We just had a long-needed evangelism meeting at Bethany two days before I’m writing this. One of the things we talked about was improving the first impression that we give to our visitors. Over at the Blog of Veith that I mentioned in the previous post, there is a short article and discussion about the way people tend to pick a church. Since [the blog entry][entry] is short, I’ll quote the whole thing below.
> This weekend I talked with someone whom I think highly of who told me
> all of the different churches he has been a member of. At various times,
> depending on where he has lived, he has attended Presbyterian, Anglican,
> Bible, Evangelical Covenant, Campbellite, Christian Missionary Alliance,
> non-denominational, and house churches.
> Whereas for me (even before I became a Lutheran), the criteria for which
> church I joined had to do with what it believed. For himâ€“and I suspect
> there are a great many like him, possibly a majority of evangelicalsâ€“the
> criteria has to do with the people in the different congregations, the
> kind of â€œfellowshipâ€ they experience and whether they like the pastor.
> Theology is something held by the individual, with these different
> churches being more or less OK with whatever the individual member
> believes, within a few parameters, so that these churches today assert
> few theological distinctives for themselves.
> According to the Lutheran mindset, the heart of a church body, the basis
> of fellowship, and the definition of unity must be its confession.
> Whereas for much of American Christianity, fellowship and unity are the
> heart of a church body, which allows for diverse confessions.
This difference between the two different ways of evaluating a church is something we probably have known about before, but we should also take it into account when we think about evangelism.
The primary goal of evangelism is to tell the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who do not believe it, but we also have the further goal of leading those souls to an orthodox Christian Church where they will be fed the bread of life regularly in the Divine Service. We naturally believe that our own congregation is the most qualified for that, to God’s credit alone, but what if these evangelism prospects finally visit our church only to find themselves uncomfortable with the “fellowship” of our members or the “likability” of the pastor (things Veith mentioned above)? Might we get the doctrine and the Divine Service right, only to fail in the way we treat each other and our guests?
This reminds me strongly of 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” which is often used at weddings. Read the first three verses of that chapter and see how they apply. You will probably also want to head over to Veith’s blog at the link above, and read the comments left by his readers.
One comment I found particularly interesting described a couple’s experience visiting two different churches. Among other things, the writer said, “after four weeks weâ€™d only had 3 couples actually put forth effort to welcome us (passing smiles, handwaves, and ‘Hi’s’ donâ€™t count).” She contrasted that with the other church, where “I think there were two adults who did not talk to us – one hand waved – one didnâ€™t talk at all.” I’ve always thought that two or three warm greetings from the members is sufficient welcome for our guests, but here is a couple who were more impressed when nearly the entire congregation made an effort to speak to them. It shows how every one of our members can have a real influence on the ongoing work of evangelism, simply through the way we respond when guests visit on Sunday.