People in your community have needs. Those needs, or unmet needs, are what drive people to buy things, to get out and socialize in bars and clubs, and to choose habits that are destructive to their lives. Those same needs are also the reason someone attends a local church. So, how do we speak to people’s needs in our evangelism efforts? And how do we do it with a resounding truth that will stir them to action?
People are designed to take care of their own needs. Ephesians 5:29 says ”After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—.” This verse seems to be at odds with the faces of the public we see every day. It appears that so many of the people we meet truly don’t care about themselves at all. The truth is they have bought into a lie: that their needs can be met through the idols of this world. If we are to offer them a rescue plan, then we need to speak to those same needs that have driven them into their current dilemmas.
There is a hierarchy to human need. People cannot concern themselves with a deeper need until they have resolved the more primal ones. The most popular model on this hierarchy is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Although this theory lacks a Christian perspective it does outline the needs people are aware of in their lives. We know the answer to all of these is Christ’s love, but we cannot simply say those words and expect a consistent response. We are to be the hands of Christ (meet the needs of the broken) in order for people to turn their eyes to the heavens.
Using Maslow’s Hierarchy as a framework, let’s look at the basic needs of every human:
Physiological Needs: These needs are all about the physical nature of man. These needs include food, water, sleep, and shelter. If these needs are not being met then a person is incapable of concern about their higher level needs. In the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus illustrates this perfectly as He feeds the masses.
Safety: This is the need for security. Secure employment, resources, health, family all need to be addressed at this level. Many people today stay focused on this needs level. Church communication that focuses on Safety can be very successful.
Love/Belonging: This is where people become aware of their need for companionship. Love, friendship, and intimacy all fall in this level.
Esteem: This need is primarily derived from our feeling of value from others. It is also where people assess their own value.
Self-Actualization: This is where Christianity and Dr. Maslow take a strong parting of ways. His version of self-actualization involves developing the self. As Christians we understand the opposite to be true. As it is written in Philippians 2:3-4, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” However the outcome is in many ways the same: focus on interest outside of self, respect for others, ability to discriminate between good and evil.
Although this template of human development is not perfect it does illustrate the keys to reaching people in your community. But in order to better understand its application we need to first look at the problem.
Where do we stand?
Before considering the needs of others, let’s first look at our own needs. All of us have unmet needs that we are attempting to give up to God, but for the most part church leaders have grown to a place of self-actualization. We are working toward growing our relationship with God and learning to focus on things outside ourselves. This is good. This is why we have a heart for the lost, because God has rescued us and demonstrated how he can meet our needs. The challenge is that this leaves us far from the people we want to reach. Our needs and theirs are no longer the same. How do we learn to focus on the needs of our community without supplanting our own needs into the communication?
First, create a needs profile. The community surrounding a local church may fall into a specific need level. Assessing the needs of your local community, you can create a “needs profile.” Developing one of these is a great way to determine how you want to communicate with the families in your area. Work through each of the levels of needs to determine which one requires the most assistance in your neighborhood.
Second, articulate the need. Each community will be unique, so it is important to be specific when addressing the need. By tapping into specific needs you build trust that you can help fulfill the unmet desires of people’s hearts. For example, if there is a lot of financial turmoil in your area due to a closed factory, mention the closure and address the fear that people have lost their security.
Third, point to the solution. By addressing a need you show that you have the potential to understand the solution. The better you articulate step two, the more successful you will be building trust in the solution.Remember, the solution must stay focused on the present need. If you jump ahead to illustrating the solution to our need for esteem, self-value and God’s presence, you may lose some people still focused on their current pain.
Following this process can lead to clarity in your ministry opportunities. If you live in a low-income area, then physiological needs will be a major focus of your outreach. You can also combine various needs to hit a large range of people. For example, families spend a lot of their energy on physical needs. People need food, shelter, and clothing to live. Adding a meal to an event is a great way to up attendance by offering a solution to a base need.
Needs-based outreach is only one tool in reaching your community for God. But remember, Satan uses this same approach to stealing the hearts of the people in your community; we can use it to win them back.
Vince Williams is Vice President for Marketing at SermonView. He ran his first direct mail campaign 20 years ago, and enjoyed it so much that he has been involved in sales and marketing work ever since. For the last 8 years Vince has dedicated himself to helping churches communicate better and market themselves more effectively. Vince lives with his wife in Vancouver, Wash.