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My five-year-old niece started kindergarten this year. On the evening of her first day of school I asked her, “What was your favorite part of school today?” Her sweet reply made me laugh: “I made two friends. One is from my soccer team. The other is some random girl!”

Most of our churches are starting the school year with programs or events that they hope will help them reach the community. How will you evaluate if these initiatives are accomplishing what you want? How will you know if they are useful in reaching your community?

Our default is to judge these programs or events by a clearly defined set of outcomes that show numerical growth. How many people attended? How many new visitors did we have in church the following Sunday? If we can prove numerical growth, then we will feel like we have succeeded. The problem is that, in our post-Christian context, it is increasingly hard to obtain these types of outcomes that we are counting.  

Alan Roxburgh suggests that churches need to move away from focusing on outcomes to focus on building relationships. Just as Jesus interrupts his busy schedule to have lunch with Zacchaeus, stops the crowd to welcome children, or invests in the lives of 12 disciples, the church today needs to focus on where they are developing real relationships in their community.

This past summer, two churches modeled this well. One of them hosted a neighborhood picnic, catered by a local hot dog shop, just for the opportunity to get to know their neighbors better. Another hosted Wednesday night activities on their lawn, where they focused on meeting their neighbors—some of whom had recently moved into the neighborhood. In both cases, they intentionally did not put out marketing brochures about their church or make a public invitation to worship. Instead, they focused on meeting new friends—even “random” strangers.

What if we could see our outreach initiatives through the eyes of a child? Would the best part of your fall outreach programs or events be making new friends with people in your community?  How would a focus on relationships shift your perspective?

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