Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Evangelism in a Static Community

Modern notions of evangelism do not endear themselves to rural church ministry. I had considered titling this post "Door-to-Door Don't Work" but decided against it. Not only is it grammatically incorrect but I thought it would send the wrong idea. Metropolitan churches tend to use door-to-door methods and they work admirably. However, in the sticks where people do not live in subdivisions enabling you to reach out your kitchen window to your neighbor's to borrow a cup of sugar, evangelism is a lot more relational.

Emphatically though, door-to-door does work in certain contexts. It has worked to a certain degree here even though the community is essentially static. I can count on one hand how many families have moved into this community in the last five years. The prospect list therefore is not very long and so evangelism is not very proactive.

Evangelism in a rural community takes place a lot less dramatically than on the front door step having just shared a full-bore Gospel presentation. Of all the folks I have led to Christ in this ministry, none of them were folks I didn't already know to some extent. They made a commitment to Christ while sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, leaning on a post-hole digger, across the dinner table, or at the front of the sanctuary.

Evangelism to rural folks is borne of relationship. Intentional evangelism has its place and I use that method when appropriate. The cultivation of relationships is key, having spent long hours in people's homes, at the country store, and even lending a hand chopping wood. These attain an audience more easily than just the entitlement of knocking on a door.

Most of the folks in the community I serve have lived here all their lives. Transfer growth is therefore virtually non-existent. Moreover, most rural churches are territorial. Once, I proposed at a fellowship meal to some key people that I wanted to start doing more intentional evangelism and that I would like to see our church reach all the folks within a five to seven mile radius of the steeple.

"We can't do that," was the immediate reply. It was not because they were afraid to tell other folks about the love of Christ but because if we followed through with a five to seven plan we would encroach upon another church's "territory." Territorialism is indicative of the mutual concern and care that rural folks tend to have over one another, often absent in metropolitan areas.

The fear of anything that might threaten that community is a hurdle to evangelism and a wise minister will not attempt to overcome that community but rather work with it. Community is what the church is to foster; why not use the existing structure and build upon it?

Farmers help other farmers at harvest; people give generously when others are going through a crisis; businesses are supported faithfully because they are local, not because they have competitive prices. Anything that builds community is welcomed and that which threatens it is fiercely opposed. So to be effective in outreach, being a part of the community is an absolute essential.

Glen Daman in his useful book, Shepherding the Small Church, quotes Steve Bierly:
The small church has a bad reputation for being "against growth" because it balks at plans coming out of the church growth movement. But smaller congregations have been unfairly labeled. It's not that they are against growth; its that they are against changing characteristics that make them unique. Small congregations aren't opposed to bringing men and women to Christ, but they are opposed to becoming mega-churches. They don't want to be asked to become something they are not.
Evangelism in a small community is difficult and often bears little fruit. Focusing only upon results fosters discouragement and amotivation. But one must focus not on temporal fruit, but rather the fruit that remains. And that makes laboring in this vineyard worth it.

20 comments:

Pastor Chris said...

I appreciate the observations that you make. Relationships are the key. It's definately a prayer that by whatever reasonable God directed means, that you may continue to experience the joy of sharing your faith.

Pastor Chris
Evangelism Coach.org

Heather said...

Tony -

I hadn't realized the territotial thing ... you're right -- in metropolitan area this is nonexistent, so I didn't even know there was such a thing. But I did want to comment on one thing ...

Door-to-door don't work here neither (how's that for grammar?!). Seriously ... I think churhes in metropolitan areas (such as where we are) do it that way because it's "easier" or because they can get more numbers in that way (i.e "we visited 100 homes tonight & shared the gospel with 75 people!!"). But it doesn't work. It may appear to work, but it doesn't. What you wrote here about relationships ... that's what works, even in a metro area like Atlanta.

Churches in metro areas do door-to-door whatever you want to call it because then they don't have to take the time to invest in relationships with people. Just a quick Tuesday night out going door-to-door with my F.A.I.T.H. outline and I have done my Christian duty for the week ... boy don't I feel better about myself now! oops! Sorry for the sarcasm ... can you tell that "outreach" programs get under my skin?

Ahem ... let me get myself back together ... I started to climb up on my soapbox there!

Thanks for posting this, Tony. It really helps me think about how much we need to focus on investing into people and stop investing into programs.

Blessings!

~Heather

Tony said...

Pastor Chris,

Thanks for the comment and the link. God bless.

Heather,

Unfortunately territorialism is a reality out here. I jokingly say we live six miles from a gallon of milk and we do. The stranger thing is we live within eight miles every direction of a Presbyterian church, a Methodist church, and four Baptist Churches.

Door-to-door is effective if you simply look at numbers of presentations shared. However, what about lives changed? Jesus did not say, "Well said, my good and faithful servant."

I think door-to-door has its place but only if it is approached appropriately. If it is used as a spirituality barometer then its effectiveness needs to be reevaluated.

I am glad for yours and Brandon's participation out here. The interaction is edifying.

Blessings...

Elder's Wife said...

Tony-
You are so on-target about small-town churches! We also live 6 miles from a gallon of milk and have 6 more "evangelical" churches within that distance. Many of them are being driven to find a purpose.
As a tiny, elder-led congregation of about 35+ people, we have come to the place of just being ourselves. We are a "niche" church, not a mega church, and we've tried to do the things the big boys don't. We've had Bible studies at a local pizza restaurant, made 1500 gospel walking sticks to use at a local Farm Technology Days event in our area (and a dozen of us worked with Fellowship of Christian Farmers to share the gospel with them), and have sent out 3 families from our own fellowship to minister with New Tribes Mission in Senegal, Indonesia and the Philippines. We also cooperate with another (big boy) church doing a children's outreach during the local 4th of July celebration.
Although my husband & I have lived in the community nearly all our lives, many of our people have not & do have a harder time building relationships with folks. I agree that relationships and understanding the culture where you minister is key to seeing people come to the Lord. Whether or not they come to your church is really up to Him and them.

