Thursday, September 27, 2012

Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Lent

In my previous post, entitled Confessing Scripture's Message: The Outreach Method of the confessional Lutheran, I promised a series of posts sharing a mass media outreach cycle developed by a WELS congregation, which does nothing more than communicate Law and Gospel to those who come into contact with the materials. It was the congregation that my wife and I were members of during the beginning and middle of last decade. As the congregation's leadership was contemplating some sort of organized evangelism effort in our community, it was suggested that the (now defunct) Board for Parish Services might have some useful information. Our pastor at the time acknowledged he had “some stuff” that had been sent to him over the years, disappeared into his office for about twenty minutes, and returned with a pile of pamphlets and booklets, etc., some of it newer, most of it yellowing, while very little of it looked used at all. He plopped it on the table and said,
    “There. You can read through this, if you want. Basically, what it boils down to is this: if you want to draw more people to your congregation you need to have a reason for them to come. When people gather in groups, it is because they are celebrating something. A gathering of people is a social event, and a celebration is the most common purpose for people to gather. It's what people do. So, what this stuff will tell you is, if we want to get people to come here, we need to come up with a reason to celebrate, and then invite people to the celebration.”
He left us with the material, fairly confident (it turns out) how our evaluation would conclude. We looked carefully through some of it, especially the “evangelism in a box” type stuff – you know, the materials developed in an office at headquarters that get's mailed out to every congregation with the expectation that they actually deliver it to homes in their own community. It was all “lowest common denominator” type stuff, having a quality far lower than anything we thought that we had envisioned. We perused the rest of the material. We knew that Pastor was no Church Growth advocate. That we had even heard the phrase “Church Growth Movement,” knew what it meant, and knew it was something we wanted to avoid, is a testament to that fact. In the end, we found ourselves depositing the materials back in Pastor's office. We had no use for it, just has our pastor never really had.

Do Christians have Anything to Celebrate?
Still, there was an element of truth in how Pastor summarized the advice contained in that thick stack of paper. When people gather, it is usually for a celebration of some sort. “Okay. So why do we gather every Sunday?”, we wondered. “What's different about our weekly gathering around the Word and Sacraments, if it is not reason enough for people to celebrate? Are we 'celebrating' anything at all on Sunday?” The answer, after we thought about it, was “Yes, of course we are celebrating! We are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – God Himself manifest in the flesh, Who lived perfectly under God's Law, Who carried the sins of the World to the Cross, Whose atoning death on the Cross paid the penalty for those sins, and Who, on the basis of His completed work, promises forgiveness, life and salvation to all who receive it through faith.” We believers have this faith, and with it, the Promises of Christ attending it. This is the reason we celebrate every Sunday morning, and no one should join us for any other, less important, reason! How stupid we felt, then, at having been misdirected by advice which indicated to us that we needed to invent some other reason to celebrate on Sunday, in order that visitors would feel like coming our church. If visitors are going to join us Lutherans in celebration on Sunday morning, then they should want to do so for the same reasons as we Lutherans. There is positively no good reason on the planet for us to change our reasons for gathering, as any change serves only to significantly reduce the importance of our celebration. In such a case, we might as well be the ones to stay home.

Celebrating with Christians Everywhere, through the Church Year
This realization was reinforced as we looked in the hymnal for indication of the celebration we engage in, some clue – maybe in the liturgy??, maybe the pericope??, maybe the.... Church Calendar?? Yes, that was it. The Church Calendar. Littered throughout the Calendar, if one cares to look, are terms like “Festival” and “Feast.” The Church has long known that Christians have very good reason to celebrate, and over the millenia has supplied copious Festivals and Seasons, in addition to every Sunday morning, throughout the Church Year, as opportunities to gather and celebrate – opportunities centering on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This further impressed upon us how fully misleading it was to have had it suggested to us that we needed to invent some “relevant” reason to gather, which would attract visitors on Sunday morning. Instead, we decided to follow the example the the historical Church, to celebrate as it always had, and broadcast our reasons for celebrating to the community.

So this became our theme. We used the Seasons and Festivals of the Church Year as a pretense for initiating unsolicited communication with members of our community through mail – to tell them about the Season or Festival (it was educational) and why it was important (it was evangelical). Each mailing included not only words, but, since we had a competent artist at our disposal, custom artwork that was designed to tell the same message as the words. Thus the words, and accompanying images, reinforced one another. Some mailings had more words, some had fewer, some were better written than others. Over the years, as we evaluated the mailings and their content, the format of the mail changed (from small postcards to tri-fold and quarter-fold brochures to large postcards), the content was improved, some mailings were added, and others dropped. I'm sure that many could still find room in them for improvement. By the time my involvement ended, we were using the format of the large-postcards, mailing cards for Ash Wednesday (Lent), Good Friday (Passion of Christ), Easter (Resurrection), Reformation (Justification), and Advent/Christmas, and had plans to add Epiphany, to redevelop Pentecost (which had been developed and used as a tri-fold brochure, but had not been redeveloped in the large postcard format), and to separate Advent and Christmas into different cards. Over the next several posts, I will be sharing with you Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost (the tri-fold), Reformation, and Advent/Christmas, and along the way, share details about how we determined who would receive these mailings, what criteria we used to determine the level of content, how they were written and approved for distribution in the community, what we expected would be accomplished by sending them, etc. Today, I begin with the first mailing that we developed, a card that would be delivered in the days just prior to Ash Wednesday:

What is Lent?

The Church Calendar and Evangelism: Lent
In mid-western United States, nearly everyone has heard of Lent. That is, they've at least heard the word. They also know approximately when Lent occurs – usually about March. They also know what happens during Lent – fish goes on sale everywhere. True, many people know more about Lent that just this, but for most who have at least heard the word, this is about the extent of their understanding. Knowing this, we decided to write a mailing that would at least appeal to curiosity as Lent was beginning – when fish all of a sudden goes on sale, and people leave from work in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, and return an hour later with a black smudge on their foreheads. In addition to piquing their curiosity, such a mailing also tells the message of Law and Gospel. We expected nothing other than the Holy Spirit's work though this Means, to prick consciences and to create or strengthen faith. Maybe we would see some of the people we sent these cards to, maybe we wouldn't, but we knew for a fact that apart from our direct use of the Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit would not work in anyone who received contact from us via this, or any, medium.

The next post in this series will feature the postcard we sent during Holy Week, prior to Good Friday. It will also include some explanation for what criteria we used to determine the level of content we composed for these mailings – there are lots of words here, some big words, too. This was not done without thought and research, however. More on that next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be accepted or rejected based on the sound Christian judgment of the moderators.

Since anonymous comments are not allowed on this blog, please sign your full name at the bottom of every comment, unless it already appears in your identity profile.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License