Reflection on past Synod-wide evangelism practices
During a lament at yet another strategy session on how to grow the church, long time members articulated the statistics from, “the good old days.” “I remember when the pews were full and we had to use folding chairs in the aisles on Christmas Eve.”
Another member pipes in, “My confirmation class has 30 members, and how many did we have last year – 3?” You too may have heard these types of comments, and many times they are accompanied with the attitude that we are fighting a losing battle. Our numbers are dropping, but this was not always the case. There was a time, in the 1950s when Lutherans were growing at astonishing rates. TIME magazine, in the April, 1958 edition predicted that if things continue the way they were going, everyone in America would be Lutheran by 2000. We know that did not come to fruition. The last year the LC-MS experienced substantial growth was 1963.
Many research hours, much theological debate and ongoing dialogue have ensued trying to figure out what happened and means by which we can reverse this trend. From some of these conversations, we as a Body of Christ turned to other denominations and tried to replicate what they were doing but using our own terminology and doctrinal concerns. Results were mixed, because in some ways, it would be analogous to us trying to go on a 3-week vacation to a foreign land with just a paperback version of key words and phrases in our pocket. It was not our native tongue.
This, perceived lack of success made us delve deeper into evangelism, and, “those in power” determined that perhaps it best if we left evangelism to those that possessed the gift of evangelizing. The result of this venture left us with Evangelism Committees and got the rest of us, “off the hook from sharing the Word of God.”
With years of limited success using this model, church leaders looked for ways for congregations to grow. We became, “missional” and because of this, nothing was set in stone if we were to really grow. This recent approach has left a rift between those congregations that are “LINO” (Lutheran In Name Only), those who have abandoned even the name “Lutheran” but exist within the denomination, AND those who continue to turn to page 151 in the hymnal on Sunday morning in order to worship in the “true Lutheran fashion.”
So what about us?
We use, as a starting place for our evangelism activities, Matthew 28:19
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
Outreach is accomplished through our members daily witnessing Christ’s love for them. While the evangelism committee suggests ideas, and sponsors certain activities, we believe that evangelism should happen as a result of building a relationship with another person.
As a congregation, we do make a conscious effort to be welcoming and inviting to visitors without being too pushy. As a result of a committee’s work over a several year period, we instituted a greeter program, upgraded the signage in our buildings and did an extreme overhaul on our nursery. We come together on Sunday to worship Christ, but more importantly to receive the gifts that he has prepared for us to receive. Once we have been nourished, we can in turn go about our various vocations sharing our faith with our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members.
If we live authentically, Christ’s love for us will show to the rest of the world, thus evangelism is just part of who we are, and what we do.