know about the church, its location, times of services, ministry emphases, and other pertinent facts and details that will allow them to know they are welcome to visit and will inform them about how to do that. Such outreach can take the form of newspaper advertisements, listings in the yellow pages, flyers, brochures, or Web pages. The purpose of advertising is to get people to visit the church's services of worship, where they will be exposed to the preaching of God's Word. Therefore, such advertising must be factual and easily and quickly read.
Newsletters are forms of outreach that allow people who have already had some contact with the ministry of a church to learn more about it and its beliefs and particular ministries, so that, if and when the Holy Spirit quickens their hearts, they will know how and where to avail themselves of that ministry. This kind of outreach requires regularity and consistency and allows many believers to use their gifts and skills on a regular basis to reach out.
Public meetings, seminars, and conferences are forms of outreach which, when announced and promoted properly, convey a church's interests and concerns and offer to people outside the church the opportunity to sample its ministry at times other than the stated services on the Lord's Day. This kind of outreach includes studies of specific biblical subjects, the invitation of noted or otherwise well-qualified speakers to address subjects of concern or interest, and the viewing of films or video series. Such outreach requires meticulous planning, careful and timely advertising and promotion, and a system by which the names and addresses of contacts may be captured for follow-up.
The distribution of audio sermons and radio and television preaching and teaching opportunities are forms of outreach that allow the teaching and preaching skills of a church's pastor to be shared with those outside the church, so that they may hear the gospel and sample the teaching and preaching ministry of the congregation. This kind of outreach requires careful organization and constant hard work to maintain quality and consistency.
Evangelism ministries are any kind of direct gospel communication that has to do with making the righteous requirements of God and his plan for the salvation of his elect known to people outside the church. They differ from outreach ministries in that their focus is not pointed toward drawing people to the organizational ministries within the church, but toward presenting the gospel "in the marketplace" in such a way that God's elect may respond and the reprobate are left without excuse. Such evangelism ministries may take many forms and may be divided into at least the following three categories.
Gospel dialogue is a form of evangelism which allows trained believers to interact directly with unbelievers about the Word of God. It may take the form of personal conversations with friends and neighbors, door-to-door calling, neighborhood Bible studies, or manning a booth at a street fair or a flea market. The goal of this form of evangelism is to present clearly the righteous requirements of God and his plan for the salvation of his elect to those to whom he is given the opportunity to speak. Such evangelism requires careful training, faithful commitment to the task, prayer support, literature for distribution, and a system by which the names and addresses of interested persons may be captured for follow-up.
Literature distribution is a less intensive form of evangelism, by which well-written and carefully selected books, pamphlets, and tracts, along with Bibles and Bible portions, are made available for free distribution at public venues such as street fairs, flea markets, and shopping centers, and by personal distribution to contacts when the opportunity arises. The goal of this kind of evangelism is to allow the literature itself to present the gospel. Therefore, such literature must be carefully selected, and those who distribute it must be intimately familiar with its content and purpose. For this to be effective as an evangelism ministry, the materials must be marked or stamped with information about the church sponsoring the distribution.
Street or public forum preaching is the most direct form of gospel communication, using the proclamation of the Word to convey the righteous requirements of God and his plan for the salvation of his elect. It is done routinely and effectively by those who are gifted and called to it. But it also requires the assistance, support, and prayers of many others who labor with and for the evangelistic preacher. The goal of such public forum preaching is to present the gospel powerfully, succinctly, and cogently, so that hearers have a clear understanding of what is required of them and offered to them. For this form of evangelism to be most effective, the one who speaks and those who assist in prayer and support must be ready to dialogue with those who have heard the message, must be familiar with appropriate literature that may be distributed, and must have a method for capturing the names and addresses, or other contact information, of those who have shown interest, so as to allow for follow-up at a later time.
This article is reprinted from Planting an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (pages 92-97), a publication of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. General Secretary Ross W. Graham played a leading role in the development of this manual, which is available in a printed edition by calling 215-830-0900 and in digital form at opc.org/chm/chplant with additional resources. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2009.