Outreach. This word has gone from a revolutionary idea on how to reach lost people to a great example of "Christianese" jargon over the last twenty years. This decline in the concept of "outreach" has nothing to do with the initial idea behind it, but rather with what so many in the Church have done to the word. The traditional concept of church outreach is to connect with people where they are at and meet their needs. Pretty good concept; in fact, it sounds like Jesus' ministry to me. Merriam Webster even defines the word outreach as "the act of reaching out."
The disconnect comes when churches try to call things outreaches that really are nothing of the sort. Is a contemporary worship service an outreach? I don't think so. How about an after service pot-luck? Vacation Bible School? Of course there is nothing wrong with any of these functions, but they do not make any real effort to meet lost people where they are at. Instead they try to get the lost to meet us believers where we are at, and where we are comfortable. Is that what Jesus has called us to do?
These so-called outreach events are great for the church community to grow and fellowship, but not so much for the unchurched. Calling events like these outreaches is like calling your house a first class resort. You may feel perfectly content in your house, but other people would not want to live there with you unless you had a personal relationship with them. Pretty much anybody, on the other hand, would sign up to stay at a resort if given the opportunity.
All of the above mentioned functions and most like them are good, but when they are mislabeled as outreaches, this only hurts the Church and its witness. Unchurched people are led to believe that Christians are selfish and cliquey through this mislabeling. Even worse, based on the "outreach" event that they attended, they might simply conclude that Jesus must not be for them.
What, then, are some effective ways to reach people today for Christ? How can we meet people where they are at just like Jesus did? For starters, Jesus met people's needs. Let's do the same. Churches can host meals on their grounds or set up shop in a local park to feed and eat with people. Along these lines, another idea is to provide lunch to high school or college students on campus. This idea has even greater impact when the focus is on international students who may live in places where the Gospel is outlawed. We can eat with these folks, meet their needs, get to know them and give them the opportunity to know us and the God that we serve.
There are countless other ways to engage with people and simultaneously meet their needs. Health is something that everyone wants and needs, but living healthy can be expensive and confusing. Churches can put on free fitness classes with a personal trainer or maybe nutrition and wellness seminars with health and wellness experts. These ideas just scratch the surface as to what we can do to meet people where they are at and introduce them to Christ's love in the process. I do not have the time or space here to elaborate further on other outreach ideas, but the answer is simply to be creative. Look out into your community. What do your neighbors need? Figure it out and supply it. Show your community what it looks like when Jesus' people make a conscious effort to truly "reach out!"