Asking the right questions

Churches can often feel stuck when they ask the wrong questions.

Naturally prone to replicate, copy, or model church programs or ideas that are deemed “successful,” churches are prompted to focus on asking the “How?” questions because they are easy to ask.

One of my favorite podcasts is called “How I Built This” from NPR. It’s an appropriate title. A host sits down for an hour and talks with people about how they started their multi-million-dollar businesses. Their stories are fascinating and varied.

Most successful start-ups emerge by meeting unmet needs that are not being filled rather than assuming that they exist. Copying other ideas often don’t lead to success. Even though starting a profitable business requires hard work and persistence, building a sustainable business is often a reflection of who you are rather than what you do. At the end of each podcast, the successful founder will usually say that their business success was a surprise. It was not so much “How I built this”, but why they built it in the first place.

I think it is the same with churches launching new evangelism and outreach programs.

They tend to focus solely on other “successful” programs to borrow their ideas, follow their steps, and construct their blueprints.

Yet, in this ever-changing world with its complex dynamics, copying what already has been done can prove to be limiting and fruitless.

A more appropriate question to ask is “Why?”

It’s a philosophical question that ultimately fuels inspiration and persistence. It helps to avoid the debilitating effect of looking for easy, quick fixes to achieve numerical success. More importantly, it’s a question that values innovation.

You can ask, “What do you do?” but it needs to be quickly followed up with a better question. “Why did you do that?”

For example, “Why did you attempt this idea to reach people with the gospel in your community?”

When you ask this question to “successful” congregations – a large majority of them will provide surprising answers in the following ways:

  • Their answers will tend to focus on bringing as many people as possible to heaven through the power of God’s Word rather than scour the neighborhoods looking for new members.
  • Their answers will tend to focus on who they are rather than what they do. 
  • Their answers will tend to be within the context of how they see their mission rather than launching activities to enter a mission field.
  • Their answers will tend to be based on a mission strategy that seeks to meet specific needs rather than assume they exist.
  • Their answers will tend to develop approaches that fully exercises the gifts and talents of their members rather than pigeon-hole them into acts of service.

When congregations see another congregation that God is blessing with successful outreach programs and numerical growth it’s important to try and understand the context of their vision versus what they are doing.

Praise and Proclaim has been blessed with launching outreach initiatives and providing personal evangelism training across the country. With every initiative, Jesus is proven to be right. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. The challenge is that people are no longer coming to church on their own. They need personal contact. They need to see faces. They are more willing to hear the reasons for the hope believers have in Christ rather than listen to a sermon. They need to hear answers to the “Why?” questions in life. “Why do you go to church?” “Why do you believe in Christ?” “Why do you have peace in your life that goes beyond understanding?”

When congregations start asking and answering the “Why?” questions they are positioning themselves to uniquely gain an audience to proclaim the Good News.

2 Comments on “Asking the right questions

  1. Dave,
    Your right in trying to discover what works best for a particular congregation when it comes to outreach. I recently viewed a WNCLL video “One by One: Revitalizing a Congregation by Rev. David Rosenau, well worth the hour or so to view. His approach although not unique does require “getting out”.
    According to his presentation he made over 1,000 visits last year. One of his promises to his congregation is if you as a member know someone who might benefit from hearing about Jesus, he will go with you on that call. Seems a great way to begin a closer relationship with not only the “visited” but the member visitor.
    I continue to believe that folks need to hear the “benefits” of knowing Christ, not just the features of the Church. I’ve found myself asking the question “so what”. When someone says we have a Sunday School, Woman’s Group, Youth Programs, Bible Class – So what? Those are all “features” of Church what’s the benefit. When we buy products or services are we buying features? or benefits. I think we buy BENEFITS.
    Don

    • Thanks, Don, for your insightful comments. Perhaps we need to re-boot our perspective on evangelism. I agree that pastor Rosenau’s presentation is well worth watching.

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