By Pastor Wayne Zschech
Evangelical. It means “good news bearing.” It’s also a part of our congregation’s name. Our official name is The EVANGELICAL (Good News Bearing) Lutheran Church of Our Savior. Evangelism is the practice bearing the good news of Jesus Christ to those who do not have a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yet, most congregations, including those with “evangelical” in their name, practice a more “hands-off” style of evangelism. We wait for inactive members or those who dropped out of another church some time ago to enter our doors on Sunday, welcome them politely, and encourage them to join as members. Guess what? That style of evangelism hasn’t worked for over fifty years and it’s not going to change.
In the book “Get Their Name” the authors make four observations about evangelism in today’s churches.
- Inwardly focused churches tend to define and practice evangelism as “reconnecting disconnected church folks.”
- Outwardly focused churches define and practice evangelism as connecting the unconnected folks to Jesus and then to the church.
- The pool of once-churched people to connect with is dramatically shrinking while the pool of never-connected un-churched populations is growing exponentially, especially among those born between 1981 and 1999.
- Because of the above, along with the upheaval of the 1960’s and polarization of religious liberals religious conservatives, which led to the disaffection of youth from religion in the 1990s and 2000s, mainline churches that focus on disconnected church folks are bewildered and unsure how to proceed through an accelerated state of decline.
Need more evidence? Remember when we thought, “Oh, once young adults get married and begin having children of their own they’ll be back to church?” Think again. The time gap between graduating and marriage for my grandfather was a few years, and for my mother’s generation maybe it was five, but today that gap is more like twelve to fifteen years! That’s a habit hard to break and is one reason why we aren’t seeing as many young families coming back into a church faith community (although you wouldn’t know it by the number of baptisms we’ve had in January and February.)
Here’s the bottom line. While we should not ignore or neglect an evangelism focus that aims to reconnect disconnected Christians back into the church, the greater number of people to bear the good news of Jesus are those who have never been a part of the church – ever. And in order to do that, we will need to learn – for the first time – what it truly means to share our story, our faith relationship, with Jesus to those who we do not know…yet. Evangelism in this new day must be about building authentic relationships with people we don’t know. It is not a skill or a characteristic of the Lutheran church and not this Lutheran church, but I believe it is one we can learn if we are willing.
Therefore, I invite you to consider attending our Lenten midweek soup and devotional reflections on evangelism as building authentic relationships. We meet on Wednesdays at 6:00 in the Parish Hall during Lent. The Council will be studying the book “Get Their Name” throughout the year and we will be planning how to provide various ways for the congregation at large to become familiar with the information and practices advocated in these and other materials. My hope is with the Holy Spirit’s guidance we might become what our name already claims us to be, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Savior – a congregation that actively bears the good news of Jesus Christ in authentic relationships with people we don’t know as well as the ones we once knew.