Happy Thanksliving*!

Why Thanksliving instead of Thanksgiving?  I'm glad you asked.  As people on mission following Jesus, we have the opportunity to strive and live each day with a thankful attitude because we have been called to follow the King of Kings, Lord of Lord's, Savior of all, Creator of the universe, on his unique mission to seek and save what was lost.  When we follow Jesus, the joy of the Lord is our strength. 

The people you lead cannot get that joy and strength by "just" sitting on a pew each Sunday.  You, as a leader of God's people, cannot get that joy and strength by "just" leading worship. God created us to receive his good gifts when we gather together, Word and sacraments, then empowers us to exercise what he gives to us daily.  Exercise is proven to produce endorphins, which in turn make us feel great, plus exercise makes us stronger.  Following Jesus, exercising our faith, releases joy and strength in us so that we can turn around and give away what Jesus gave us. 

You cannot give away what you don't have.  So we do not forsake the gathering together of ourselves, as is the practice of some.  Instead we gather together, receive Christ's good gifts, and do not forsake the giving away of what we've been given, which sadly is the practice of many. 

Receiving and giving away what we receive completes the God made circuit of our lives together.  We receive joy and strength from our Lord, then give joy and strength to those who need it, don't have it on their own, or who through circumstances lost their joy and strength along the way.  This is following Jesus, this is being Jesus people.  We go to church and receive his good gifts, but that is not the end.  In fact, going to church is the means, the means to an end.

We receive the means, the means of grace, and go out into our world to give away what we receive.  We don't wait for people to come to us, we take Christ's good gifts and go out with them to where hurting people live, work, gather.  In our neighborhoods, our jobs, where we shop and in our families and friends.  This is the end of the means, the very reason Jesus gives us his Word, his Body, his Blood, his precious life giving Water.  He gives us these good gifts so that we can get up from our pews, go outside the church building, and give away all the love, grace, support, help, strength and joy we have received from Jesus.  Through Jesus, the end does indeed justify the means!!!

So as people on a mission we celebrate Thanksliving day, today and every day through the One who loves us, strengthens us and gives us joy in living on mission!  Go out today and give away some strength and joy to others. 

* The idea of Thanksliving came to me from one of the wonderful missional ladies working at the Southern Dist, Marion
.  Thank you Marion for turning me onto the idea of Thanksliving!!!

Happy Thanksliving Day!!!
Your Servant In Christ's Mission,
Eric Johnson

Mission and Ministry Facilitator
Southern District, LCMS
Here is an article I read today.  What's going on here?  How can your church connect with people and provide community, acceptance and purpose through Christ?

Why atheists are starting their own global church

Peter Weber 4 hours agoThe Week
Pope Francis is significantly upping the Catholic Church's buzz quotient, but another congregation is hoping to take America (and other countries) by storm. Like Methodism and Episcopalianism, the Sunday Assembly is a British import, but with a difference: This church doesn't believe in God. It's motto is "live better, help often, and wonder more." It's striving to be a global atheist religion.

Stand-up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans started the original Sunday Assembly in a decommissioned London church in January, and there are now five congregations in the Sunday Assembly Everywhere (SAE) denomination: Three in Britain, one in New York, and one in Melbourne, Australia. Starting Oct. 22, Evans and Jones are starting a "global missionary tour" to visit the four branch congregations and set up new ones in 18 other cities in Britain, Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

The stated goal is to have "a godless congregation in every town, city, and village that wants one" — and hopefully 30 to 40 by the end of December. If they reach that goal, the Sunday Assembly says in a press release, "the 3000 percent growth rate might make this non-religious Assembly the fastest growing church in the world, catering to the fastest growing belief / non-belief group."

There are certainly enough atheists, agnostics, and humanists to fill up the pews, if they're interested. Agrowing number of Americans and Europeans fall somewhere toward the skeptical end of the organized-religion spectrum. And they're getting better organized, even aggressive.

But how is the Sunday Assembly different than a civic organization or social club, or even a TED talk, that meets on Sundays? (Jones says the church-expansion model draws heavily from TEDx, which franchises TED conferences around the world.) Are the atheists just trying to troll Sunday (religious) churchgoers?

