Reaching People Who Want to Make a Difference

Sam Rainer

February 4, 2009

A recent LifeWay Research newsletter published some encouraging excerpts from the new book, Lost and Found (by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes). The research in this book reveals exciting news for the church. Your impact in the community not only reaches people, it has a quality that attracts other people who want to make a difference. This snippet from their research stood out:

66 percent of churched young adults rated the opportunity to meet the needs of others (locally and globally) as extremely important in their lives, and 47 percent of unchurched young adults said the same.

Many people (and specifically young adults) are aware that there is something bigger than their personal world. They desire to take part in something that makes a difference. One quote from an interviewee struck me:

“Wow me, befriend me, and let’s make a difference.”

The church is more than a group of friends impacting a community, but that’s how many are seeking to connect. In order to reach a generation wanting to make a difference, the church must be blazing the trail of social responsibility and community impact.

In general, church impact has been waning the past few decades. Declines in most denominations are widely discussed. But an opportunity exists to regain lost ground, reclaim dropouts, and re-energize dwindling churches. The declines of the 20th century could be wiped away by the exponential growth potential of working with emerging generations on making difference.

If the church is doing what is real, valuable, and making a difference in the world, young adults will give of themselves and their resources to support it. However, if the Church is disconnected from the issues that plague our society, then younger adults and future generations will consider the church hypocritical, insignificant, and irrelevant.

It’s counter to the way many churches think – people connect first, then serve later (begrudgingly and out of a sense of duty). This research reveals the converse: an invitation to serve may be the best way to invite people to church. Serve first, connect after the church lives the mission.

Rather than initially inviting the unchurched to a traditional church program, perhaps we should ask them to help serve at a rescue mission or to attend a benefit dinner for a local charity. People are willing to respond this way. Meanwhile, the body of Christ is getting to know these people and earning the right to share about their faith. Plus, this new level of relational equity increases the chances of the unchurched attending a small group Bible study or a worship service in the future.

This is a big shift in both evangelism strategy and service efforts from previous generations. In years past a church served those they wanted to reach. This is still an important and valid facet of ministry in the current cultural climate. However, one key difference surfaces with regard to emerging generations. Now the church has the opportunity of reaching people for Christ by allowing those people to serve with them.

The potential quandary arises with where to draw the line – those who serve in Christ’s name must be part of the body of which He is the head. Some service should be reserved only for those professing Christ and connected to His Church. And as noble as it may be, social responsibility alone is not the answer. As this research suggests, this service must lead to a telling of why the church serves. All potential messiness aside, the church should capitalize on this recent social phenomenon. Your thoughts?

14 comments on “Reaching People Who Want to Make a Difference”

  1. andrew says:

    thanks sam. i need to get me that book.

  2. JasonS says:

    Interesting findings. I think I need that book as well.

  3. Mark Leatt says:

    I quite like the statement made by the interviewee as well, but it reminded me of something that we should never loose sight of. The most incredible WOW factor that the Church has is God. Show Him to the world and you will always get a wow reaction. It might not always be a nice one (just look at the reaction that Jesus got from some people), but they will see God for who He is.

    It is all too easy for the Church to look at creating the best programs and to develop the best plans and schemes to draw people in, but we must always hold true to keeping the central focus to be God and not the Church or anything else.

    He is WOW!

    To serve people is good.
    To serve God is an honor greater than any other. Remind your guests of this.

  4. Sam Rainer says:

    Mark – thanks for the reminder. I agree, at the center of all the church activities, programs, and ministries is God. It’s His mission to reach people, after all. We just join Him and His work. We serve Him first, and that drives our desire to serve others.

  5. I agree that the church needs to find ways to engage young adults in this way.

    When I was a youth pastor I would engage non-believing students and parents in service as well. We would draw the line with task-oriented service projects (construction, set-up, etc.) rather than people-oriented projects (VBS, etc.)

  6. Admin says:

    The church only needs faithful men preaching the pure truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with power and the Word of God! It is the Word that convicts, the Word the changes and the Word that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” God’s Word is sufficient to “build the church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If one’s heart is converted, they will, by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit to serve and be involved in His church no matter what age or situation. It’s God’s Way.

    Blessings, jacy

  7. Chad Vice says:

    This was fantastic, Sam. Christan service (i.e., ministry) is absolutely critical for growth of believers and the church. I believe churches need to instill an immediate expectation that upon coming to faith in Christ, God has unique passions and ministerial giftings for the new believer.

    At the last church I attended, new members were strongly encouraged to sign up for one of several key ministry areas. Becoming a member conveyed a sense of ownership of the vision and direction of the church, and participation in service was expected. I must hasten to add that the expectation wasn’t driven from a sense of obligation as much as an excitement for finding one’s calling in ministry. To be a non-serving member would be both anomalous and unhealthy.

    I do wonder how churches can address that sense of apathy and complacency. I do think it’s something that can be taught into.

    I don’t believe this addressed your main question, but I wanted to comment.

    Excellent post!

  8. Sam Rainer says:

    Chad – thanks for your encouraging words. I believe one of the best ways to address a sense of apathy and complacency is for the leadership of the church to model service. Missional churches have missional pastors. Passionate churches have passionate teachers. Effective and essential churches have leaders who live incarnationally. Leading by example will not solve every case of apathy, but in many cases, the culture of the church will filter from the top down

  9. Neal Phillips says:

    I’m a new reader…

    I know this is an old post, but I am really encouraged by these ideas. I’ve been involved with many churches that focus just on the WOW. I’m told to WOW them on Sunday morning…but why? What comes next? I never hear of the next-step. It seems like we talk the game about discipleship. However, when the rubber meets the road, we fall short. I don’t want to average 150 more in attendance a year; I want our church to be an invaluable asset for the Kingdom.

    I appreciate your blog and quickly added it to my short-list. Thanx for the blessing.

  10. Sam Rainer says:

    Thanks Neal! I appreciate your thoughts, and I look forward to interacting with you in the future.

  11. Deborah says:

    I love the ideas in this article as well. As a generation Xer, I’m often the only one my age in church. I go to a small church of around a 100 or so, but I love the small church atmosphere. I know, however, that many people really worry about the lack of younger people in attendance. Yet ,I’ve always believed people in their 20’s and 30’s are anxious to feel God’s power in their lives, but perhaps feel that a church that worships without serving feels a little empty. I would like to try some of these service projects in our church and see if it has some appeal to my unchurched friends and could actually be an outreach tool.

  12. Samantha says:

    I don’t know if this website is only for church people. I found it on accident trying to find something about people who are ready to make a difference in the world and I think this is a great way to start. I myself do believe in God and Jesus Christ. I just don’t know where to go to learn more about the bible before having to commit to a religion. My fear to commiting is that I will not follow Gods rules or plans, therefore I’d be a hypocrite for saying I believe in a religion that I don’t follow to my whole potential. I wish there were more people who think like you.

    1. Charlene Hume says:

      I am quite sure that this site is for anyone seeking to know God, and through that relationship with God, to make a difference in this world. I just found this site today because I am looking for ways to make my faith more relevant and ideas to help my church.

      You CAN learn more about God and the Bible without making any commitment to a denomination or a religion. By visiting an Alpha group, you can learn and ask questions about God. They usually meet in a home, have a dinner, watch a video, and then have a discussion. I know about this because my daughter is going to help lead an Alpha group starting this month. Go to and look for a course in your area. A good short book about Jesus is More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell. I will be praying for you!

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