I often hear from church leaders about the creative strategies they are using to reach their neighbors or the children in their neighborhood. We church leaders seem to think that if we just find the right new program or event, our budget problems and concerns about the future of our church will disappear.
When I see the many VBS signs in the front lawns of my neighbors, I am reminded of the grand VBS events in which I participated in earlier years. In one of those communities the creativity of our church people was so effective that 400 to 500 kids attended VBS. Several of the other evangelical churches in the city shut down their VBS and became a part of the large staff of 80 or more that were needed at our church.
Those numbers may sound impressive, but as an effective lasting outreach strategy those VBS events were really not very effective. Even though we had a long list of new families to follow-up on, we had almost no positive and lasting outcomes. We put a lot of creative planning and preparations into those two-week events, but we failed to plan the most essential outreach strategy we needed – to begin LASTING PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS with those families from our city.
You may have also discovered that even though we produce the most dynamic and attractive event in town new lasting personal relationships don’t just automatically happen. Lasting personal relationships always require intentional persistent strategies that are planned, encouraged, and modeled by the leadership in the church. I know that I tend to prefer to spend my relational time with others who I know will love me and accept me. However, new lasting personal relationships require me to choose to love and accept someone who may be very difficult to love and it may take a long time before I see evidence of spiritual transformation in his/her life.
There are strategies for making new lasting personal relationships from a VBS event or any other event that a church uses to serve their neighbors. Here are two ideas:
- Ask each VBS volunteer from your church to intentionally connect with 1 or 2 individuals or families during VBS and then meet with them or invite them to their home at least two times after VBS.
- Schedule the next community event before your VBS even begins and then invite the new people you meet at VBS to join with you in planning that next neighborhood family event. Planning and working together is one of the best settings for building friendships.
You might intentionally create a church culture that encourages new lasting personal relationships that lead to life transformation. Here is an idea:
- Prayerfully find 1 or 2 people who will join with you in developing a personal culture of building new lasting relationships with the least, the lost, and the lonely. This new culture needs to happen in the lives of the leadership before it becomes a congregational culture.
- Commit to pray for and with those who join you on this relational venture. Specifically pray together for individuals and families that already have some kind of contact with you or your church.
- Use a “Third Place” strategy or some other plan for meeting new people. And if you need some encouragement, find someone who is currently engaged in new redemptive relationships to coach your group.
- Then share your new relational stories personally and publicly with others in your congregation and invite them to join your group.
Remember, lasting life transformation almost always occurs through a lasting personal relationship with someone who Is already walking with Jesus.
We can be “the light of the world” through our attractive grand events, but we can only be “the salt of the earth” through close personal relationships.
You can impress people from a distance, but you can only impact their lives when you are up close.