It appears Jones and Evans are earnest in their quest to found the great atheist church. Nimrod Kamer atDon't Panic walks us through a Sunday Assembly service, and introduces us to the proselytizers-in-chief. (Warning, Samuelson throws a few F-bombs during the service.):

Jones and Evans promise that the Assembly "will solace worries, provoke kindness, and inject a touch of transcendence into the everyday," and then they give a hint to some things a really good Rotary Club luncheon may not provide: "Life can be tough... It is. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, we have moments of weakness or life just isn't fair. We want The Sunday Assembly to be a house of love and compassion, where, no matter what your situation, you are welcomed, accepted and loved."

Katie Engelhart at Salon says she "did not need to be sold on the idea" of a godless church:

I don't think religion should have a monopoly on community. I like the idea of a secular temple, where atheists can enjoy the benefits of an idealized, traditional church — a sense of community, a thought-provoking sermon, a scheduled period of respite, easy access to community service opportunities, group singing, an ethos of self-improvement, free food — without the stinging imposition of God Almighty. [Salon]

Harry Cheadle at Vice admits he started on his path toward atheism because he "wanted to stay home on Sundays." But the idea of an atheist church has him reconsidering his aversion to organized religion:

Since I'm an atheist, I'll base this claim on data: Studies have shown that those who go to church are happier, more optimistic, and healthier than others; attending religious services helps kids fight depression and by some (admittedly biased) accounts makes people more charitable. Obviously most atheists won't have a very good time gathering at a church or synagogue or temple where everyone is devoted to praising and beseeching an imaginary being, but if you believe these studies, they could do with attending something like church. [Vice]

Jones hopes that the Sunday Assemblies will start taking on some of the community functions traditionally performed by churches: Sunday school, weddings, funerals, non-religious baptisms (or "naming ceremonies"), among others.SEE ALSO: A brief history of conspiracy theories

But a funny thing is happening as Jones and Evans try to expand their godless religion, says Salon's Engelhart: "As the 'atheist church; becomes more 'Church' than ever, it is working to downplay its Atheism." That may not sit well with committed atheists; Ian Dodd, one of the founders of the nascent Los Angeles branch, tells Salon he found Unitarian Universalism "a little diluted." Engelhard frets that "the Sunday Assembly refusing the 'atheist' label seems akin to Ms. Magazine deciding that 'feminist' is a bad word after all."

The draw of a like-minded community might well overcome all that. It won't be the first time atheists have tried to band together, Nick Spencer at Theos tells Britain's The Guardian. In the 19th century, non-religious people formed hundreds of "ethical unions," focused on good works and community, with services structured along the lines of a church liturgy. They lasted for a generation or two. Spencerexplains:

The reason for that was because you need more than an absence to keep you together. You need a firm common purpose. What you can see in these modern-day atheist churches is people united by a felt absence of community. I suspect what brings them together is a real desire for community when in a modern, urbanized individualized city like London you can often feel very alone. That creates a lot of camaraderie, but the challenge then becomes, what actually unites us? [Spencer, to The Guardian]

Ian Dodd, the Los Angeles Assembly co-founder, isn't daunted by atheism's definitional lack of common faith: "The church model has worked really well for a couple of thousand years," he tells Salon. "What we're trying to do is hold on to the bath water while throwing out the baby Jesus."
Most people in your area are going to look at your church web site before they choose to visit your congregation.  So it is important that your web site be the best it can be.  By this I mean your web site should speak to your target audience, not to your already members or already religiously affiliated people.   

How do you create a web site that speaks to your target audience?
First, try looking at your website with fresh eyes.  Imagine that you are a totally unchurched person, someone who has never been to a church and knows next to nothing about Christianity except for cultural myths.  How does your website communicate with an unchurched person?  With whom is your web site communicating?  With whom are you trying to connect?  Is your site focused on attracting people to your worship service or programs?  How could you tweak your website to better communicate with those who would never come to your church on their own? 

Ask an unchurched friend or family member, or even a complete stranger, to look at your web site and give you feedback on the questions above.

A website is not a magic bullet that will attract people to your church, but it is often the first impression people considering visiting will see.  

