To the churches of Medina and Streeter, the loyal children in the faith we all share:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior, together one with the Holy Spirit.
If there was one word that could drop a Lutheran dead in their tracks it would be the word Evangelism. Often times that word carries a connotation of young men going around door-to-door unashamedly asking the residents, “Do you know where you are going if you were to die tonight?” For a variety of reasons this act of evangelism has never really gained traction within the Lutheran Church as a whole, and I would assume the same has held true for our specific Lutheran churches throughout the years as well. The truth is we, Lutherans as a whole, seemed to have become very content with sitting back and waiting for “new” people to come find us, and join our ranks as contributing members. As such, living out our calling as Christians to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) has unfortunately fallen to the wayside. However, in the 5th chapter of their book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, authors David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung make the claim that one of the reasons the churches in their study of effective rural congregations are effective and vital, is how they approach evangelism.
What is surprising here, however, is that the way they go about evangelism is not in the way that one would expect. These rural congregations that have shown themselves to be effective are not going about evangelism as a program of the church, or as a function of a specific committee within the church, but instead is an integral part of everything the church does, and it begins for them with relationships. Poling-Goldenne and Jung write, “Not one of the congregations in the research study reported going door-to-door proselytizing. Instead, the focus is on helping the people of the congregation to invite others from within their natural webs of relationships: their friends, relatives, neighbors, and business and school associates” (61). The people in these vital rural congregations are engaging in evangelism simply by sharing their faith with the people they are already having conversations with on a day to day basis, and then inviting them into a relationship with the church. The understanding here is that the relationship with the church is not just a relationship with a building or the people in the building but with Christ Jesus himself.
In these vital, effective rural congregations evangelism becomes the work of every single person. While the pastor of these congregations serve as the chief evangelist, through preaching, teaching, and encouragement, the pastor is not and probably will not be the most effective evangelist in the church (61). The most effective evangelists are those who are sitting in the pews; from those who have been life-long church members, all the way down to those who are just beginning their faith journey. What these churches have discovered is that the most effective people to be inviting others into a relationship with Jesus through the church is the youth. But it is important to recognize, here, that they become such effective inviters by having a good model from the adults in their lives.
The main take away I took from this chapter on Discovering Hope is that there is no cookie cutter way to approach evangelism other than sharing the faith and relationship that we have with Jesus through our church with those around us. We cannot take what works in Fargo, for instance, and assume that it will automatically work here in Streeter and Medina as well. The only constant between effective churches, in regards to evangelism, is that it begins and ends with us sharing our faith with others. For us, the Lutheran churches of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, it begins with how we end each and every worship service. Living out our call to be God’s shepherds, doing God’s work daily. And not just saying those words, but actually doing it in our everyday lives.
Grace be with all of you,