Tony said...

Mrs. Wife,

Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I hope to see you again.

Thank you for sharing how God uses you and your fellow believers in your community. That was such a blessing.

I am coming back around to seeing that discipleship is not about how much information I can divulge; its about investing time in people.

Blessings...

Cameron Cloud said...

Tony,
Another post spot on. Being in a rural community has a way of refocusing a pastor's priorities on the TRUE essentials.

I'm going to post on this same general topic in the near future, but for now am thoroughly enjoying reading yours.

Tony said...

Cameron,

Your comment came just when I needed it. I was feeling really discouraged over a different matter and your encouragement helped.

I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on rural ministry.

Geoff Baggett said...

Tony,

Yu have painted a beautiful and accurate picture of the mentality and heart of the small, rural church.

Perhaps your greatest opportunities for evangelism are not in your own "field," but on the "mission field." Perhaps mobilization of your people to fields that are "foreign" to them is a great way to overcome the community-defined bariers of the rural church community.

I'm just an old fisherman at heart. I fish in the pond beside my house every chanve I get. But I love to pack up my stuff and go fish in the ocean a couple of times a year! I think there's an evangelism lesson somewhere in there ... :)

Geoff Baggett said...

Sorry, ... every chance I get ...

:)

Tony said...

Geoff,

One of the things I am proud of about my tenure here at the church I serve is that I led them on the first mission trip they had EVER been on. We went on our second last summer and have our third planned for June this year.

Hey, maybe a trip to KY wouldn't be so far-fetched, what do you think? Need some cars washed, doors knocked on, and fences mended?

Speaking of fishing, I have a great picture of the biggest largemouth I ever caught and me with my mouth wide-open (imagine that, a preacher with his mouth wide open) next to his (hers?). I have thought about changing my profile picture to it from my picture of the Nash Rambler.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot, you baaaaad Baptist you!

Geoff Baggett said...

Well,

If you really want to see a big fish, check out this link to my big one from last April. :)

http://geoffbaggett.wordpress.com/2006/12/26/lets-just-get-to-fishing/

Geoff Baggett said...

That didn't work did it?

Doggone it! How do I put an actual link in a blogger comment?

Just go here and go down one post:

http://geoffbaggett.wordpress.com/2006/12/

Geoff

Steve Sensenig said...

Geoff, you have to type the HTML code for the link, like this:

<a href="http://geoffbaggett.wordpress.com">Geoff's blog</a>

which then shows up as this:

Geoff's blog

Tony said...

Geoff,

Thanks for the follow-up..I'm coming to see that fish!

Steve,

Thanks for being our resident geek! :-)

Heather said...

Tony -

You're right when you say that door-to-door has it's place ONLY if approached properly. And therein lies the problem.

You summed it up well in your post when you said, "Focusing only upon results fosters discouragement and amotivation. But one must focus not on temporal fruit, but rather the fruit that remains. And that makes laboring in this vineyard worth it.".

That's one of the problems with door-to-door here in a major metro area ... focusing on "results" and thinking those results are based solely on numbers. In my humble estimation door-to-door efforts have been focusing too much on temporal fruit also (i.e. presentations and "conversions"), and not enough on fruit that remains (i.e. relationships and true disciples).

Thankfully the Lord has shown Brandon and me a way to use door-to-door in a very effective way -- a way that focuses much, much more on people and relationships and much, much less on presentations and "conversions". We pray that we would be "agents of change" and that our people will be willing to embrace our vision to reach out to our community and build relationships that last and to love our community into the Kingdom!

Thanks for continuing to share!

~Heather

Tony said...

Heather,

Thanks for the follow-up. I have used door-to-door not necessarily for evangelism. Sometimes I will use it and just go and ask folks if they have needs that I could pray for. Of course, me being a pastor, they don't quite look at me like I have three heads like they might somebody else.

I have found that to be a VERY effective way to reach people where they are. I have never had anyone turn me down for prayer. That leads of course to discussing deeper spiritual needs and more often that not a Gospel presentation or at least how the Gospel applies to their current situation, which I see as more effective than just "Hey, you hear about Jesus?" Neither have I had anyone turn down a follow-up visit.

I think it just takes finding what works in your community and then using it consistently. No one "methodology" works in every context.

Thanks for your continued dialogue out here. It has been a blessing!

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather said...

I erased my previous post because of types :-) ... I said:

Tony -

It's interesting that you said that about asking about praying for people, as that is part of what the Lord is showing Brandon and me about going door-to-door. There are other aspects as well, but this is a big one.

Thanks for sharing!

Heather said...

What is wrong with me this monring? Thats should say that I erased my previous post because of typos, not types ... :-)

Tony said...

Heather,

You are hilarious! Even in your final comment there were still typos! Its OK--I think I got it!

I am still fairly amazed at how our blog gang is seeing a lot of the same pictures; God working in the same way revealing the same truths to us and us sharing and encouraging one another through them. I am glad I have been a encouragement to you and Brandon.

Likewise!

Hope your fingers limber up by tomorrow "monring." :)