Try to update your web site to include pictures of your congregation having fun.  Include audio of your sermon.  Information about your congregation needs to be simple and easy to find.  Have a clear way for people to Contact you.  Have clear Directions, including an interactive Google map.  Include a FAQ section where you address questions that unchurched people may ask.  For an example of a simple yet effective web site, check out www.word-of-grace.org

You can create and maintain a very effective and professional looking web site yourself using any number of available web site creators.  I prefer Weebly.com because their sites are easy to create and maintain yourself and are very reasonably priced from free to just a few dollars a month.  Don't break your budget with an expensive web site, check out Weebly and others like it and create your own web site that reflects well upon your congregation and mission in your community.
One of the principles I have discovered that help me understand the world we live in is the Stockdale Paradox.  Lutherans love paradox's, or is that paradoxy?  Admiral James Stockdale was the highest ranking POW during the Vietnam War.  Seeing men lose hope and break due to a faith in false optimism, Admiral Stockdale developed his paradox that has direct correlation to our struggles in missional outreach today.  

The Stockdale Paradox says: 
"You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the present difficulties.
AND at the same time…
You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

Let's break that down in our context as people following Jesus in his mission to seek and save what was lost. 
1.  "You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the present difficulties."  
We have faith in Christ.  We have faith that the Holy Trinity is engaged in mission to reach people with the message of salvation, restoration, resurrection and eternal life. that the work of outreach, evangelism, reaching the lost,  We have faith that no matter the struggles we encounter the Way of The Cross will prevail in the end and God the Father will be glorified in Christ and His Church at the end.  We have faith that the church, your church, our church, is Christ's church and he will lead His Church in her mission through us.  We have faith that the work of Christ will prevail, regardless of the present difficulties.

And at the same time...

2.  "You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
What are the most brutal facts of your current reality?  Lets ask some brutal reality questions to find out:
When was the last time your congregation saw an adult come to faith through your ministry?
What was the last year your congregation saw numerical growth in membership?
How long before your congregation can no longer afford financially to continue ministry?
If nothing changes, where will your congregation be in 10 or 15 years?
What is the average age of your congregation?
Where are the young people?
What other brutal facts must you confront in your current reality?

Once you have completed #2, you are ready to take action, trusting that you will prevail in the end, regardless of your present difficulties.

Good News!  Despite your current difficulties, there is good news.  God is on your side.  Jesus wants to use you to lead your people out of the church building and into your community.  God is at work in the lives of people in your community who he wants you to engage and connect them with Christ and your church!  God is already doing his work in the lives of people all around you, and he is preparing you and your people to connect with your lost family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

So go ahead and put the Stockdale Paradox into practice.  Have an unshakable faith that Jesus wants to use you and your congregation to reach people.  He wants to revitalize, to resurrect your congregationa to once again live a lively and vibrant life of faith in your community.  Christ wants to help you prevail in the end, no matter the present difficulties.  Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, then in faith begin to do something about it.  God is on your side, he wants you to succeed in reaching people and bringing them to faith, baptism and discipleship in your congregation!

Yesterday one of the baby's in our congregation was proudly showing off his new skill set, he was learning to walk!  I love watching little ones learn to take their first steps of bipedal independence.  The look of determination in their eyes.  The look of wonderment and excitement as they take those first fleeting steps between seat rows, the shear joy in their little faces as they celebrate each advancing step.  We all watched, encouraged and celebrated with cheers, hand clapping, and smiles!   

Do you know how a child learns to walk?  By trying and failing.  Through embracing failure as a natural part of the baby step process, a baby gets up after every fall and tries and tries again until they succeed.  Baby's learning to walk start off failing far more often than they succeed.  But each step and faltering failure ultimately leads the child to grow and learn.  Soon the baby learns to walk, to run, to skip and jump.  Oh the joy that comes from those first little baby steps!

Stepping out in mission, we can learn a lot from baby's.  One of the most powerful principles I've discovered in becoming missional is the principle of baby steps.  I cannot emphasize the principle of baby steps enough.  A congregation that is just starting out in mission MUST start with baby steps.  Baby steps are High Grace and Low Risk.  A congregation that hasn't been active in outreach needs to start off small with simple outreach that is easy for people to do (high grace, low risk).  

