Outreach is rarely embraced with enthusiasm in the life of the local church. Confrontational models from our past have not translated well into the modern era. Thus, outreach, or evangelism, has been relegated to the specialists, and those creatures are few and far between in most local churches. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
I suspect most of us have come to realize the foundation of outreach is nothing more than relationships. Significant relationships render authentic conversation possible, even desirable. Authentic conversation is one of the delicious fruits of meaningful relationships.
People are starving for the fruit of authentic conversation. Unfortunately, our church experiences have not always prepared us well to explore deep relationships and pursue meaningful conversations as we sit together in the local coffee shop to converse over our favorite brews. Even more problematic, local churches have forgotten the importance of having fun together. Thus, most of our folks plan their fun away from any connection to the local church and its people. But it is most often the fun times that allow relationships to blossom and thrive. We enjoy hanging out with people and having fun, and once the fun starts, meaningful conversation is never far behind.
At Flagstaff (Arizona) Church of the Nazarene (FlagNaz), we embrace a simple approach to creative outreach, a “no drama” method of outreach. We embrace a key principle in regard to outreach and evangelism: “Have fun and invite others to have fun with you.” Pretty simple isn’t it? Our folks have no trouble inviting their friends and acquaintances to “…come have fun with us!” The key is to associate the fun with God’s people and God’s Church. Once done, creative outreach is off and running.
For me, and many of the people of FlagNaz, hiking (including “extreme” hiking) is one of the primary ways we have fun. In particular, many enjoy hiking across the Grand Canyon, a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike that is one of the most difficult trails in the United States. Each May, our team gathers with pastors and laypeople from all over the country for the annual trek across the Grand Canyon. We think it is fun, and we invite others to have fun with us. After over 20 years of trekking across one the most beautiful places in the world, we decided to start a creative outreach ministry called “Trek On Ministries.”
More Than Just Fun
As fun as it is, the fun is not the end of the story. Rather, it is the foundation upon which all stories rest, the footing of healthy relationships, and the gateway to authentic conversations. Thus, the key to creative outreach is to do more than just have fun. At FlagNaz we have developed a very specific strategy for creative outreach called “spiderwebbing.”
Spider-webbing is a carefully designed five-step process that combines fun and outreach. These five steps reflect the temperature of the relationship:
1. Cold: Fun, relationship-based activity with little or no God-talk.
2. Cool: Exposure to the relationship with Jesus Christ that my family and I have.
3. Warm: Authentic conversation regarding mine and my family’s relationship with Christ.
4. Hot: Exposure by the new friend to worship and to the beginnings of discipleship.
5. Sizzling: Intentionally moving toward a relationship that involves ongoing discipleship.
The decision to take the next step is guided by a simple premise: Will the next step put the relationship at risk, or will it stimulate authentic ongoing conversation?
Mike is an average husband and father trying to raise two teenage sons. Overweight and out of shape, he was sliding down a slippery slope in regard to his health and priorities. He still had dreams of making one more run at life, turning off the TV, crawling off the couch, and embracing something worthy of his time and energy. His family visited FlagNaz, and he learned of a group of men and women who planned to cross the Grand Canyon by foot in a day. Out of curiosity, he decided to attend the organizational meeting.
The adventure requires six months of training, so he joined all the would-be hikers in driving to Phoenix (away from the snow in Flagstaff) to embark on the first training hike in January of 2007. It would not be long before he was panting, feeling nauseated, rethinking his decision, and wondering what he had gotten himself into. But the veteran hikers reassured him, encouraging him to stay the course, literally walking beside him in conversation as the group headed back down the two-mile trail. By the time they crossed the finish line, new relationships were already budding, and Mike was soon to be one of the team . Ten years later, Mike and his wife are still faithful members of the FlagNaz church, more active in communal life than ever. Mike now serves on the church board, leads a men’s ministry, and coordinates all of FlagNaz’s hiking adventures. Mike recently assisted two pastors from Georgia in their first Grand Canyon crossing, and I suspect it will not be long before those pastors are using a hiking adventure to creatively reach out to their communities.
At FlagNaz we celebrate this and other platforms of fun. We ski, ride bikes, camp, play basketball, go to movies, and more. These events are all infused with intentionality, and our goal is creative outreach at its very best. Making outreach fun has created an environment where sharing the Gospel can flourish and all can participate.