- the extent or length of reaching out.
- an organization’s involvement with or activity in the community, especially in the context of social welfare.
- the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.
- zealous advocacy of a cause.
In the English language and in the church, these two words are often used interchangeably to describe the sharing of the good news. But as you can see, one of them describes something else entirely. Preaching a message of repentance is seen in the ministries of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 NASB, Jesus Christ in Matthew 4:7 NASB, Paul in Acts 20:21 NASB and commanded of us in Matthew 28:19 NASB and in Luke 24:47 NASB. And as we see in Mark 1:15, our message of repentance is a large component of our gospel proclamation.
“…repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15 NASB
So we share the gospel with unbelievers, whether that’s family, friends, peers, or coworkers. We go into public areas to proclaim the good news. This is evangelism. Yet there are other times we may feel that we’ve been fulfilling God’s command to evangelize when in reality we’ve been engaging in outreach. And while both are good things, only one is a fulfillment of God’s command to us.
One very big difference is that outreach is not seen as offensive. Let me explain. When you outreach by inviting others to church or to church picnics or such; or when your church outreaches by volunteering at a soup kitchen or holding a Vacation Bible School or having a community-wide blood drive, you are displaying an act of love that hopefully results in the gospel being shared. Unbelievers are able to see, through church service or even just church events, Christians in action. And even to unbelievers it is regarded as a noble and an all around “nice thing” to do.
For some churches, outreach is the majority of their reaching out towards unbelievers. But look to the Great Commission again.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NASB
Jesus’ words imply not outreach but evangelism. We are commanded to go to all the nations and share this message with whomever we interact with, regardless of race, language and skin color. And unlike outreach, which the world sees as a “good thing”, when we share the gospel we share a message that is offensive. No man likes to be told he has offended a holy God and stands before Him condemned in his sin. In his natural state, no man will humble himself before God and seek repentance. Even what some would call the “light side” of the gospel, which is that Jesus Christ’s righteous life, undeserved death and victorious resurrection atone for the sins of those who believe, is offensive to unbelievers because it shows them there is something they can’t achieve themselves.
We mustn’t confuse outreach with evangelism. Jesus gave the church a mission to evangelize, not a mission to engage in outreach. So that means that every believer is responsible before God to do this – to share the gospel in it’s entirety. Let us then go with boldness, sharing this offensive message, knowing that it carries the power of God to bring unbelievers to Himself.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17 NASB