Baby Step:  Get together with a few people in your congregation who you think are the best candidates to help start reaching out.  Have a dinner or BBQ at your home and sit down with 3 to 8 people to talk about simple easy way to reach out to the community.  What can you do that will be High in Grace and Low in Risk?  Could you offer free cold bottled water at a soccer game or local event?  Could your congregation host a Free Family Carnival for the community?  Could you find an elderly, disabled or single mom in your community that needs their yard cleaned up, free of charge?  These are all easy, Baby Steps out into the community that are High Grace and Low Risk.  

Get together with a few like minded people in your congregation and see what Baby Steps you can come up with to step out into the community.  Then see what the Holy Spirit can do through your simple Baby Steps outside your church building and into the community.  You will be AMAZED at what God will do! 

I hear from, and work with, leaders of established congregations who express frustration with people who do not want to change.  We all know that many, if not most (just being honest) traditional Christian congregations are in decline.  People can easily look around their congregation and notice that there are fewer people, older people, and not many young people/young families in church.  

I regularly hear church members, wistfully remembering the good old days when there were young families and children in their congregation, bemoan the decline of their church.  These people love their church, they love their pastor, they love each other and they want their church to be vibrant and thrive once again.  And yet these same people put the breaks on when it comes time to do something about changing their decline.  The nicest church lady can become an angry dragon when she feels her church is being threatened with new ideas.  Sure people want their congregations to thrive, they just want them to thrive without the need for change and without having to accommodate themselves to new people.  We will welcome new people, who are like us.

So what's a leader to do?  WORK WITH THE WILLING.  Find two or three others who will follow you out of the church building and into the community.  Don't worry about the nay-sayers, find a few people who will partner with you and start doing something.  You will be amazed at what happens when a leader and a couple of people following begin to interact with the community, Jesus shows up and begins to work in peoples lives!

There is a congregation leader I work with who is doing this.  He is called to an older, declining congregation in the middle of a small city that needs Jesus.  One day this pastor challenged his older Bible study participants to follow him out of the church building and up on a hill outside the city where homeless people gather.  The Bible study people made sandwiches and other supplies for the homeless, then a few of the people followed their pastor out to interact with the people on the hill.  Instead of just giving out sandwiches, they stuck around and talked with people.  They talked to a young woman who had been kicked out of her parents home because of drugs.  They found out this young lady was hurt and broken and needed Jesus.  They talked to other hurt and broken people who need Jesus.  The older ladies and men of the Bible study decided to make this a regular outreach.

Connecting with people outside their congregation didn't mean having to change their worship service, didn't mean becoming something they weren't.  All it meant was getting outside their routine, getting a little outside their comfort zone to minister to people, and Jesus showed up.  Those few who went the first time with their pastor came back excited and energized.  They shared their experience with others and recruited a few more people to join them.  Like healthy leaven, these people are infecting their congregation with their excitement.  I am watching what God is doing in this one little congregation who decided to sidestep the nay-sayers and simply go outside the church walls to interact with people.  

What can you do?  Get together with a couple of willing people and seek God's help in getting out into your community.  It doesn't have to cost a lot, it doesn't have to be a big program, start small.  Take baby steps and watch God do his thing in and through you and the people you lead!
I don't know about you, but I don't have time to read every book I'd like to in-depth.  I discovered Leaders Book Summaries a couple of years ago and wanted to pass them on to you as a great resource.  Check them out at www.studyleadership.com 
Every year a pair of Porch Finch raise a family in a hanging basket on the front of our house.  This year there are 5 baby finches being raised in a hanging basket of strawberry plants.  I have watch this pair since they arrived a little more than a month ago, scouting out the best place for a nest, busily gathering materials and building their nest, mom laying her 5 precious eggs, then staying on her eggs for a month, and now finally 5 healthy little baby finches!

I was out in the yard today enjoying some sunshine and watching the mom and dad fly back and forth feeding their 5 hungry little mouths.  As I watched them I began to think about Christ's church.  In some ways the church of Jesus Christ is like my little finches, raising their family and sending them out into the world to make and multiply more finches.  Sound familiar?

