When you think about Missourians, what comes to mind? Sports fans? Hunters and fishermen? Patriotic Americans? How about these: Unemployed neighbors? Immigrants? Families going hungry? Veterans with stress disorders? Parolees? Poor readers?
Who are the real people living just beyond your church doors?
As an evangelism/discipleship strategist, I frequently get calls and emails from pastors who want to know: “What can I do to help our church members be active witnesses for Jesus?”
Before unleashing the latest boxed program full of generic evangelizing tools, start with a look around your church. Who has your church reached and why? Are you a church for married working couples with 2.3 children and yet you don’t have a clue if there are any single parents in your community? How would someone from another culture get along with your Sunday crowd? Although your doors may be open to all, do the lost sense the same thing?
Take an objective look at the community in which God has placed you. Drive around and then walk around. Do what one Missouri Baptist pastor did and drive around after 11p.m.! Drive where you normally would never drive. If you don’t ‘feel safe’ walking at 11 p.m. in some part of town, why not? What networks of people have you yet to touch with the gospel? And if you don’t, who will?
What if the community where you live had only 100 people? Here is a look at Missouri as if it were a village of 100 people. I hope it gives you an idea of different networks and peoples that contribute to the culture outside our own church doors:
• 6 are unemployed
• 13 live on food stamps
• 17 are undernourished
• 22 are children that are insecure about their next meal
• 8 are children living in single-parent families
• 20 live in multi-housing units
• 4 are first-generation immigrants
• 6 do not speak English at home
• 7 have a disorder related to alcohol and drugs
• 9 are military veterans
• 84 are racially White
• 12 are racially Black or African-Americans
• 22 live in St. Louis City and County combined
• 51 are female
• 86 are high school graduates
• 25 graduated with a four-year college degree
• 15 are proficient at reading
• 35 struggle with reading
• 75 are not born-again
• 38 who are not born-again live in just six counties and St. Louis City
• 12 are Southern Baptists
• 12 are Roman Catholics
• 4 are United Methodists
• 4 are members of a Non-denominational church
• 2 are members of an Assemblies of God church
• 2 are Lutherans, Missouri Synod
• 51 are unclaimed by any religious institution
If you use tract-based evangelism programs, you’ll not be as effective with those who struggle to read. If you ignore human need among some who are struggling with nutrition, they won’t hear the gospel because they’re hungry. What about those who live in gated communities, work the third shift, or are in low income areas? Are your church members able to speak the language of immigrants in your community? What families are struggling because a family member is in jail or just out on parole?
Jesus said to make disciples of “all nations” (Matt. 28:19). What will you do to reach them ALL with the gospel? Check out ideas that can “Light Up Missouri” at www.mobaptist.orglight .
My caution is to not to over-think this and freeze-up. We want to avoid “analysis paralysis.” When God places someone in your path, share the gospel, of course! But if your church is serious about intentionally making disciples of all peoples, then it helps to understand and address pockets of lostness one at a time.
What training will your church members need? Are they willing to invest two to three hours each week interacting with people who need Christ? Are they willing to make the necessary changes to be effective ongoing witnesses?
So go ahead. Commit now to make disciples of ALL Missourians.
(Mark Snowden serves Missouri Baptists as Evangelism/Discipleship Strategist (573) 556-0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)