Christ Died for Sinners, Christ Died for You!
In my previous post, entitled Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Lent, I promised to feature the postcard we distributed during Holy Week, prior to Good Friday. Initially, having been first developed for a quarter fold pamphlet (8.5x14in sheet of paper folded twice), it included the full Passion account and additional imagery, along with the image and explanation pictured at left. Over time, however, and for several reasons, it was reduced to this large postcard format. Again, as with the Lenten postcard featured in our previous post, the congregation is not at all on display. There is no hint of self-promotion, no invitation to the reader to “visit us because of us” contained in it. Instead, it's all about Jesus. All that is said about the congregation is on the reverse side: the address and phone number of the congregation, a list of service times and travel directions to the church. That's it.
But I also promised to include some explanation for the criteria we used to determine the level of content we composed for these mailings. As with the Lenten postcard, there are lots of words here, some big words, too. There is a reason for that.
The community in which this congregation is located straddles the border of two, principally rural, western Wisconsin counties: the south end of town is in one county, the north end is in another. The western border of these counties is also the State border, immediately to the west of which is a Minnesota county that was listed during the 1980's and 1990's as one of the top ten richest counties in the nation. Beginning in the late 1990's, property and personal income tax advantages began to draw many high-income families from eastern Minnesota into western Wisconsin, and to encourage this exodus once it had begun, considerable investment in the development of utility infrastructure and optimistic community planning likewise began to dominate the docket of every village, town, and city council in the area. To support community investment, property taxes began to rise proportionately throughout this time period. Significant increases in housing costs also occurred. Interestingly, by 2005, the average wage in this congregation's community was on the order of $10/hr (a full 12% lower than the state average), while the income required to support the average home in this community had grown to approximately $35/hr – this statistic was supplemented by data suggesting that most residents (61%) were employed outside of the local area (mostly in Minnesota). Notably, among new residents, 40% of married adult females were categorized as homemakers. Hence, as a result of continued tax advantages and community investment, these counties saw an average growth of 30% over the decade beginning in the late 1990's, and this growth was mostly due to the influx of well-educated, successful professionals, a significant proportion of whom were heads of single wage-earner households.
On top of this, the community itself is host to a University that is well-regarded in the fields of education, agriculture and others. It is no surprise, then, to learn that the rate of college degree attainment in this area is over twice the State average (over 50% of the population), and the rate of advanced degree attainment is nearly triple the State average.
Having studied our community, we not only thought it safe to err on the side of more words than fewer, we thought it advisable to regard people we had not met with a dignity befitting educated people – by actually assuming that this is what they were (if it doesn't right now, this may make more sense after our next post). So there is no suggestion here that every congregation ought to copy, verbatim, what our congregation had done – this is not “evangelism in a box” by any means! However, my hope is that, as I describe the kind of research we did, and as I describe how and why we made the decisions we did, it will become clear (a) that our effort was calculated to do one thing only, to substantively and directly communicate the message of Law and Gospel as broadly as we could given our limited resources, and (b) to describe the process of developing such materials well enough that Lutheran congregations desiring to do the same for themselves will have in the examples I give, some concepts to apply on their own.
The next post in this series will feature the postcard we sent late in Holy Week, for arrival either on Good Friday or Holy Saturday: the Easter postcard (it doesn't have as many words – not nearly). It will also include a description of our rationale for who we selected to receive these mailings. Our resources were limited, so we couldn't mail them to everyone in the county... but there were doctrinal concerns involved, as well, so our selection wasn't random, either. More on that next time.