Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Installment #2: A Contemporary Lutheran Mission Primer

With Victory now started and a small group of worshippers, which was composed of about 15 core members and 15-20 un-churched/under-churched people, we began a journey filled with adventure at the Polonia. We’ll have stories for a long time such as the time the septic tank overflowed and froze into a sewage pond in the parking lot. The time the furnace went out when it was 10 degrees outside but those who came used blankets to stay warm as the space heaters we tried blew the circuits. The occasional phone calls that would come in during a service on the Polonia phone. The fact that our church had a full length bar with an admirable array of Polish vodkas. There was the time after some big flooding where the Polonia had lost power and we held our service under the picnic shelter and sang hymns acapella as more storms gathered. Our summer assistants had all their belongings flooded in the basement they were staying in and one of them had a car nearly submerged in the flooding. The weekly event of cleaning up beer bottles, cigarette butts from the party the night before and walking into the Polonia to that distinct smell of liquor, burritos, and vomit that may still be in the bathroom to clean up. My son Ike became the Sunday morning janitor and Coffee barista as the band set up and practiced. He could vacuum the joint, mop the floors, pick up the trash and set up the welcome table in no time. He could also dance about the place with air freshener on a regular basis. The point is that the flexibility learned here at the beginning is key to developing an attitude that reiterates that God is in control and he will direct all things.

As amusing as the stories of the first 2.5 years at the Polonia may be, what was most important was that this congregation took to its mission and started spreading the Word to the community. From the beginning, we began with the idea that this church would serve to reach the un-churched. That members at this church would be focused on reaching out to the community. That whatever your past experiences may be, that this church will not exist to make you feel all cozy and doted upon. There is an expectation that you would participate in the mission and be active in the church ministry. There is an assumption that perhaps our worship services are not exactly as you might prefer. That maybe the programs we run are not your favorite. However these things are things we have decided will help us in our mission and we would ask that you support it to reach the lost. This has definitely steered a number of curious WELS onlookers away.

The people that have come into this mission have been extremely faithful. Volunteers abound and the numbers of people who will show up to make something happen has been great. In the area of music, we have developed from two original musicians to having an array of 10 or so band members that alternate through. They put in a lot of hours in practice, setup, takedown, and planning. In Technology we have grown from just myself running audio and video to having a multi-media team and a few sound engineers. I am hardly even involved in these activities anymore. There are teams of people to run the cafĂ© and to be greeters. There is a team to help with the children’s ministry. All of these things started with one or two dedicated people and have grown to be larger groups.

A mission to reach the un-churched needed to get its name known. We launched large mailing and advertising campaigns. We created a movie theater advertisement that we change up each year. We have done nearly 25 bulk mail campaigns in 3 years. Put out 1000’s of door hangers with canvassing crews. We have been in the Franklin 4th of July parade 3 years now and have handed out nearly 6000 pieces of literature at that. We have had some good signage right on Hwy 36 as well. At this point, many people in southwest Franklin know who we are and where we worship. Additionally our outreach events have attracted attention. We have gotten 200 people each year from the community for our Hallepalooza music in the park event. We have gotten 75 kids a year in our VBS Soccer Camp. We have gotten hundreds of kids between our Easter for Kids and Christmas for Kids events that we hold at the public Library. We have even drawn some praise for the quality of the events themselves and our involvement in the community from secular sources. This obviously is NOT the point. There are two points for all this activity. Number one, to let the community know we are here and number two, to create as many contact opportunities with the unchurched in the community. All these activities only serve as outreach activities. However that leads to the most important activity of all and that is Evangelism activity.

For many of our events we make a serious effort to have strong evangelism focused members available to talk to those visitors to our events. At the soccer camp, there are people to sit down with un-churched folk and ask questions and help spread the Word with evangelism. The Christmas for Kids and Easter for Kids are specifically designed to tell the true story of Christmas and Easter so the Word is proclaimed there to children. So many opportunities to evangelize start by just planting little seeds. Hopefully those seeds grow and we can encourage those new prospects to further explore God’s Word by studying in Adult Bible classes. So far this outreach to evangelism approach has been successful.

What we have seen has been remarkable at times. Over half our members have come from WELS and the other half from un-churched. Often times it is the new Christians who are the ones to immediately tell their friends and neighbors and bring them to church and to events so that they too can learn about Jesus. Of the many churches I have visited in the WELS, I have not really seen one that approached its ministry in this way. Now that I have seen how a church that is serious about reaching the un-churched functions, it would be very difficult to go to a church where congregational effort is low. I think mostly of my old church in NH that was very much averse to getting into the community. It has been there for 35 years and I bet that 75% of the people in a 1 mile radius do not even know it is there.

In the next installment I’ll talk about worship. After that, finances.

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