A natural approach to evangelism
By Rob MacKay
Kevin Harney has a tireless, lifelong devotion to sharing the love of Christ with others. But he is uncomfortable with some of the ways that other believers attempt to spread the word: randomly knocking on doors, cold-calling, preaching about fire and brimstone, using peer pressure, or shaming. To him, these methods seem unnatural—even manipulative.
He’s not alone.
“Evangelism is one of the areas the Christians and non-Christians agree on,” says Harney, an RCA minister who serves as lead pastor at Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California. “They both hate it.”
The Far West Region agrees. Believing that transformation includes evangelism and discipleship, they’ve teamed up with Harney to train pastors and church members throughout the synod to share the gospel in ordinary ways. It’s one way that the Far West is putting Transformed & Transforming into practice.
Harney calls his philosophy “organic outreach”—building interpersonal relationships and trust with nonbelievers, and then simply leading a Christian life that others can observe. For example, if someone has a bad day, he might offer support and only later offer to pray. This way, he demonstrates the positive effects of his faith on his life and lets synergy take over. Harney believes evangelism can feel natural, in the same way that it’s easy to tell your friends about a new restaurant or your favorite team.
Harney launched Organic Outreach Ministries to make his philosophy more widely available. The organization offers training videos and materials and hosts an annual conference. But by nature, organic outreach isn’t a structured method. There aren’t many rules.
“It’s all about love,” says Harney. “I don’t tell you what to do.”
Organic Outreach has had tremendous impact on Shoreline members, helping them energize or revamp their relationships with God and preparing them to share the love with others.
Take Walt Bennett, for example. At the age of 53, Bennett, a Shoreline member, decided to leave his underwriting job at an insurance company to get in the outreach game. In January, he joined the staff at Shoreline as executive pastor of Organic Outreach Ministries International.
In many ways, Bennett is the perfect person for the job. He didn’t grow up in a religious family and he doesn’t like evangelization, either. He became a Christian at age 37 after a series of life events and some reflection. He says now that he would have joined the church much earlier if Organic Outreach had existed when he was younger.
In addition to training an Organic Outreach team at Shoreline, Bennett’s job includes working with the Far West Region. The training begins with one pastor and one church member from each classis, who then share the vision with the other churches in the classis. The goal is to reach families, communities, and workplaces everywhere.
“I’m absolutely committed,” he says. “So much effort is focused on taking care of the church body. If we shift the focus one degree, out into the community, it would change things overnight.”
To that end, Bennett and Harney will hold four more conferences this year, make countless California stops, and travel to Philadelphia, New Zealand, and Australia. Bennett also plans to build an online university campus to provide training on Organic Outreach.
As he contemplates the future, Harney says, “I’ll be exactly where I am now, but my prayer is that [Organic Outreach] will be in growing circles of influence.”
And no one is beyond its reach.
“As long as they are open to seeking after Christ, we will talk to them,” says Bennett. “That’s really what we are called to do.”
Rob MacKay is a freelance writer and a member of Sunnyside Reformed Church in New York City.
[Photo by Jacob Perl]