By Rev. Beverly Ritland
How do we go about reaching out to the world around us?
This is a question all of us in ministry have sought to answer as we respond to God’s call in Jesus Christ to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). It’s a difficult question for congregations to answer when we’re doing our best to endure transitions that are driven by so many things in a rapidly-changing world. Liberty UMC is fueled by the love of God and God’s promise to be with us always (Mt 28: 20). Like many congregations, we not only trust in this promise, our members have experienced it in our ministry together. For 105 years, the warmth of God’s love in Liberty UMC as a community of faith is a part of the legacy we’ve inherited. Another part of our legacy is that although we’ve endured many transitions; we have confidence we will prevail. We also know that enduring and prevailing are a false confidence because they are not adequate responses to God’s call in Jesus Christ.
If your church reconnected to the community and world around it in a powerful new way, what was the catalyst event that God used?
We are a “can do” congregation. We have experienced what God “can do” in us in ministry to our local community and in the lives of those who have come to us. We know that God’s love has brought us together to be in community. Over the past few months, we’ve discussed these things. Fortunately, all of our leaders have a strong sense of ministerial identity and commitment to Liberty UMC’s legacy. They continually assess our congregation’s strengths and weaknesses and ask, “How are we meeting our our mission needs? How are we meeting our leadership needs? How are we meeting our stewardship goals? Are we spiritually healthy and bearing witness? How we are meeting our goals? How well we are following our mission statement?” The reality of needing to improve in a number of these areas struck home all at once. We also realized that improvements could no longer be accomplished by one committee. We needed to be united as a congregation in our outreach efforts so the Holy Spirit could propel us forward as a church.
The process of discerning how to best reach out into the community led us to trust the Spirit’s prompting and the denomination’s encouragement to “rethink church.” At our October Administrative Council meeting, we decided to have a raffle and invite the community by going door-to-door. Because many of our members commute 20-30 miles in every direction to Liberty, it became apparent that the most logical time to do a big Evangelism effort would be on a Sunday during worship. After the decision was made, there was a sense of “are we really going to do this?,” and we did. The congregation trusted the pastor’s leadership and when she rallied behind the idea of going door-to-door on Sunday morning, everyone was on board. So on November 23rd, we combined the two worship services into one short service of prayer and song, and then the entire congregation went out into the surrounding neighborhoods. We went door-to-door, distributing 300 invitations to come to worship at Liberty UMC. The invitations included a free ticket for one of five Christmas Dinners we’ll be giving away on December 14th.
What are signs of new life in your congregation?
You might ask, “Did it work?” Take note of the sequence of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28: 19, 20. God’s promise comes to us as we live in response to His call; Go therefore (Mt 28:19) is followed by; and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt 28: 20). The answer is, of course it did, and we are not done yet. We felt God’s presence, and not one person complained that it didn’t feel like worship. There are many ways to reach out, but the method of Evangelism that works best is the one that you do.
We could be yelling at the top of our lungs, we’re so full of answered prayers (Psalm 13:6) – The Message