How Can a Church of 200 Serve 3,000?

Snowball Effect.jpg

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.

Finding the Church Outside the Building

Why do we need to see the Church in both its modes (see previous blog)? One major reason: if the scattered church remains out of sight, we will not recognize or serve it.

The church does not go into freeze-frame between Sundays. Instead, it simply shifts into its scattered state. The scattered church crops up just about everywhere: in homes, neighborhoods, social events, schools, and workplaces. The paths of Christians may well intersect more often in the work world than in any other arena.

A Survey of Christians in the Workplace

Henry Blackaby: Equipping the Church in the Workplace through the Local Church

I once surveyed 60 Christians from 3 different churches—urban, suburban, and rural. All lived in the northwestern corner of the State of Washington. All worked in non-church-related jobs. I asked: “How many other believers are you aware of among those you interact with at work (coworkers, clients, customers, students, etc.)?”

Only 3 knew of none. More than three-quarters (46) could identify 3 or more professing Christians in their on-the-job networks. The follow-up question asked, “If you do know of other believers where you work, do you deliberately seek for opportunities to encourage them in their faith and walk?” The responses were almost equally divided: yes (31), no (29).

The point is this: for most in the workplace, the scattered church is within easy reach. But among those I surveyed, many do not search out fellow Christians on the job for mutual strengthening. Why might this be? The New Testament repeatedly says that one of our main responsibilities is to serve other Christians in all kinds of ways.

Jesus’s New Command to love one another (Jn. 13:34-35) unleashed scores of one-another/each-other instructions. Our one-anothering is to include: serving, encouraging, spurring on, praying for, accepting, forgiving, showing hospitality, bearing burdens, not grumbling about, greeting, submitting to, and warning/counseling—to name just a dozen.

Why So Little One-Anothering at Work?

The New Testament oozes with these one-anothering instructions. Why, then, do many Christians make little effort to find and serve other believers on the job? At least four possible reasons come to mind:

1. Blind Spot. We are unaware or only dimly conscious of the scattered church. Our traditions have conditioned us to think of “church” almost exclusively in terms of buildings, church-sponsored programs, and Sunday gatherings. Yet the church spends the overwhelming bulk of its time in scattered mode.

2. Near-Sightedness. We perceive our responsibility for one-anothering in terms of the gathered church (those in our small group or the church directory). We may feel safer around such Christians, because they share our “brand” of Christianity or our positions on certain issues of faith and practice.

3. Tunnel Vision. Once outside the gathered church and in the work world, we see our ministry responsibility to be only that of evangelizing unbelievers. Countless Christians have heard rightly that that we should always be prepared to speak to “outsiders” (Col. 4:5, 6; I Pet. 3:15). The problem: for many, that is all they have heard.

4. Fear. Some might worry that finding and serving Christians among their coworkers will jeopardize their jobs. After all, our employers hired us to carry out the tasks in our job descriptions, not to act like ministers.

5. Overbusyness. We can get so wrapped up in gathered-church activities and programs that we have no time left for significant one-anothering on the job. Richard C. Halverson served as senior pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD, and later as Chaplain of the United States Senate. In his book, How I Changed My Thinking About the Church, he writes: “The minister finds himself preoccupied with the employment of people in church work—at times inventing tasks to keep them interested and busy.” But as Halverson came to realize, “The real work of the church is what is done between Sundays when the church is scattered . . . in homes, in schools, in offices, on construction jobs, in marketplaces.”

Becoming Scattered-Church Detectives

Knowing what prevents one-anothering among Christians on the job makes it far easier to find remedies. Simply recognizing the reality and importance of both church modes—gathered and scattered—can correct the problem of the blind spot.

The fix for near-sightedness may take a bit more effort. We will need to learn how to locate likely Christ-followers among our on-the-job networks. Years of focusing only on the gathered church can cause our believer-finding skills to atrophy. In the Sunday context, regular attendance, Bibles in hand, small-group participation, etc., often serve as our clues.

But in the world of work, we will need to look intentionally for other signs. For example, what can we learn from the vocabularies of coworkers? How do they spend their weekends? How do they treat the “nobodies” among clients, customers, patients, students, etc.? How do they use or respond to the name of Jesus? These and similar signs are only pointers—not ironclad evidence that they trust and follow the Lord. But such hints can pave the way for further discernment.  In all of this, we need to recognize that Christ-followers may gather in churches that differ sharply from our own. Some may have received little teaching, poor teaching, or downright wrong teaching. But if they are seeking to know and follow Jesus, we can come beside and help them along the way.

If the problem is tunnel vision—the idea that ministry outside the gathered church is just about evangelism—we need to find a wider-angle lens. Ministry outside the gathered church includes more than evangelism. The New Testament puts a priority on our serving “those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).

Fear that one-anothering among Christians might end in job loss can be overcome by recognizing that we are to serve our employers “wholeheartedly” (Eph. 6:7). We should never steal time from employers to minister to other believers. But as relationships with Christian coworkers naturally grow in the course of our work, we can arrange to use personal time—coffee breaks, lunch hours, off-hours, weekends—to serve one another.

Which brings us to the final difficulty: over-involvement in gathered-church programs. Yes, each of us should serve the gathered church in some way. But evening and weekend hours crammed full with church-related work will leave no time for hanging out with Christian coworkers who need our friendship, encouragement, prayers, or counsel. Or for letting them serve us in those ways.

Shared church must extend far beyond gathered-church mode. The work world is spiritually dark. We Christians are also the light of that world (Matt. 5:14). One-anothering among coworkers remains one of the best ways to keep our lamps there burning brightly.