The Summit’s local outreach ministry exists to send disciples to make disciples among the hurting and marginalized in our community. Serve365 is a mobilization campaign that connects Summit members to roles on campus teams that serve year-round in their community.

Local outreach teams at each campus are led by “champions” who model relational ministry, shepherd their team, and mobilize others to join them on mission. A local outreach director oversees the champions at each campus, helping campus staff to set strategic goals and connect new people.

Local Outreach DNA

In local outreach and community ministry, we prioritize demonstrating the gospel in deed and proclaiming the gospel in word. Our initiatives and projects are designed to demonstrate God’s love as a crucial part of the message, but they are also designed to build relationships with people who are far from God so he can draw them to himself.

Local outreach is not our public relations project. It’s not our way of creating goodwill in the community or forging partnerships with the city, though of course we want both of those things! At the core, local outreach is about taking the gospel to the people God commanded us to go to (everyone) who live in places we don’t (homeless shelters, prisons, etc.).

Tangibly displaying God’s love is an important part of how we share the good news. We do this because we are imitating Jesus, who, as he preached, also healed the sick and fed the hungry as signs of a kingdom that is not of this world. Pastor J.D. has often used N.T. Wright’s description of “sketching out with pencil what Jesus will one day paint over in indelible ink” to describe our purpose in acts of service and mercy. As the body of Christ, we are helping people see God. They should be able to look at us and glimpse aspects of God’s character.

We demonstrate God’s care for every one of his children by treating those who are marginalized as valuable, and we demonstrate his perseverance by loving others even when they don’t seem to appreciate or accept it. We demonstrate his grace by occasionally helping even when we know it will be squandered, and we demonstrate the size of his love by doing big things like ServeRDU week. Our call to imitate or demonstrate God is why we put such an emphasis on proactively going to the homeless or prison wherever they are in our city, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

Local outreach is part of our missions strategy at the Summit because we recognize that there are people right here in RDU who are far from God, and Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all people. Groups like the homeless and the prisoners may not naturally be in the places we live or work, so we’ve got to go to them.

If you read through the book of Acts, you’ll notice that for the early church, sending was the role of the church as a body and going was the role of the individual members. Everybody did both! Under the Great Commission, every Christian is called both to go and send others through the local church. For many of us, the place we will “go” is right here in RDU—to the homeless, the prisoner, and the disconnected youth. In fact, if you’re part of the Summit and you’re not actively preparing to go to a church plant, you probably fall into this category.

The value of a local outreach program is directly related to the quality of relationships that result from it. The “one-and-done” projects are rarely worth the resources invested in them because development (materially and spiritually) is a process, not a product. That’s why we give very little support to projects and programs that don’t have a high relational component to them. Even our ServeRDU projects—as low on relationship as we’ll go—are limited to the initiatives running all year, so there’s an opportunity to take the next step with someone you meet during that week.

Valuing people over projects doesn’t just require intentionality in planning and selecting projects; it takes initiative from the volunteers participating in the projects. If a project gives us initial steps toward a relationship, we’ve got to proactively look for the next step toward friendship.

Although this statement would certainly be applicable to people living next door to us, in this case we’re talking more about the Luke 10 kind of neighbor—specifically, our neighbors who are homeless, orphans, prisoners, unwed moms, or disconnected youth. We prioritize reaching these five groups of people in part because they are bound together by a common experience that can prevent them from seeing the gospel as good news for them.

It’s fine to talk about “reaching the homeless” or “caring for the orphan,” but we’ve got to be careful not to define our neighbors by their situation instead of by God’s design for them as his image bearers. We need to remember that our mission is to reach people who are homeless, not a faceless group of “the homeless.” Every person—no matter how desperate or broken—was created to bear God’s image, and it’s hard to view them that way when we only talk about the issues they face.

The value of a local outreach program is directly related to the quality of relationships that result from it. In part that’s because we recognize that people grow as disciples in community with other followers of God. It’s also because social and economic development most effectively happens in the context of a relationship as well! Experts will often talk about development as the process of leading an individual down a path that starts with a need for emergency assistance and ends with stability. The path looks something like this:

Emergency Relief » Rehabilitation » Development » Self-sufficiency

You could think of a similar path of discipleship for someone who’s currently far from God:

Spiritual Apathy » Seeking God » Growing Disciple » Disciple-making

This illustration is not perfect, but the two paths lead a person to become who God created them to be: a fruitful disciple both materially and spiritually. The point of a local outreach ministry is to walk with a person down both paths at the same time.

If loving our neighbor requires actually knowing our neighbors, it follows that the best ideas for new ministry initiatives or resources come from the “front lines”—members of our church who have ongoing relationships with folks we hope to serve. Through these deep relationships developed over months and years of working together, these “champions” are able to balance their new ideas with the wisdom that God gives to accompany his calling on their lives.

Front-line champions at the Summit have immersed themselves in the lives, hopes, and beliefs of the people we hope to serve, so they have a unique ability to help us understand what we should or should not do to lead a person down the path to fruitfulness, materially and eternally. Undoubtedly even these folks will get it wrong at times, but they have already built a foundation of trust that covers misunderstandings.

We want to avoid the temptation to fund someone else to do ministry for us.  Grant-making organizations play a crucial role in our community, but the church’s role is to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

That’s why the first question we’ll ask an organization or ministry is about the involvement of Summit folks in their work. The sequence is important: Our resources follow our people; they generally don’t precede them. But it’s also why we try to be generous to our partner organizations who create the opportunities and resources for us to serve our community. With our preferences and schedules, we aren’t always the easiest folks to coordinate, and these local organizations are key partners in helping us reach out to our city.

Paternalism happens when someone who has authority or resources restricts the responsibility or choice of another person in the perceived “best interests” of that second individual. It is the result of defining our neighbors by their situation or need instead of by God’s design for them. These unhealthy relationships can occur when we enter into potentially positive relationships like mentoring or coaching without valuing the other person, and even a well-meaning church can accidentally fall into this trap when working with folks in material need.

We’re all susceptible to this trap: It is the “default setting” for prideful people who happen to have more of something than the person next to them. Building relationships of real equality between people of unequal power isn’t easy, but there are a few habits we can develop that can help us to avoid the trap: Ask lots of questions. Build relationships on friendship, not need. Whenever possible, do with rather than doing for.

We can easily be tempted to start a new partnership or ministry initiative big, with a lot of people, to create an atmosphere of excitement and momentum. There certainly are times when a big event or project can play a part in an effective launch strategy, but they are usually more useful in highlighting a growing ministry than getting one off the ground. In large part, that’s because our goal of building lasting relationships is much harder to achieve in huge groups.

Our capacity for follow-through should match the size of what we plan, otherwise we’ll wind up over-promising and under-delivering. It’s not because we don’t want to impact our community on a big scale, nor is it because we don’t believe God will bless us with growth. If he grows it bigger than we planned, he’s fully able to grow our capacity too! Rather, this principle is about acknowledging that our ministry is more about caring for the people around us than it is about mobilizing a mass of volunteers to tackle a problem.

Contact the Director at Your CampusContact the Local Outreach Pastoral Team