Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What Churches are Doing for Outreach

Research results being released for the first time in the January/February edition of Facts & Trends magazine show just how involved U.S. Protestant churches are in evangelism and community outreach, as well as what obstacles hold them back from being even more involved.

The findings are from a study conducted for Facts & Trends by Ellison Research (Phoenix, Ariz.) among a representative sample of 811 Protestant church ministers nationwide.

Senior ministers were asked about the activities their church has held over the past year specifically for the purpose of evangelism, as well as what types of community outreach and programs the church has offered.

The methods churches are using for evangelism are quite varied. The most common is Vacation Bible School, or VBS, which has been used by seven out of 10 churches for evangelism in the last year. At least half have used literature such as tracts or magazines (59 percent), events such as block parties or a Fall Festival (56 percent), musical events or concerts (51 percent), mailings or fliers (50 percent), and nursing home or retirement center visits (49 percent) specifically for the purposes of evangelism.

Other relatively popular evangelistic efforts include "invite a friend to church" days (42 percent), revivals or crusades (40 percent), evangelism training classes or groups (38 percent), door-to-door visitation within the community (37 percent), community service such as cleanup days (31 percent), online efforts such as blogs or web sites (27 percent), audio or visual products such as tapes or DVDs (26 percent), and booths at community events such as the county fair (20 percent).

Ninety-seven percent of all churches report doing something specifically for the purposes of evangelism over the last year.

Just what churches are doing to evangelize their communities differs quite a bit by denominational group. Southern Baptist churches are particularly big on using revivals or crusades, literature, evangelism training classes or groups, and door-to-door visitation, but are less likely than average to use any sort of online evangelism. Other Baptist groups (National, Progressive, General, etc.) are fairly close to average, but are a bit more likely than others to use literature and door-to-door visitation.

Methodist churches are more likely than average to use events, but less likely to use literature, door-to-door visitation, and revivals or crusades. Lutherans are particularly likely to rely on Vacation Bible School, online methods, and mailings or fliers, and less likely to use revivals or crusades, musical events or concerts, or audio/visual methods. Pentecostal churches are particularly likely to employ musical events or concerts, revivals or crusades, "invite a friend to church" days, and audio/visual products, but less likely than average to use Vacation Bible School for evangelism. Presbyterians are especially unlikely to use literature, revivals or crusades, door-to-door visitation, or audio/visual products.

In general, evangelical churches use a greater variety of evangelistic tools than do mainline Protestant churches. Evangelical churches are considerably more likely to attempt evangelism through literature, revivals or crusades, evangelism training classes or groups, door-to-door visitation, and audio/visual products, while mainline churches have only a greater propensity for doing community service as a form of evangelism.

The survey also explored the kinds of community outreach or programs offered by churches. Pastors were allowed to define their church's involvement; for instance, a large, well-funded, daily day care center, and having the youth group volunteer to baby sit for single mothers within the congregation once a month, could both qualify as "free or low-cost day care."

Only three types of outreach are offered by a majority of U.S. Protestant churches in a typical year: food pantry, food collection, or other food-oriented donations (73 percent), Vacation Bible School (68 percent), and holiday food programs such as Christmas or Thanksgiving baskets for poor families (65 percent).

Other types of community outreach offered by much smaller proportions of churches in the last year include prison ministry (25 percent), homeless outreach (24 percent), Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts (20 percent), blood drives (17 percent), after-school programs for kids (14 percent), sports programs (11 percent), and outreach to specific ethnic groups (11 percent).

Fewer than one out of ten Protestant churches offer any kind of free or low-cost day care services, abortion or pregnancy counseling, domestic violence programs, English language classes, job skills or job training, or adult literacy or reading classes.


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