8 novel thoughts and ideas on reaching new people

October 11, 2018
Photos by David Stucke, Dakotas Conference

By: Christa Meland

Nearly 500 Dakotas-Minnesota United Methodists gathered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota last weekend to attend Reach—a two-day event focused on providing inspiration and tactics to reach new people for Christ. In addition to hearing from five keynote speakers who addressed the full crowd, attendees also selected two breakout sessions to explore a couple of topics in greater depth. Those sessions covered everything from evangelism to developing leaders. Eight of the breakout session speakers shared one key idea or takeaway from the sessions they led. These ideas provide good food for thought for all churches and individuals—whether or not they were present.

Here are some key pieces of wisdom to consider as you seek to reach new people in your context (organized by breakout session title):

1. A learner’s guide to evangelism: The first conversion Jesus made was not someone to him, but him to us. “So what would it look like if we understood the evangelistic task as seeking to be converted rather than seeking to convert?” asked Rev. Fred Vanderwerf, superintendent of Minnesota’s Southern Prairie District. What does this look like? Engaging people as a learner, understanding “sharing faith” as really truly sharing, and trusting that everyone already has a faith system to help them understand the world. “Our evangelistic task begins not so much in teaching our faith system, but seeking to genuinely understand another’s,” said Vanderwerf. “As Wesleyans, we believe in prevenient grace...The evangelistic task is about discovering how God’s grace is already at work in others and helping them do some self-discovery while we listen in deeply.”

2. Connecting new people to a discipleship pathway: “Knowing where you are in your journey with Christ is the first step in helping others follow him too,” said Rev. Kelly McCuaig, who serves Hilltop UMC in Mankato, Minnesota and co-led this session. “It's really hitting at that classic Wesleyan question: ‘How is it with your soul?’ That is, essentially, the question of all discipleship.” If any of us want to reach others and lead them to a life that asks this question, we must first realize how important this question is for our own lives. Meanwhile, Rev. Steve Anderson, who serves Cornerstone Church in Watertown, South Dakota and co-led this session, posed these questions: When your church reaches new people, what's the next step for these new people? Is your goal that they come to Sunday worship, join a class or small group, and give money? Or is your goal they become disciples of Jesus Christ? Is your goal to build programs or build people, and what would that look like in your ministry setting?

3. Developing leaders to reach further: Andy Stanley in his book “Next Generations Leader” refers to the “80/20 principle.” The idea is that 20 percent of our effort, input, and time produces 80 percent of our output, results, or rewards. In other words, just being busy doesn’t mean we are productive, said Rev. Roger Spahr, superintendent for the Dakotas’ Southeast District. Four-fifths of what we’re doing may be irrelevant to the actual growth and vitality of our churches. “The wise thing to do is to look at what it is you are doing that represents the most productive hours of your week and do more of that,” Spahr said. “I believe the most crucial cultural shift for both pastors and laity in the church lies in this question: Who are the leaders you are raising up around you and who are the leaders you are preparing to follow behind you when you are gone?” 

4. Starting a new service to reach new people: It’s as simple as this: If your church hasn't started a new service in 10 years, your church will decline, said Rev. Cathy Townley, a church coach and consultant. Why is that? “New people are more likely to attend a new service than an existing one.” The longer a service is around, the more those who are part of it start to make decisions based on their own preference rather than thinking about how to best welcome new people. “When I help churches try to transform existing worship or start a new service or a new church, I always talk about them infusing the value of change into them so that people get used to thinking about the next person,” said Townley. “Jesus comes to me on the way to someone else. That's the driving motivation for making worship changes that stick and starting something new to reach new people.”

5. Starting a new site to reach new people: Contrary to what most people might think or assume, having a multi-site church allows there to be a greater focus on mission, said Chris Haugan, worship leader at Embrace Church’s 57th Street Campus in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “When someone else is bearing the weight of the creative work (preaching and worship design), local mission engagement gets more attention.”

6. Extending your multi-cultural reach: Our congregational vitality is integrally related to the vitality and well-being of our communities. “When we embrace the journey of living multi-culturally, we open the door to be both receivers and givers of new cultures and new ideas, and move toward a greater creative, innovative vibrancy—for self and others,” said Rev. Cynthia Williams, superintendent for Minnesota’s River Valley District. “We become more, not less—more reconciled, more inclusive, more in our witness to God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!”

7. Extending your reach with social media: “We must engage the people we have in order to reach the people we don't,” says Jason Smith, creative director at multi-campus Embrace Church. “Once people are engaged, they will become the very tool you need to see your social media grow. Engaged people will share a message they believe in. So at the end of the day, it isn't our job to make sure someone sees a post; rather, it’s our job to make sure they care about it and where it comes from.” Here are a few practical steps that, when done consistently, will build that engagement level:
1. Use Facebook groups and link them to your Facebook page. Make them for anything: small groups, ministries, outreach, or something else. Then make sure you are active on them.
2. Reply to messages, comments, and shares immediately. People want to be seen and heard, and doing this will give people the feeling that your social media is a personality, not a billboard.
3. Grow social away from the screen. Posts and engagement alone won't grow your platform. Intentionally weave the importance of your social community in print material, Sunday services, conversations, and invitations. Get others excited about the WHY behind social media, and have them share or like your church’s posts.

8. Multiplication: mistakes or momentum?: “Kingdom innovators invariably come to their work with assumptions—assumptions about people, about places, and about programming,” said Rev. Ben Ingebretson, Dakotas-Minnesota director of new church development. “Smart start-up innovators ‘test’ their assumptions. They use a variety of ways to reduce their risk and raise their potential for impact before they put all their best energy on the line.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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