The Focus Group has always been an important tool of Breakthrough Media. It was first used mainly as a research tool to uncover the felt needs of the unchurched, but later we saw its exciting potential as a direct form of outreach.
Here's our experience:
In one evening, in one neighborhood, 9-12 unchurched people have a rewarding enjoyable evening with your outreach team, deep issues and concerns are explored, you touch and understand the pulse of people in your community, people are left with a positive image of your church, seeds planted lead some to become Christians, many later become a part of a new home group in their neighborhood, and several visit your church next Sunday.
Think of it this way. Here's a standard bridge building process:
Level 1: Awareness (person is aware of you or your church)
Level 2: Contact (you've had some kind of initial contact)
Level 3: Acquaintance (enough contact established to remember you)
Level 4: Relationship (mutual sharing, desire to continue)
Level 5: Intimacy (sharing of deep concerns, feelings, aspirations, etc.)
The unique aspects of Focus Groups are that they jump quickly to the 5th level. All at once you're having a very intimate conversation with individuals who were most likely total strangers the day before.
Our experience doing Focus Groups are always positive...by the end of the evening we can't get people to leave! The unspoken question on everyone's mind, "I don't want this to end, where do we go from here?" It becomes a very rewarding experience for both the unchurched and your team.
Invitations are made by your members to their unchurched acquaintances or by neighborhood canvassing. We ask neighbors to participate in an evening to share their insights on the needs of their own community. Even if they cannot attend, awareness and positive image is made of a church that cares enough to get involved. But we've never experienced any problem finding plenty of people who love to get involved.
You can quickly grow this outreach program through an 'on-the-job' mentoring process. It goes like this: First a pastor or outreach director takes an intern along with them and they do two or three focus groups together. The approach is easy to learn and after a few sessions the intern is ready to go to a different neighborhood and start another. If you want to grow faster take two people under your wing each time and split off by twos. You can then network together to share ideas and issues in a regular gathering or online discussion group.
These conversations should remain uncomplicated as an open, Spirit-directed environment with no agenda other than listening, showing love and honor, and nurturing authentic understanding. As needs are uncovered, in the initial "Conversations" settings, they could become springboards for the spin-off of more specific need-addressing (second-tier) ministries, such as home groups, neighborhood or community groups, healing support groups, "embassies” of reconciliation, marriage encounters, family finance workshops, and community service projects.
If you train Focus Group Outreach Teams to do this in multiple neighborhoods (diverse audiences types, diverse formats, diverse topics), and had them going on regularly, the level of bridge building in the community could be tremendous. If the process were supported with good training and communication tools, it's easy to imagine a quiet grassroots undercurrent building and penetrating whole communities. It can happen. Training would easily and naturally take place "on the job" and it would not take too much time to see the multiplying factor take over. This provides a real, practical strategy for your church to become a "church without walls" in your city.
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