Church Outreach and Why It’s Not Working

What is outreach? The word itself literally means “to reach out” and “to reach further than,” but the definition doesn’t tell you to whom you should be reaching out and how to do it. What does that mean for your church?

Outreach literally means “to reach out,” and “to reach farther than,” but to whom?
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I want to define what we consider outreach to be. There are (in our opinion) two primary types of outreach we see happening within the churches we work with:

Transactional Outreach: Much like it sounds – a transaction. This type of outreach usually centers on partnerships with other charities or organizations to meet a monetary or other specific need. For example, a canned food or clothing drive, a special offering for a charity or local service organization, hosting a holiday meal or providing a meal for a family in need. This type of outreach is necessary and needed, but typically churches don’t go beyond meeting the need to engaging and building a relationship with the actual people they are helping.

Missional Outreach: This type of outreach moves from transactional to transformational. It involves a church’s time and presence. It is often coupled with some form of transactional outreach, but has a relational component to it. Examples of missional outreach involve a school tutoring program where the church is serving the same kids and families weekly; or a prison ministry where people go in week after week to walk alongside those people and minister to them; or instead of just providing a meal for a family in need, people from the church are having dinner with that family and building a relationship with them. The point of missional outreach is to build relationships and commit to the long haul.

Missional outreach is a mission to build relationships and a commitment to the long haul.
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Most churches we work with lean more toward doing transactional outreach and have very few outreaches that are missional or transformational. Other churches try to do so much and spread themselves so thin with lots of busy work that their efforts bear little fruit because they aren’t deeply committed in any one area.

Outreach Audit: Your church may already be doing some things that could easily become more missional. Start by making a list of the outreach your church is doing. Then ask the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of this outreach?
  2. How is this helping us live out our mission as a church?
  3. Is the outreach is bearing fruit? We’re not just talking church growth here. Some outreach efforts won’t increase attendance at your church, but it should be measurable and missional.
  4. If the outreach is primarily transactional how can it become transformational?
  5. What is God doing? In other words, where is God leading you to focus your outreach and what is he asking you to stop doing?

If you are looking for ways to improve your missional outreach consider reading Missional Moves. This book dives deeper into helping your church take what you are already doing and align your efforts to your church’s mission.

What kind of outreach is your church doing that is missional?


About Faith Perceptions
Faith Perceptions is a market research firm that provides churches and faith-based organizations with research about their target market. We send mystery guests into churches across the country each week to report back to us on what their experiences are like. We use this information to help churches improve the way they welcome and connect with guests. Faith Perceptions has been evaluating the first-time guest experience since 2008.



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