Book review of Organic Outreach for Churches: Infusing Evangelistic Passion into your Congregation, by Kevin G. Harney
Think with me for a second. Is the following statement true of your church? “Churches invest an inordinate percentage of their time and finances in people who are already followers of Jesus.” True, isn’t it? Is it true of your church? Most churches pour the vast majority of their resources and time into taking care of the sheep.
Kevin Harney, author of Organic Outreach thinks we have a problem. “Not all of this is bad or wrong,” he’s quick to point out. But as a whole, we’re probably spending too much time and too much money on the already-disciples, forsaking the not-yet-disciples, those whom Jesus commanded us to reach with the good news. It’s not just a matter of the dollars and cents of the church budget. It’s a deeper issue that penetrates into very fabric of the church. Churches that lack outreach are churches that lack life.
Maybe it’s time to change this. Maybe it’s time to amp up your church’s outreach. Maybe it’s time to be more aggressive about the Great Commission. Maybe it’s time to get serious about reaching people who are living and dying, never being relentlessly pursued by passionate Christians, eager to share the life-changing message of Jesus. Maybe it’s time we focus on outreach.
What Organic Outreach Is All About
Harney’s book is a jarring wake-up call to do just that. It’s more than an alarm, though. Sure, our churches need to a wake up call, but we need more. That’s why Organic Outreach opens with a triumphant anthem trumpeting the glories of Christ’s church, and a motivating chorus that proclaims a theology of love—love for God, love for others, and love for the church. The book then moves into sketching out a blueprint of how outreach should look. In this section, the motivation turns practical, as Harney explains how outreach looks, works, and acts.
Outreach is a great concept, but without any practical tips, it dwindles into nothing more than just that—a concept, devoid of action. Within this practical section, don’t expect a seven-step, surefire way to firing up a languid congregation and win 4,000 converts by next Sunday. I hope your church does have 4,000 true converts by Sunday, but outreach isn’t the product of seven-steps. As Harney explains, outreach begins with loving God. “Without this, nothing else matters.” Organic outreach isn’t formulaic. Rather, it is a natural outflow of right theology, joined with right action.
Just like outreach is a buzzword, so is organic. As a point of fact, you may even have eaten organic yogurt for breakfast this morning, especially if you’re a hipster. When coupled with “outreach,” the word “organic” goes beyond Whole Food and Trader Joe’s. “Organic” is the author’s way of describing how outreach goes “beyond pushpins and committees.” Instead, organic outreach “should flow naturally and freely from God into every level of your church ministry. From there, it should pour from your church into your community and the world.”
This type of outreach begins to make sense when you envision the final product. In this vision of an organically outreaching assembly, you see a church whose nursery workers are thinking, “outreach,” rather than exclusively focusing on disinfecting slobbery toys and sealing up soiled diapers. In this vision, you see a church treasurer who isn’t just tallying up offerings each Sunday. Rather, he is planning a free financial seminar for people in the church’s community. The New Mom’s committee is not just lining up house help for Brenda, the Sunday School teacher who just had twins. Instead, the committee is finding people to prepare some meals for Rhonda, an unemployed single mom of four who lives two doors down from the church. Is the vision beginning to flesh out in your mind? In the Organic Outreach model, “outreach” is no longer a buzzword. Nor is it just a committee project. Instead, it is the Jesus-focused, others-loving heartbeat of the entire church.
Harney’s one-liner explanation sums it up: “Organic outreach is a change in the culture of your entire church.”
Should you take several hours to read this book?
Reading a book takes a lot of time. You should know, however, that Organic Outreach is a mere 192 pages, and it goes quick. You can probably get through it in three or four hours. That investment of time may very well revolutionize your ministry.
If any one of these four points applies to you, you should read this book:
- You are involved in church leadership, want to be, or think you might someday.
- Your church could improve outreach, and better connect with its community.
- You care about lost souls, or at least want to.
- You are sometimes disappointed that you or your church isn’t doing more to reach others.
No, you won’t agree with every point that the author makes. (Show me a book, apart from Holy Bible, where this is true.) Nonetheless, you will undoubtedly learn, think, and grow as a result of reading it. Most likely, it will change you, and then even change your church.
The church does not engage in outreach for outreach’s sake. Nor do we perfunctorily tack on an “outreach” ministry because we kind of have to obey that Great Commission thingy. No indeed. We engage in outreach because we believe the gospel and act upon it. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), motivating us to unashamed, unrelenting, unstoppable proclamation of this joyful message.