A few months ago, I saw on The Lutheran’s website a plea or challenge to offer up new, creative and effective evangelism techniques and strategies. The first thing that came to mind was stained glass windows.
Have you noticed that from the inside, stained glass windows are beautiful, bright, colorful and majestic? Yet, from the outside they are dull, drab, flat and, well, kinda boring.
What is interesting to me about stained glass windows is that they always face inward, almost never do they face out. You have to be on the inside of a church to recognize the beauty and majesty of stained glass, to be able to read the story they are trying to tell. Do you think that maybe, when it comes to evangelism, that we should be finding ways to make our stained glass face outward? (or maybe get rid of the stained glass altogether)
One of my favorite passages from scripture is “The Parable of the 99” from Luke 15:1-7. You know the story. It is the one where one sheep gets lost and the shepherd leaves the 99 to go and find the one. As I re-read the text, I was struck by the latter part when it says that they all rejoiced when the lost sheep was returned.
When it comes to evangelism we as a church, as a congregation, as a group of believers need to take a close look at the 99 and ask ourselves if we truly rejoice as they do in the text. Do we really focus on the one? Are we actually joyful when we focus on the one who is not with ‘us’, the one who is lost?
Take a look at these statistics found from various reports offered by both the Evangelical-LCA and the U.S. Census Bureau:
5,288,048 Evangelical-LCA membership (founding year)
242,288,918 U.S. population
2.18% Percentage of ELCA members to US population
4,709,956 ELCA membership
295,285,075 U.S. population
1.60% Percentage of Evangelical-LCA members to US population
In plain English, while the population of the United States of America grew by roughly 53 million people, the Evangelical-LCA actually lost nearly 600,000 members.
It appears that our stained glass windows are continually facing inward, that we (the 99) are not focusing on the lost (the one). It is safe to say that ‘evangelism’ is not our strong suit. The Evangelical-LCA is not very evangelical.
We need to start asking ourselves if we are an ‘evangelical church’, as reflected in our name (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) or if we are a Christian club that exists mostly for those who are already members. For whom do we exist?!?
Bringing back the parable of the 99, think about these thoughts:
Do we as a church really rejoice when the 1 returns to the flock?
Do we support our shepherd when she/he leaves the 99 to look for the lost?
Do we feel left out when the shepherd leaves us behind?
Do we feel jealous when there isn’t a party (rejoicing) for us?
Just ponder that for a while…
While pondering, keeping those questions fresh in your mind, add to them the following concepts in the Lutheran church.
It may or may not have dawned on you that most of our energies and money (as a church) are spent on the 99 and not the 1. Our organs, our hymnals, and our stained glass windows represent hundreds of thousands of dollars; dollars that are spent on the comfort of and ministry to those who have already heard the Good News, people who are already Lutheran Christians, people who are already a part of the flock, the 99.
I was recently surfing church websites. I was looking for former seminary classmates, browsing through staff lists and I noticed something. I noticed an employment/ministry position that is a part of many church leadership teams…the Parish Nurse. In light of the lost sheep, who benefits from the duties of this ministry position? Do they offer service to the community at large? Or only to church members? How is their time spent and who is it spent on?
My point is this. When I read in The Lutheran that someone was interested in tips and programs that “work” for evangelism… I lost it. We need to face the cold, harsh reality that Lutherans are not very good at evangelism. Take a look at the budget, staffing, mission statement, job descriptions, and strategic plan of your church. For whom are most of your energies and resources spent?
We spend most of our money on pleasing (okay, ministering to) people that already go to church, people that already have heard the gospel. We spend time and money on hymnals that only mean something to people who grew up in the Lutheran church. We spend money on organs and organists to provide music for people who most likely already go to church and therefore have already heard the Good News. Tell the truth, if you were tasked with spreading the Gospel to the un-churched, how many of you would make your second biggest expense an organ (your building is probably #1)? Is this a music tool that will assist in fostering a relationship with Jesus among those who do not yet know Him? How about the hymnals?
PLEASE don’t get me wrong! Tradition, Heritage, Identity, History, Customs, and Music are incredibly important things. I am a classically trained musician. I love the organ when it is played well. However, that instrument isn’t the only one that can bring glory to God. Hymnody isn’t the only musical style that God or God’s people favor. And in order to go away from the 99 to find the 1, maybe we should find new ways to make our stained glass windows face outward to the world and tell the story to those who do not yet know the love of God.
If we don’t, the very tradition that we are so clearly trying to save, will most certainly die along with our unique perspective on the Gospel. Christianity however, will go on without us.