Last Sunday evening I held a meeting in the Connect Center regarding our church’s evangelism. Around twenty people came and heard me give a presentation which included my personal and professional thoughts about it; we read an article together, watched a video from the last Northwest District Convention, and enjoyed an hour-long question and answer session. I believe it was a very fruitful meeting and will lead to some action in the near future. If you were unable to make it, or weren’t quite sure it was something for you, then I’d like to give you a little debrief here so you can see what the issues are and what we talked about.
First, I believe we here at St. Paul are a Christian congregation like many others in America: we come together mainly on Sundays to worship and expect that if people in the community are interested about Jesus or the Christian faith, they’ll come and visit and may even become members. While this does in fact happen, a handful of new people each year are hardly enough to grow or sustain the church. Evangelism and invitation to worship is needed otherwise how will people in our city know the benefits of Christ and membership in His church?
During the meeting I shared what I see as a disparity between current evangelism in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and how to grow your church. In all the literature that I read from our synod and all the presentations I’ve head in the last nine years from church leaders it’s almost as if evangelism and church growth are two completely different subjects. Not in my mind though—to me they are inseparable. Once a person hears the Good News of Jesus Christ and responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to believe and receive faith, what’s the next step? Baptism. What’s comes after that? Hopefully a time of learning more (catechesis); Confirmation; hearing God’s Word regularly; repentance and absolution; receiving the Lord’s Supper; bearing fruits of the spirit to benefit others, etc. All these things happen in and through the Church!
The purpose of my meeting was to look at how we might bridge the gap between evangelism, that is, just telling someone about Jesus and then getting them to come to church. It sounds so practical and easy doesn’t it? It’s not. We read an article together at the meeting from a young man who claims the Church needs to stop falling over themselves pandering to millennials in an effort to win them back to church. Just continue doing what we are doing and “be the Church” was the gist. I believe it’s an opinion worth considering in our upcoming evangelism.
The video we watched was a 25 minute excerpt from last summer’s district convention. Rev. Michael Newman, president of the Texas District, LCMS, talked about the rich heritage of evangelism in our area and the challenges to it going as far back as the 1800s. To put it as one pastor did back then, “The soil is hard, very hard.” Edward Doering said this; he was St. Paul’s pastor from 1883 to 1887. Rev. Newman also stressed our church’s love for people, and if we don’t have that, we aren’t going to win many souls for Christ.
Having taken all of that into consideration, we spent the rest of the meeting discussing steps we might take to increase or improve our evangelism. A couple things became clear right away: One, evangelism is not the responsibility of a board or committee; nor is it “someone else’s job.” All of us are called as a royal priesthood of believers to witness to Christ whenever and wherever we can. Two, we must love each other and begin strengthening the relationships between us first if we are to love those we evangelize to as ambassadors of Christ. This may sound more to some like in-reach than outreach; but I believe there’s some merit to it. You’ve heard the phrase or the song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” And, as the last teacher of the original St. Paul Lutheran School recently reminded me when he was reminiscing about the days just before it closed in 1968, “The community knows when we as a church argue and fight amongst each other.”
So, what action items will come from this meeting? Well, we agreed we will meet again. But we want to do more than talk, we want to begin following Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost sooner than later. After all, he’s already doing his work in the Holy Spirit, searching for souls who are currently being preyed upon by the devil. We can join him or continue waiting for the next revival when people will inexplicably flock to churches without us having to do a thing. I’m up for the first option, how about you?
When you see a slide or bulletin blurb announcing the next meeting on this topic, please take note of it, put it on your calendar, and come to it. I look forward to working with more of you on this. And remember, anything we do we don’t do it alone. We have a helper, the Holy Spirit. We have a pilot, Jesus, who will navigate us safely through the seemingly murky waters of that long-feared church program known as evangelism. Let the Spirit assure you though, it’s not just a program, it’s a way of life for you, me and all believers.