Simply put, there is plenty of inward-focused discipleship without much outward contextualization in the church today. At best, there is the occasional “special event” in hopes that the congregation brings friends who stay long-term. Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to discipleship - in fact, I often wonder if we're even doing that very well today in order to train our people to evangelize. And while I’m not against the practice of evangelistic events, I am opposed to lack of dedicated missonal outreach. I once worked at a church that was in a 65% Hispanic community with three Hispanics in attendance on Sunday mornings. This church was also in a community that was in large majority under the age of 40 with less than 20 members under that age (including children). Imagine being a 28-year old Hispanic walking through our doors.
It is the role and responsibility of the local church to reach its community. If the church fails, society fails. The world will find a place or community to have their needs me and we must - for lack of a better phrase - compete for their attention. The natural inclination of the world is to chase the world. We must find a way to adapt to the demographic that we are in while not compromising Scripture. It would be great if you could even be multi-ethnic and flourishing from ages 15 all the way to 75, but let’s start with our community context. It doesn't necessarily have to be a certain school or business (though it could be), but a starting point is to intentionally get to know those within a relatively close radius of your people.
We tend to view missionaries as those who parachute into the remote villages of Africa. We use the excuse that culture doesn’t easily accept the gospel. We let our natural insecurities hinder us. We argue that we do not have enough time. I've even heard people use Satan as an excuse. In fact, we should expect Satan to use all obstacles against our efforts; but Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 places mission on all of our lives regardless of where we are. It is a call that the Christian simply cannot ignore.
Here are some practical ways to get on mission (for both the church and the individual):
- Pray, pray, pray – The most obvious and crucial step is to seek God’s will and blessing. You must be on board with his Kingdom and what he is doing, not what you yourself want to happen. There are many (most) times when our plans are not his. Beg the Holy Spirit to empower you.
- Understand your Bible – It is no good for you, your hearers, your church, or the Kingdom if you do not know what you believe. Sound doctrine is crucial to your evangelistic efforts. There is no point in hitting the streets of your community if you cannot answer the hard questions that the seekers, the skeptics, and the all-out opposition will throw at you (Col. 4:6).
- Be well-learned and prepared to reach them – The next most obvious but crucial step is to find out who is in your community, both by getting out and meeting people and by looking at statistics that can be found by a simple Google search. There are more resources on demographics (income, race, age, religion, etc.), becoming missional churches, and everyday evangelism than you could imagine. Find them. Study them. Rinse. Repeat.
- Love them – Perhaps the most difficult part is to simply love people. Our depraved nature prevents us from being naturally drawn toward it, but our new nature in Christ empowers us to do it anyway. In the aforementioned church that I was on staff at, we could not get our older white crowd to get on mission in the Hispanic community because they did not want to love them. It is not our church, our gospel, or our Kingdom - it is all God’s. If you think someone is below your efforts, you are forgetting how low Jesus had to become in order to reach you. The world is looking for relationships, not conforming rules. Let's give it to them!