Outreach vs Indrag at Central Church

Alan Hirsch, author and church missiologist, has said what most churches call “outreach” really means bringing folks to an event at your church. Instead of calling it “outreach” he called such efforts “indrag.” Members “drag” their friends and family “in.” Once “in” these folks can hear about Jesus and might become followers too.

“Indrag” has worked. I am the chief among “indragsters” pastors. In the name of Jesus, after hitting certain Vacation Bible School goals, I have been dunked in a tank; splashed from a Kerplunk toilet-like apparatus; and eaten my lunch on the church roof (thankfully the rooftop of Bad Axe was not the same pitch or distance to the ground as Central Church’s rooftop). I’ve received denominational awards for hitting certain “indrag” attendance goals. For all of its sketchy motivational tactics (are we building the Kingdom of God or the pastor’s ego by handing pastors “gold” attendance trophies?), the “indrag” method was effective in getting people “in.” 

But was the “indrag” method Jesus’ approach? Yes, He drew crowds, but those crowds seemed to happen organically or spontaneously more than disciples handing on flyers to come to an event. In Mark’s gospel especially, Jesus always seemed to be hushing his miracle recipients and telling them not to tell anyone of the healing (hardily a great tool for building a crowd). Jesus went to where the people were, not for the purpose of collecting a trophy, building a church (he never built one) or intentionally organizing a crowd. Instead he went to where the people were (be prepared for the least earthshattering news of all time) because that’s where the people were. He loved them, not for what they could do for Him but for what He could do for them. People weren’t a means to an end, people were the end. It was all about people. What if we took the same approach?

Most times when churches raise money, it’s for “indrag” purposes. It’s the “Field of Dreams” philosophy coming into church evangelism: Build a sanctuary or gym “and they will come.” But Central Church’s IMAGINE initiative hasn’t been about “indrag.” It’s “outreach.”  To be sure, there are some aspects of the initiative that will make the “in church” experience better. Better signage, nurseries and an up-to-date community center lobby is meant to welcome our guests and neighbors better. Still the main purpose of Central Church’s IMAGINE initiative is about “outreach.” 

Paying off the debt will free up more dollars to reach out in our community missionally. Jesus could turn five loafs and two fish into a feast for the hungry, we will need former mortgage and interest payment dollars to feed the poor. Imagine going to a laundromat in Flint and having a “free laundry day.” It’s handing out quarters, not to gather a crowd, but to meet a need. Jesus went to the well to meet a lonely Samaritan outcast woman. Who might we meet as our kids (or grandkids) are playing on the Central Park playground alongside a neighborhood child and parent? Jesus healed the sick with a touch, we will need to send doctors and folks to Panama (and elsewhere) to minister to the hurting. IMAGINE has been about “outreach” not “indrag.”

This Sunday we are celebrating how God is using your faithful IMAGINE initiative participation and looking ahead to see how Central Church is becoming more and more an “outreach” church (more and more a “Jesus church”). I hope you can join us!  It’s going to be a party! You will hear testimonies from Central Church people who believe in how God is working. You’ll hear an update of where we are at financially and the changes you’ll see in the coming months. You’ll be amazed by the number of fellow participants in these efforts. You’ll be able to rejoice that the kingdom of God is being built “in Flint as it is in heaven.” These are great days to be calling Central Church home. It’s not about “indrag,” it’s all about “outreach.”