Get set for an out-of-the-box outreach idea. The good news: it won’t cost your church a dime. More good news: it will not involve another program. It does not require making new contacts or building new relationships. Sound too good to be true? Walk with me through some simple math.
Let’s begin with your church of, say, 200. If your church numbers half that, simply divide what follows by two, and you will see a similar potential in your congregation.
About 327 million people now live in the U.S. Of those, nearly 162 million are part of the nation’s labor force. So, roughly speaking, about half the population spend their weekdays on the job. That means that in your church of 200, there’s a good chance some 100 fan out on Monday into offices, shops, schools, hospitals, and so on. Perhaps 92 of these are employees and 8 are employers or supervisors of large staffs.
Now the Easy Math
At this point, let’s estimate that each of the 92 employees has already established some level of a job-related relationship with 25 others. These would include coworkers, supervisors, students and parents, patients, vendors, customers, and so on. Ninety-two employees times 25 contacts equals 2300.
When we factor in the entrepreneurs and supervisors, the number of relationships multiplies dramatically—perhaps to 100 or more per person. A friend who owns a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin that employs about 25 estimates his workplace relationships at hundreds. Eight employers/supervisors times even just 100 equals 800.
Add the two totals and you’ll see that your church of 200 may well have a salt-and-light reach of 3,100. (Or your church of 100? A reach of 1,550.)
Jesus Sends His People into the Work World
Come Monday morning the working folks in your congregation go just exactly where Jesus sends his followers—into the world. Their presence there makes not the slightest dent in the church budget. Someone else is paying them to be right where Jesus wants them.
Sadly, many see their jobs as placing them in a “secular” zone where any signs of faith must be parked outside the office door. Neither their training nor their experience prepares pastors to understand the challenges and opportunities of working as a Christian government employee, sales representative for a tech firm, or journalist. How, then, can those in non-church jobs learn how to serve as workplace-ready disciples? If given the opportunity, they can help equip each other.
You can search out mature Christ-followers who have learned how to shine the light of Christ into the dark corners of their work world. How do they “glow” without “glaring”? You can invite them to tell their faith-on-the-job stories during your congregational meetings. You can provide coaching to help them prepare and present those stories effectively. Trust the Holy Spirit to work through them to equip others to serve Christ by what they do and say in the work world.
Mutual Equipping through Workplace Stories
I was invited one Sunday to bring a workplace message to a congregation in another city. My wife and I invited “Brenda,” a Christian woman who worked for a state agency, to share—as a part of the message—her workplace story. After she finished, not knowing anyone in that unfamiliar church group, I asked whether anyone would be willing to pray for Brenda. Immediately a young woman raised her hand and volunteered to do so. As she began to pray, the young woman began to weep. Quickly regaining her composure, she offered a heartfelt prayer for Brenda. Afterward, we learned that what Brenda had said spoke directly to what this young woman had been facing in her own workplace that week. Nothing I might have said in my message could have spoken so well to the need this woman was facing as a Christian on the job.
In The Other Six Days, R. Paul Stevens suggests that, “each week [in the church meeting] an ordinary member should be brought forward and in five minutes interviewed along these lines: What do you do for a living? What are the issues you face in your work? What difference does your faith make to the way you address these issues? How would you like us as a church to pray for you in your ministry in the workplace?” Stevens says that by including such reports, “the culture of a local church can be partially changed in fifty-two weeks . . . .” (p. 159).
Shared church includes both the church gathered and the church scattered. Openings in congregational gatherings create room for “reports from the front lines.” In these, members of the body of Christ help prepare each other to confront the challenges they face in their roles in the scattered church. Even a fairly small congregation can have a surprisingly large salt-light footprint in its community and beyond. How? By tapping into and releasing the treasures the Holy Spirit has already deposited in the hearts and experiences of seasoned believers from the world of work.