In our modern church era, it is extremely common to assess the faithfulness of a local church not according to the soundness of the teaching nor by the godliness of its members, but instead by the measurable extent of a church’s outreach ministry. Outreach ministry is commonly defined as meeting tangible needs of those outside of the body of Christ in one’s particular geographical area or meeting tangible needs of the body of Christ outside of one’s home church. Again, based on those definitions, it is common to validate a church or assess its legitimacy based on the accessible list of outreach efforts that take place.

Since the word “outreach” does not appear in the Bible how should a church think about this extremely popular category of ministry? After looking through the New Testament, it seems clear that the emphasis of the New Testament is on the faithfulness of individual Christians to meet various needs within the body (Matt. 25:40; Rom. 12:13; Titus 3:14; Heb. 6:10). In fact, according to Jesus, this kind of love within the body is the strength of a church’s testimony—John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. This means that there can be little to no ministry to the lost if the “one another” commands are neglected in the body. Nevertheless, although this ministry is to be prioritized, it is not to be done at the exclusion of those outside of the body (Gal. 6:10).

Although there are many references that speak of a church providing financial support to another church or to the Apostle Paul (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor. 9:5-15; Php. 4:15-18), there does not seem to be an explicit passage throughout the New Testament that instructs the church body, as a whole, to organize and mobilize corporate efforts to conduct ministry outside of the body. That being said, Christians who have no compassion for the needs of the lost and have no desire to have influence in the lives of unbelievers are unloving and disobedient. However, even when there are good deeds done towards unbelievers, in order for those deeds to be classified as loving, the Bible teaches they must be conducted in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). This means that simply meeting the physical needs of the lost world does not automatically qualify as Christian love and, in fact, may be labeled as disobedience, depending on the recipient and usage of church resources (2 Thess. 3:10). Reason being, the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and thus the use of ministry funds should line up with the purpose of the church and not merely mimic the humanitarian efforts of secular organizations.

This leads to perhaps the most important question this topic of outreach raises and that is with regards to the purpose of the church. That purpose is found in 2 key texts: Matt. 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Eph. 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

As the body of Christ is equipped, those in the body are increasingly able to faithfully make disciples and meet all kinds of needs with discernment. In other words, as Christians are equipped with the truth through preaching, teaching and discipleship, their burdens for the needs of others in their sphere of influence will be cultivated and the way to meet those needs will be biblically informed, whether those needs are physical, spiritual or both. Looking at it in this way, how would it be possible to track all the “outreach” efforts of a church body as each person goes out into their extended families, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, etc.? In the end, to be able to track the outreach efforts of a particular church might actually demonstrate that a church is not living up to its potential as it relates to biblical outreach.