Outreach encompasses the service and evangelistic ministries of the church to the community that lives and works within its immediate sphere of influence. Outreach ministries find their impetus in the commands to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20); to do good to all people (Galatians 6:10); to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27-37); to let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16; see also Acts 10:38; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 4:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; Titus 2:14, 3:8; Hebrews 13:16; James 1:27).
Christians must be involved in outreach ministries in their communities, not isolated from them. We must take the initiative to build relationships with neighbors in order to serve others in the name of Christ and to proclaim the gospel. Separation from sinful lifestyles does not require isolationism with respect to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). In this way, the Christian’s responsibility to do good to all balances the “one another” commands of the New Testament. We are to serve one another in many ways, but not to the exclusion of those outside the fellowship of believers. This is true on the corporate level as well as the personal. As a part of the overall ministry plan, church leadership should attempt to balance ministry to members with service and evangelistic ministries to the community.
“Service” or “helping” ministries often address practical needs with biblical solutions for God’s glory. The need for food, clothing, housing, tutoring, employment, transportation, medical care, visitation, and marriage and financial counseling are just a few opportunities for this kind of outreach. These matters may be addressed as Christians take personal initiative to reach out to those in need through church programs, or through Christian agencies such as S.T.E.P. Ministries, and International Friendship Outreach.
Christians should always consider their service as an opportunity for evangelism, the proclamation of the gospel in dependence upon the Holy Spirit for the purpose of calling people to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (John 3:4-8; 16:8; Acts 18:4; 19:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20). As we serve in meaningful ways to our community, we are ambassadors of God, and must reflect His love, compassion and character to those being served. We must be prepared to give a clear and accurate explanation of the gospel when a suitable occasion arises (1 Peter 3:15). The greatest good a Christian can do for an unbelieving friend or stranger is to give him the gospel. Therefore, evangelism should be the ultimate goal of every service-oriented ministry to the non-Christian community.
Evangelism is a responsibility of all Christians, and must be a high priority as they go into all the world. The church should encourage evangelism through instruction and prayer. The church may also plan and hold special events for unbelievers to hear the gospel. However, while Lord’s Day services should certainly include the gospel, the primary purpose of the church gathered is worship and edification rather than evangelism.