Radical Outreach highlights much of what I have previously read regarding Christian outreach. It does so in a to-the-point manner that makes it a handy resource for references. There is no doubt that the main premise of this book is true: the mission of the local church cannot be thrust solely on the pastor or a handful of church leaders. The laity--the whole body of Christ--must be engaged. The work is way too important to be left exclusively to "the professionals."
Hunter has a way of taking what should be obvious and shining a light on it in such a way that it can be seen clearly again. For example, one insight that hit home for me was his quote of William Temple that the church is the only society on earth that exists for its nonmembers. The deeper meaning here for me was not only that the church is supposed to be focused outwards, but also that by bringing a new person into our "society," we are actually pointing them outwards. Too often, on the rare occasion that we do bring in a truly new member, we spend the next several years acclimating them to fit the mold of what we think a Christian should look like, talk like, and be like.
I am one of those voices in the church that loves to say that the 1950s model of church just doesn't work any longer. I was also already aware that a growing number of Americans are not only unchurched, but unfamiliar with Christianity. But until reading this book, I was unaware of just what kind of shape our country is in, and how badly the church is failing our fellow citizens. We spend a goodly amount on supporting foreign missionaries (although even that number is dropping), but the sad truth is that a growing number of our neighbors have no Christian background. Will we end up some day being an oddity like the Amish?
Another aspect I appreciated from this book is that of treating outreach here similar to how we successfully do outreach in other countries: tailor our communication of the Gospel through indigenous forms. American culture constantly changes and adapts to new times, new situations, and new people groups as part of our "melting pot." We need to adapt our methods of communicating and relating to lost people. Our communities are also full of hurting people, some of whom are in recovery. We need to build relationships with---and minister to---them, too. The opportunities are all around us; we just need to get in the game!
There are several principles in this book that are very helpful. However, for me, the key points that really stand out in a practical way are the "Five Approaches to Reaching People Like the Samaritan Woman" (pp 188-190). The quote from Donald Soper is spot on: "You have to begin where they are, rather than where you'd like them to be." We can't expect non-Christians to act like Christians; they don't yet fully know Christ, so why would they act any different than they do? We must meet people where they are, along with their failings. Although their actions may be repulsive to my Christian ethics, I can't let that stop me from reaching out to them. Meeting people where they are also means communicating with (not just to) them respectfully, empathetically, and in a manner they understand (without a lot of "church-ese").
Churches could greatly benefit by following the recommendations in this book. If churches followed the recommendations of Radical Outreach, they wouldn't remain on the decline. To do so, they'd first have to answer Hunter's five questions: (1) Do we want to know them, (2) are we willing to go where they are, (3) are we willing to spend time with them, (4) do we want secular and outside-the-establishment people in the church, and (5) are we willing for our church to become their church too? Those are tough questions. Most Christians would probably want to answer yes to them all, but if we are honest with ourselves, at least a couple would likely be no. The sticking point is that all of the questions need to be answered with a "yes!" We have to get past the attitude that Jonah had about the Ninevites. We may view some people as different and completely hopeless, but God has sent us to them and we need to obey His command. It will do us and the people we reach a world of good.