The impact of fellowship

As a new mission start, you ought to be focused on outreach, right? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

In our first few years as a mission, we focused heavily on outreach. We held kids’ events, we organized other events, we piggy-backed off of community events, we canvassed, and I went to just about every community networking event that I could find. And this was good. It was extremely beneficial because we met a lot of people and had opportunities to invite someone to come hear the gospel and even opportunities to share the gospel then and there.

Before I write the rest of this, I want to say that we will continue to keep doing this outreach. It is important.

But, outreach is not the only thing that a mission church should be paying attention too and, as we would come to find out, our in-reach directly impacted our outreach.

Between 2020-2022, Sure Foundation grew relatively fast. Adding roughly 50 people within those years that came from a variety of backgrounds. Some of these additions were WELS transfers (people moving to South Dakota from other places of the country); some of these additions were adult confirmands; and a few of these additions were new births.

This was an amazing blessing and exciting times, especially for a new church. However, there was a struggle that came along with this growth. The core group of people that started this church, that had gotten to know each other really well, didn’t have the same sort of friendships with this mass of new people that had come into the church. What were we to do?

Well, we continued to do outreach, but we started to make a focused effort on in-reach. Lots of fellowship opportunities were offered – many, many potlucks. New members were slowly integrated into volunteering efforts. And do you know what happened? Relationships began to form. People knew each other’s’ names. They had shared experiences and familiarity with each other. The overall vibe (to use young person’s slang) of the congregation improved and prospects/visitors could feel this.

Here’s an example. . . Bob and Virginia started visiting worship sometime in the spring of 2023. Later that Fall, they took our Faith Builders Class and became members. At one point I asked them, what was it about Sure Foundation that they valued? They responded quickly saying two things: 1) they know that what they are receiving on Sundays is the Word of God and they didn’t have to doubt that, and 2) they felt like they were welcomed into a family, that people of this church genuinely enjoyed being together.

That warms a pastor’s heart, but it’s one thing to say that, it’s another thing altogether to mean it. Bob and Virginia meant it. They invited their family to come too. They loved their church and they couldn’t imagine not inviting their loved ones to come and hear the Word of God and experience the fellowship of a body of believers. Their invite led to two teenagers being baptized and two adults being confirmed. Praise be to God!

Their story has taught me something and that is that outreach is important, friendship evangelism is crucial, and also, that the love expressed in fellowship within a congregation has a bigger impact than you may ever realize.

Written by Rev. Craig Wilke, home missionary at Sure Foundation Lutheran Church in Brandon, S.D.

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