A few years ago, I received a free t-shirt from the International Mission Board, and I have received more comments about this particular shirt than any other I’ve ever worn. Complete strangers will often tell me they like the shirt even though they don’t know what it means.
You see, the shirt contains a single word, but it’s written in Greek. It looks something like this:
The word is transliterated into English as “poreuthentes.” When folks ask me what it means, they’re usually surprised by the answer.
It simply means “go”.
The word occurs more than a dozen times in the Greek New Testament, but most notably in Matthew 28:19 as the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
As you probably know, this verse contains what Christians refer to as the Great Commission, the sacred effort to go and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. To make disciples of all nations. To baptize them. To teach them. And to trust that the Lord is with us every step of the way.
This Great Commission has fueled the evangelistic efforts of the church for 2000 years and will continue to do so until Jesus returns. Therefore, the call to go still applies, even during a pandemic.
With that being said, your church’s outreach efforts will probably need to look different until the pandemic passes. In other words, the mission remains the same, but the methods may need to be adjusted temporarily. As you consider how to fulfill the Great Commission in the days ahead, here are 4 guiding principles that may help you develop a pandemic outreach strategy.
#1: Go Small
Many church outreach events involve assembling large gatherings of people. Evangelistic crusades, Trunk or Treat events, and Vacation Bible School are just a few examples. However, in an age of social distancing, your church may need to go small.
When Jesus sent out the seventy-two in Luke 10, He did not send them out in one large group. Instead, he sent them out in small groups, two by two. Your church may need to do the same.
Therefore, brainstorm creative ways that small groups of people can reach out. Perhaps a small group goes to a local school in your community to pray with teachers and administrators. Perhaps a small group conducts a free car wash on a warm Saturday. Perhaps another small group offers a drive-thru prayer station in your church parking lot.
There are many ways to go small. Spend some time brainstorming how your church can do so.
#2: Go Mobile
Again, many church outreach efforts are focused on large gatherings of people. These events are also usually conducted on church property with a “y’all come” mentality. But if your church wants to effectively reach people for Jesus in the months ahead, you must embrace a “go” mentality.
This means the church will need to go mobile. To intentionally get out into the community. Perhaps you reach out to your local schools to learn about ways you can meet some of their needs. Maybe you conduct a prayer-walk in your community or setup a prayer booth during local sporting events. Maybe you reach out to struggling local business owners to offer encouragement and assistance.
The possibilities are endless. How can your church go small and mobile at the same time?
#3: Go Virtual
When the pandemic began, churches scrambled to get their services online during those first few weeks. Because of the urgency of these changes, most church leaders didn’t have time to develop an intentional online strategy. They weren’t brainstorming how to leverage their Facebook page for evangelistic purposes; they were simply focused on how to make sure a sermon was recorded in time for Sunday.
Many church leaders have since recognized the evangelistic potential of social media, but only a few churches have developed an intentional strategy for their online outreach.
If your church hasn’t already done so, let me encourage you to think of creative ways to go virtual. Perhaps you could provide a different social media suggested post for your church members each week. For example, you could encourage each church member to create a post in which they ask for prayer requests on the first Monday of every month. During another week, you could ask them to post a 3-minute video testimony with an appropriate church hashtag. You could ask them to share a link to your church social media pages and/or website as well.
In addition to providing social media suggested posts for church members, make sure that your church’s social media pages provide shareable content on a regular basis as well. In addition to important updates about church activities, consider providing evangelistic videos, graphics, and posts on a regular basis as well.
Even when this pandemic ends, your church’s online presence should not. Think of creative ways to go virtual.
#4: Go Safely
As Christians, we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Therefore, whenever and however you reach out during this pandemic, make sure you do so safely. The last thing you want to do is to spread the coronavirus through one of your outreach efforts simply because your church failed to take the proper precautions.
If your church plans to distribute any materials, wear gloves. If you’re going to be within 6 feet of others, wear masks. Avoid physical contact if possible. Make sure you have plenty of hand sanitizer on hand. If you approach someone who appears uncomfortable being in close proximity to you, respect their wishes and politely back away.
Regardless of how you personally feel about some of these safety precautions, the reality is that if you want to reach others for Jesus during this pandemic, you will need to communicate that you have their best interests at heart. Both the spiritual and the physical.
Therefore, when you go, go safely.
Not a Question of If, But How
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the command to go still applies. It’s not a question of if your church should go, but only how you should go. I believe these four principles can guide your church to reach out effectively during this pandemic.
Go small. Go mobile. Go virtual. Go safely. But most importantly, make sure you still go!