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Building bridges: the key to reaching people

January-February, 1998

Everyone who is associated directly or indirectly with the church is represented by one of the circles shown here*. An effective church learns to manage its people's spiritual development and designs ministry strategies for building bridges that help people move progressively toward the inner circle of commitment and increased spiritual growth.

Five Concentric Circles

Look at the characteristics of the person in the Community (C-5) group and what the church can do to build bridges that will help this person move into the Crowd (C-4) group.

Bridge the Community into the Crowd.

The Community (C-5) group are those within the church's ministry area geographically or relationally. They are unchurched or occasional attendees. If they go to church, it is likely only for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals. This group includes all those in the relational networks of members (friends, relatives, associates, neighbors) and are really prospects since the church has not yet identified them individually as prospects.

To build bridges to those in the community the church must attract people's attention, develop a positive reputation, and demonstrate friendliness and compassion. The goal is to provide a natural yet sensitive way for individuals to give the church their names and addresses willingly, thus extending permission to continue building a bridge to them.

A C-5 person is uninformed, passive, or even antagonistic about Christ and the church. A person who moves into the C-4 group has become positive toward the church and demonstrates this by his attendance. Often this is the first step a person takes on his journey toward a personal relationship with Christ.

People's spiritual journey toward God is a process. The effective church understands this and seeks to build bridges to help them come to active and responsible membership in the kingdom of God.

Identify Prospects

The first bridge is to identify those within the C-5 group who are prospects. A person becomes a prospect only after the church has his name and address. Identifying prospects can be done through the following means:

Special events (Christmas, Easter, etc.): Send a mass mailing for special events, which will create awareness of the church and its ministries. You will be able to identify those who are prospects for active follow-up. At each special event find a creative way to get the names and addresses of those who have attended.

Contact new residents and new home owners: Get the list of all newcomers in the community. Send them information about the church or provide a welcome basket with coupons and valuable information about the community and its services.

Business cards: Make folding business cards with the church name, address, and schedule of services. Encourage members to take them and give them to friends and acquaintances.

Door hangers: Make door hangers that include information about the church and special ministries. The outreach edition of the Pentecostal Evangel and Friendship magazine (from the Assemblies of God Office of Public Relations) are excellent tools for this purpose.

Pastoral care ministries (funerals, weddings, hospital calls, counseling): Responding to the crisis needs of the unchurched is an excellent opportunity to build a bridge and identify prospects.

Outreach Bible studies: These are again becoming effective, for they deal with real-life issues and topics such as "Christianity----Reality or Irrelevant?"

Recovery support groups (divorce, grief, addictions): Minister to the unchurched by dealing with life's struggles and thus identify those who are prospects.

Telemarketing: Use a short telephone survey to identify those who are not regularly attending a church but are searching for spiritual direction (Tele-Touch Manual #714-899, available from Sunday School Promotion and Training Department).

Community activities: Getting involved in fairs, festivals, and exhibits are great ways to identify prospects.

Special programs: Programs that provide service in the community (food, clothes, homes for unwed mothers, battered women's shelters, etc.) as well as honoring war vets or others for accomplishments provide a positive presence in the community that helps bring prospects.

Outreach training: Train members to share their faith effectively and look for opportunities to do so.

Felt needs seminars: Provide seminars that address the felt needs in the unchurched person's life. "Managing Life's Stress," "How To Talk so Teens Will Listen," and "Positive Parenting" are particularly attractive. They speak to the unchurched in language they understand and provide a great way to build a bridge to them. (For more information, contact SSPT and ask for Sequence Evangelism Seminars catalog.)

Develop Follow-Up Strategy

Another important bridge in moving the C-5 prospect into the C-4 circle is through follow-up. Identifying prospects is useless if the church does not have and work a follow-up strategy. This includes training workers and making appropriate contacts with the prospects. There is no single right plan, but here is one church's follow-up strategy:

  • Guest Follow-Up for Worship Attendee (Prospect):
    1. Sunday p.m.----make phone call.
    2. Monday----cookie brigade (nonthreatening doorstep visit only).
    3. Monday----mail pastor's welcome letter.
    4. Wednesday----contact by a group/class leader or outreach person.
    5. Thursday----all visitors from 13 weeks ago are contacted to discover their status in church, other church, not attending church, prayer need. (Purge list of those who are attending another church regularly.)
    6. Saturday----pastor and staff contact guests by phone.
    7. Placed on church mailing list.
    8. Added to Tele-call for 13 weeks.


  • Contacts forwarded to Sunday school teachers:
    1. Invite people to Sunday school.
    2. If they visit Sunday school, care group leader follows up.
    3. Invite to monthly fellowship.


  • Quarter:
    1. Invite all newcomers to pastor's dessert fellowship.
    2. Get people involved in appropriate role or task as soon as possible.

If people want care ministry, hospital visitation, and personal needs met, they are encouraged to become involved in a Sunday school class or group, which is where the church is designed to care for them.

Few people ever come to Christ the first time they are confronted with the gospel message. One study discovered that of 1,000 people who came to Christ the first time they heard the gospel, not one of them was still active in the church 1 year later. Yet, of 1,000 converts who heard and rejected the gospel at least three times, 950 were still active in church 1 year later. Interestingly, the majority of those in the latter group heard the gospel in a Sunday School class or other small group they actively participated in.

-- Elmer Towns

Build Meaningful Relationships

A third bridge to help move the C-5 prospect into the C-4 group is to provide a variety of opportunities to become better acquainted with the church's members and ministries and build meaningful relationships. This can be done by:

  • Providing multiple opportunities for the prospect to build relationships with church members in and out of the church----dinners, socials, activities.
  • Offering a pastor's welcome class or seminar that communicates the vision, values, and ministries of the church.
  • Providing multiple opportunities for involvement in meaningful, appropriate places of service.
  • Providing care and support particularly in times of crisis and transition. Stay close enough to care but don't smother. Most of all, be patient and sensitive to each individual.

You know a person has moved into the C-4 circle when his church attendance and involvement become more regular. Whether a believer or a non-believer, he is more likely to attend at least one service weekly. Although he may not attend every time the church doors are open, he is interested and positive toward the church and spiritual issues.

As people move in their spiritual journey, points of resistance are normal and to be expected. Resistance tends to come as people are confronted with moving from one circle to another, for transitions force individuals to reprioritize their lives.

Think about your own spiritual journey. What were the issues and events that moved you from the C-5 circle to C-4? What caused you to increase your commitment and involvement? Realize that the people with whom you are working face the same kinds of questions and issues. Be sensitive to their progress in spiritual development. The church is responsible for causing people to want to become disciples. Jesus did not force people to follow Him. Through His life and mission, commitment, and character, He caused them to want to move forward and accept the challenge to grow spiritually. We do this by building bridges.

* Adapted from The Purpose Driven Church----Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission by Rick Warren; used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.


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