The Christian and the Christian congregation are similar to my finches in that each is designed, has a mandate from our Creator, to create an environment where multiplication takes place.  In finches we call this reproduction, in the church we call it making disciples.  "As you are going, make disciples of all nations..."  The act of making disciples is to be one of on-going doing and multiplication.

Many congregation today buck the mandate of the Creator.  Instead of making and multiplying disciples, many have somehow been fooled into complacency and have come to think of the church building, and the worship and activities that go on inside the church building, as being the life of the church.  When in fact, the life of the church is much like the life of my little finches; it is the ongoing, repetitive, intentional reproduction and multiplication of disciples.  If we are not reproducing disciples, we are dying.  When that happens in nature it is called extinction, when it happens is our individual Christian walk, and in the life of our congregation, it is called sin.  Not making and multiplying disciples is contrary to the revealed will of God, and is therefore sin.  Plain and simple.

God has created his Church to reproduce, to make disciples.  Here is what I've learned from watching my finches.  The work of laying the foundation for a safe place in which to make disciples takes intentional dedication, and creates a temporary sanctuary from which to be launched into the world.  The finches are dedicated to creating as safe a nest as possible to raise their young, knowing their work is temporary.  The finches don't expect to put down roots and stay in the safety of their sanctuary for long.  In just a couple of weeks the babies will grow and be ready to leave the sanctuary of the nest.  This is the purpose of the nest, to provide for the babies in preparation for them to leave.

When the baby finches leave they go out into the world with one purpose, to make and multiply more finches.  We have rented our house for 5 years, and each year the finches come back to raise another family.  I have no idea if the finches here this year are the original mom and dad, or if we are playing host to one of their children.  One thing is clear, the cycle will continue again this year with the multiplication of new finches being raised up and sent out into the world, to multiply and raise up more new finches.  If the finches ever decide that they would rather put down roots and stay in the sanctuary of their nest, they are doomed.

God shows us in nature what he intends for His church.  Like the sanctuary of my finch's nest, the church of Jesus Christ is designed to be a safe place where disciples are raised, multiplied, and then released out into the world to continue the cycle of multiplication.  If we decide to stay in the safety of our sanctuary, we are doomed.

I believe that Jesus is calling his church to repent for refusing to follow his mandate to reproduce and multiply disciples.  We are being called to repent of making the sanctuary our permanent place of safety and rest, rather than a temporary place where we are safe to be feed and strengthened for the real work of multiplication. I pray each of God's people, lay and clergy, would have soft hearts, eyes to see and ears to hear, so that we may repent and return to our first love who is calling us to leave the sanctuary of the nest and multiply disciples. 

If you desire to see your congregation multiply disciples, and see disciples multiplied in your own life, I'd love to talk to you about ways you can begin to make that happen.  You can Contact me for more ideas and ways to make and release disciples.
Jesus said, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you WILL BE MY WITNESSES.

We confess what Scripture says in Acts 2:38, that in our baptism into Christ and his church we receive the Holy Spirit.  We also confess what Scripture says in Acts 1:8 that one of the things the Holy Spirit does is give us the power to be witnesses.  Looking at the church today do we see the power of the Holy Spirit in the witness of his people?

Tomorrow Christians around the world will be celebrating Holy Trinity Sunday, the one special Sunday each year that we celebrate and contemplate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, three persons - one God.  We confess with the whole church that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The Father has given the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church to multiply the mission of Jesus through every baptized follower of Christ.

Proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit empowers every baptized follower of Jesus to be witnesses.  To be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  

I look at it this way: 
Jerusalem is your congregation.   
Judea is your neighborhood, it's your territory outside of the walls of your church building.   
Samaria are those who are near your neighborhood, but people you don't have much contact with.  
Ends of the earth are just that, all of the world that is outside the territory where you live. 

