The blank look. The slight frown. The searching, mystified expression. If the person’s face had a digital readout, it would say, “no results found.” Then the question: “So… where is that?”
It would be nice if we never had to hear that question ever again. “So… where is your church?” It’s like hearing someone say, “Nope, never heard of it. I’ve lived here for 30 years. I drive by it every day. Doesn’t register. Your congregation’s ministry has made zero impact on me. Your efforts to identify yourself to our community, build relational bridges, and communicate your message has failed.”
Great. Thanks a lot. Not an encouraging question. “So, where is your church?”
Our church building is set back from the main road. It’s tucked away behind a hedgerow of city-owned, required-by-zoning lilac bushes. It has a low profile in the view of a driver or passerby. So signage is important. Announcing our presence and proclaiming our identity in visual form is a must.
With help from an outreach grant, we installed a new roadside sign. It’s simple. It’s professionally and durably constructed. It’s clean and neat. It’s visible from the main road and the traffic light.
It’s only been a few months since we installed the sign, but we can’t keep up with all the people pounding down our door! Our attendance doubled, then tripled, since the new sign went up.
No, not really. If only it were that simple: to post a public placard and wait for the people to notice and respond.
It turns out that we do want to keep hearing that question, “So, where is your church?” In fact, we actually want to take the initiative and ask the question ourselves, “So, do you know where we are?” Maybe we will get the frown. . . and the blank stare. . . and the response in the negative. Maybe we will get a deflating sense of how many still don’t know about us. But we’re happy to tell them. And give them directions. And invite them. And show the way. We’re delighted to describe in detail how to locate our church.
And then. . . we get to ask the next question. “Alright, now that we’re clear on that… you know where we are. Do you know who we are?”
It would be really surprising if anyone from the community nodded and said, “Oh, sure. I know who you are!” No one would be expected to have any kind of answer for that. That means we get to tell them. “Mighty Fortress is a group of people who have found rock-solid truth in the Bible, and appreciate the rock-solid comfort that Jesus provides.” Or something like that.
Short. Simple. Hopefully, not too canned or rehearsed-sounding. Just a quick introduction to who is inside the walls of that unfamiliar building and to why they might want to enter it themselves.
We don’t expect our attendance to double or triple anytime soon. And we don’t expect that we have eliminated the need for that, “So, where’s your church?” question. But we pray that we have a better shot at getting a glimmer of recognition when we tell people. We pray that we have a better shot at awakening a glimmer of Spirit-planted faith when we introduce ourselves and our message. We pray that we have a better shot at sharing with our community where we are and who we are.
Written by Rev. Dave Boettcher, home missionary at Mighty Fortress in Red Deer and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.
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