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
Zack
5/22/2013 23:36:57

Holy Cow Batman! This is some good stuff. If everyone was willing to take baby steps and just try to reach out, I think things would change for the American church. Of course you have to quit trying to attract people to be part of your Sunday audience and instead get out in the community, serve people, serve your community and you will find people willing to listen to you.

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St. John The Steadfast
5/26/2013 19:26:30

I am sick and tired of hearing about all this missional stuff. This is the newest fad to sweep through the church. God calls us to be faithful in Word and sacraments, no where do we see being called to be missional. The mission of the church belongs to Christ. He is the one who saves people through his church. We are called to be faithful, not to be missional. All the lemmings who are following the missional pied piper will wake up too late, when we have lost our church to the evangelicals among us. If God wants my church to grow, he will grow it. I will not water down the true Gospel just to coddle people into a touchy feely, feel good false Gospel. I will choose fewer people in the pews AND stay faithful rather than sell out to church growth mush.

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Eric Johnson
5/27/2013 13:47:55

Dear Steadfast,

Me thinks thou hast had too much mead! Thou art mad!! ;-)
Me also thinks thou hast misunderstood missional. Being missional has nothing to do with worship style, but has EVERYTHING to do with being confessional and faithful.

Being missional is not the same as "church growth" or contemporary worship, seeker services or watering down of truth to coddle people with, as you put it, touchy feely, feel good false Gospel. I can understand your concerns and probably agree with your assessment of previous church growth attempts to attract people to attend worship services.

Being missional is quite possibly the opposite of "church growth" movement principles. Church growth was about attracting people to your church. Being missional is not about attracting people to attend your worship service, but about us being Christians, "little Christ's", where we live, work and play. Being missional is about being a good neighbor, about loving our neighbors as ourselves, it's about vocation and being who Christ created us to be in the time, place and events he created to be in. Being missional is all about being a Confessing Lutheran.

You want to be a witness of the true Gospel, don't you? Isn't that why you are a Lutheran pastor? (I am assuming from your name and content of your comment that you are, indeed, a Lutheran pastor) Being missional is not a fad, it is Christ calling us back to our vocation of being Christians where we live, work, and play.

A congregation can be missional and also be traditionally liturgical in worship. The great thing about the missional movement is that it is not focused on your worship service as a means to attract people but is focused on you leading the people God has gathered together under Word and sacraments and entrusted to your pastoral care out of the sanctuary and into the community where people hurt and broken by sin are in need of the Gospel you faithfully keep.

I would love to talk to you more about your concerns and see if we can help inform each others thoughts on how missional really does fit with being Confessional. I invite you to contact me for a polite, collegial, and I believe mutually beneficial discussion.

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