Lets look at each one in a little more detail

Jerusalem is your congregation: Jerusalem, your congregation, is where God gathers his people around Word and sacraments.  Jerusalem is where our God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, is freely worshiped by his followers. Jerusalem is where the holy things are, where we feel safe and secure, where we find "sanctuary".  Jerusalem is where things are familiar and predictable, where everyone believes, teaches and confesses the same things we believe, teach and confess and we are all happy and blessed.  Jerusalem is our Mighty Fortress.  We feel comfortable being "witnesses" in our Jerusalem, especially when it's the pastors job to witness from the pulpit.  But our missionary God doesn't want us to stop and stay in Jerusalem.

Judea is your neighborhood: It's your territory outside of the walls of your church building.  This is where you live, where you work, and where you spend most of your time.  In Judea there may be other Christians, but it is here that you are surrounded with a lot of people with whom you share a lot in common, but where many do not know Jesus.  Judea is your mission field.  

Judea is where a lot of Christ followers start to get uncomfortable. In your neighborhood, where you live, work and play, being a witness can be unpredictable. In Judea, in YOUR neighborhood, you are no longer in the comfortable domain of Jerusalem where the pastor does the proclaiming of the Gospel from the pulpit. No, Judea is where God has placed you to be a witness to your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

How can YOU be a witness in your Judea?  It can be scary and awkward to "witness" to your neighbors and friends, so I'm going to teach you a simple way to be a witness that is neither scary or awkward - simply be a good neighbor.  Be the neighbor that other people like.  Go out of your way to develop a good reputation in the neighborhood.  Put the garbage cans out for the elderly lady down the street.  Help the single mom with yard work.  Prepare a meal when you know someone is sick.  Smile and wave at people in your neighborhood. Say Hi to people.  Stop and ask people about their day.  Ask questions about them, and listen.  Simply develop good relationships and God will do his work in and through you.  It's that simple!

After you have developed a good reputation in your neighborhood, stretch out a little bit and begin inviting neighbors over for a summer BBQ, or dinner.  Throw a BBQ for the entire neighborhood.  Sponsor a 4th of July block party. Become known as the party place where neighbors can meet and develop relationships with you and each other.  You don't have to force Jesus down peoples throats, you don't have to memorize a "witnessing dialog" you don't have to do anything more than be the person Jesus wants you to be in your neighborhood.  Just be a good neighbor.  Simply love your neighbors and watch what God does.  Witnessing in your neighborhood, your Judea, is that simple.  As you develop a good reputation in your neighborhood, and as you begin to invite people over, pray that God would do his work in their lives through you.

God is at work in every human heart.  Everyone in your Judea, your neighborhood, is being pursued by God.  God is actively pushing their buttons and pursuing them in relationship.  Your job is to make yourself available for God to use you in whatever next step a person needs with God.  As you get to know your neighbors and intentionally develop a good reputation with them, God will open natural opportunities for you to encourage people, pray for people, and if you are really blessed you will get the chance to lead someone to faith, baptism and discipleship in Christ!

Being a witness the way I've laid out is not hard, and you have the Holy Spirit on your side empowering you with the power of God Almighty who is already at work in their lives!  Contact me, I'd love to help you take baby steps in being a witness to your neighborhood.

Samaria: Are those who are near your neighborhood, but people you don't have much contact with.  These are people who probably live on the "wrong sides of the track" who need Jesus but you don't see them very often.  After you have mastered being a witness in your Judea, you can move on to Samaria.  Being a witness in Samaria requires a little more work than it does in Judea.  Samaria is full of the "wrong" kind of people.  These are people who are broken in addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex.  They are people who have been abused, forgotten and discarded.  They are lower income people who don't live by the same morals you do.  They are people who wouldn't darken the door of your church building, but who desperately need Jesus.  The best way to reach Samaria is through Missional Communities.  If you Contact me, we can talk about Missional Communities and I can help you get started with baby steps to help you get out into the harvest!

The ends of the earth are just that, all of the world that is outside the territory of your immediate space.  Ends of the earth could be foreign missions, but it could also be mission close to home to people who come here from foreign lands.

If you want more I'm here to serve.  I would be happy to help you learn how to step out in simple, easy ways to engage your neighborhood with the love of Jesus.  Contact me I'd love to talk mission with you.
Every church leader I talk to wants their church to grow.  They want to reach more people for Jesus, they want their worship services to be full again, they want Sunday School to once again overflow, they want more people in Bible study.

