Meaningful Outreach
August 23, 2022, 1:00 PM

Rev. Mark Wood relates the following story in his book, Meaningful Outreach: An Essential Guide for Churches. “When I travel to visit a congregation for a workshop or other activity, I often ask local people about the congregation. It’s not unusual for a hotel receptionist, gas stations attendant, or restaurant server to tell me that they don’t know anything about the congregation. Once when I visited a congregation in a small town with fewer than 15,000 residents, I asked the motel front desk worker about the congregation. She didn’t even know where it was. That surprised me because not only was the community small, but the congregation was prominently located on a main roadway. When I mentioned that it was located next to the local college campus she said, ‘Oh, yeah. I drive past that church all the time.’”

The world is changing. America is becoming less religious, even small-town and rural heartland America. Last month I ended my newsletter encouraging you to ask Jeff Maltz, our LCEF representative, for the free demographic reports LCEF gives out to congregations. I want to share with you some insights from mine in a community that is transitioning from small town to more suburban.

Maybe most startling of all, within a 2-mile radius of my congregation’s church building 71% of people are not involved in any religious activity of any faith at all.

What a drastic change in four years. A change that has gone completely unnoticed by and large by the members of the community. I remember as a child almost every house in my neighborhood would put up Christmas lights. Now, you can drive into neighborhoods and see whole blocks with only one or two houses lit up.

The whole point of this is even in our communities that never seem to change, change is happening. “Everybody knows who we are and where we are and the door is always unlocked on Sunday morning,” is no longer true. The only way to know if people even know who are congregations are is to ask them, “What do you think about NNN Lutheran Church?” And, a great way to get above just anecdotal perceptions is to request the free demographic reports offered by LCEF.

It is easy to get myopic when thinking about our community. We tend to believe that most people think like we do and believe fairly similar to what we believe. But the world is changing. Many people have lost connection to the faith. And, as they have their views and opinions about the church have changed as well.

These reports are revealing. A majority of people have a negative view of Christianity, if they have an opinion about it at all. Much of the reason is because they do not know us. They only know how Christians are portrayed in mass media (movies, books, television, social media, etc.).

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38).

I encourage you to take the time and effort to start formulating an effective outreach strategy to your community. Start by looking at how your community has changed over the last few years. The results might just shock and surprise you.

In Christ,

Rev. Daniel Ross