by Kevin Harney
Through my three decades as a church leader, I have heard many philosophies of outreach. One that always made me uncomfortable (and still does) was the idea that homogeneity leads to effective growth. Simply put, if you want to reach out successfully, you should target lots of people who are very similar to each other. In an even more radical form, this could involve seeking to reach people who are like each other, and just like you!
I realize there are times when a church or ministry grows rapidly with a lot of people who look and think the same. But, should this be our goal? Should we ‘target’ people who are just like us and build a church of people who all see the world the same way?
We just celebrated Christmas and as I consider what it means, it seems to paint a picture of a very different approach. Think about two distinct groups of people who were invited to come and welcome Jesus. The shepherds were locals. They were blue collar, ordinary folks who God invited. The Lord of heaven did not send a traditional invitation card. He sent “a great company of the heavenly host!” They heard, they came, and then they spread the word (Luke 2:8-18)!
Another invitation went out. This one hung in the heavens. A star drew a very different group of people to come and greet the incarnate God of heaven. Wise men: part scientist, part ambassador, and part religious leaders, responded to the invitation. They traveled about a thousand miles from Persia to Jerusalem. They were adherents of another religion (most likely Zoroastrianism). They were educated and influential foreigners (Matt. 2:1-12).
Apparently, God did not get the memo that religious movements grow more rapidly and effectively through homogeneity. The shepherds and the wise men could not have been more dissimilar. They came from different worlds…literally! But, both groups needed the hope, love, and grace that entered human history that first Christmas.
As you look at your church, the family of God, pray for the Holy Spirit to draw people of all sorts. Jesus loves locals and the out-of-towners. God cares about the religious and the spiritually curious.
Our hearts and the doors of our church should be wide open to people from any educational background, family history, part of the world, economic group, and every walk of life. From the beginning, God became a model of inviting people from radically diverse backgrounds to come and meet Jesus.
We should do the same!
One of the joys I experience every weekend at the church where I serve is the beautiful diversity of the people who come together to worship Jesus. Our church looks like our community, but even more diverse. In all of Monterey, I don’t know of another place that has a more economically, politically, ethnically, or educationally diverse group of people. It is beautiful! We embrace it.
In 2017, pray for God to draw people to your church who represent the rich and beautiful mosaic of people who live in your community. Then, in addition to your prayers, lovingly and kindly invite someone who is very different than those who are already in your church. Join the angels and the stars above and extend an invitation for people of all sorts to come and meet the Lord of heaven who loves people of every tribe, tongue, and nation!
Kevin Harney (@KevinGHarney) is a local church pastor, author, and international speaker. He is the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International. Kevin is the author of the Organic Outreach series of books (with his wife Sherry), and many other books and studies. He trains movement leaders in how to transform the culture of an organization from being inwardly focused to evangelistic on every level.