If Jesus wants his church to grow, and he does, and if church leaders want their churches to grow, and they do, why do we see so much decline?  There are some very complicated issues as to why.  One of those is that we are in an historic cultural shift, one of those earth moving times that happens every 500 years or so.  Our culture has rapidly shifted from churched to post-church and if you are in an area like mine, you're culture has shifted to pre-church.  Besides the historic culture shifts that we have no control over, the main reason we don't see growth is because we most often do nothing much to connect with people outside our church walls.

Several years ago a pastor provided me with life changing lesson.  The congregation was wrapping up a successful VBS and had invited the kids and their families to a closing assembly followed by a BBQ.  At the end of the assembly the host pastor said, "Well that's it, we had a great time learning about Jesus, see you next year."  See you next year!  Oh My Gosh!  See you next year?  You have connected with these kids and their families and you are going to wait a whole year to try and connect again?  Sadly, many well meaning church leaders and congregations fall into this trap.  We invite people to come to us, even provide high quality programs, but miss out on connecting with people on a regular basis.  Many leaders who have been brave enough to be truthful tell me that they just don't know what to do, and that their people are afraid to step out of their comfort zones.  Well, if that is you, do I have some Good News to share with you!

Being "Missional", engaging your community with Jesus doesn't have to be hard, scary or difficult.  In fact since being missional isn't a program but a natural way of just being who you are in Christ, reaching out to your community can be LOW RISK and HIGH GRACE.  What's that mean?  Simply this, you can lead your people out of the church building and into the community to touch people where they live without extensive evangelism training, without forcing Jesus down people's throats, without any real risk but full of grace.  We like grace, don't we?

How?  Baby steps.  Begin by taking baby steps.  Let me give you an example that we do.  One of the most important things we have learned about reaching people in our pre-church culture is consistency.  We have to provide people with consistent, regular, positive contact.  They won't come to us so we have to go to them, and we can't wait a year in between touches.  So we do a regular mini-vbs at a mobile home park on a monthly basis.  We go there every month and we have a BBQ, we invite the family's to come we have crafts, games, prizes and we tell the story of how God loves them through Jesus.  Low Risk/High Grace.

Or, we throw regular parties at our adopted mobile home park, or local city park.  We throw a big free (free is a key point because everyone thinks the church is always asking for money) family BBQ with lots of food, games, jumpy castle and lots of fun.  We get a chance to rub elbows with people who wouldn't normally come to church, we do it regularly so we begin to develop relationships and people begin to feel like they like us and can trust us.  And there are always people who are on different places in their journey with God so there are always people who are just getting on the road to thinking about God and we can help them have a positive experience with the idea of God just by having a positive experience with us.  There are others who are further along on their journey and we get a chance to have substantive "God" conversations.  Others want prayer, and others will begin to come to worship and to faith, baptism and discipleship just because we took the time to develop regular, consistent and positive experiences in order to get to know them.  

We don't have to jump right in and shove Jesus down their throats or ask them to make a commitment to Jesus right on the spot.  We do get the chance to talk a lot about Jesus and people regularly come to faith, but it happens naturally in relationship.  It happens when there is LOW RISK and HIGH GRACE for both us and those we are trying to reach.

Suggestion:  Get together with a few people in your congregation who have a heart for the lost and talk about what you can do.  It doesn't have to be a big program, it could be something simple like giving away free water at a soccer game.  Find some way that you can serve people in your community, some what that is LOW RISK and HIGH GRACE, then begin to take baby steps out into the community.  Just do it and you will be amazed at how God shows up and the wonderful things he does in and through you and how he connects you with people he is working on in the community.  So get out there and try something really simple.  Feed some homeless people, read to kids at your local school, give out free soda or water at a sporting event, throw a BBQ in your neighborhood.  Just step out and do something and you will see God act.

A great resource for this kind of LOW RISK/HIGH GRACE outreach is http://www.servantevangelism.com

If you want more ideas, or would like to talk about how to get started in this kind of outreach, please let me know and we can talk.  You can contact me through our Contact form, leave your name, phone number and brief description of what you want to talk about and I'll connect with you