A recent study of churches across the nation indicated that if pastors set time aside to get out of the office and into the community, the likelihood of unchurched people coming to Christ rises exponentially. It seems like common sense, but the study shows that churches accomplish results in sharing Jesus if they decide to make attempts at community connections and conversations.
Rev. John Stennfeld and Christ Lutheran Church in Austin are doing just that in an interesting and very contextual way. Pastor Stennfeld tells the story:
As you might know, street art is huge in Austin—especially in South Austin where Christ Lutheran Church is located. One of the most famous pieces of street art in Austin is a sign located on the wall of a coffee shop a few blocks from the church. Spray-painted in red script on light green is a simple line that says, “I love you so much.”Everyone coming to the neighborhood wants a picture taken with this sign.
So, I decided to take a blank outside wall of our building and do a play on this that might draw people passing by our church to take pictures and to eventually make our wall/church a photo destination in Austin also. In red script we wrote, “Jesus loves you more.”
Not long after, on a Friday night, someone crossed out the name of Jesus and spray-painted the name “Barney” in its place. When I arrived at church on Saturday, I quickly went and got paint to fix the sign again with the name Jesus, not Barney. As I was fixing the sign, a number of folks passing by who had seen the sign on other days asked me what happened and what I was doing. They mentioned that they thought the sign was clever. As they visited with me, I had an idea. Here they were, talking to me voluntarily. What if I found a way to be outside where folks would approach me, as they feel comfortable, to strike up conversations? But what would make folks want to say hi, or stop by to talk?
A few days later I was in the office searching through pictures for a sermon and I saw a Peanuts picture of Lucy at her psychiatric booth. “That’s it!” I thought. What would happen if we made one of these booths with a sign that said, “The Pastor is In”? I could sit at it during my lunch hours to see if folks would be enticed to stop by, say hello, and perhaps even engage in deeper conversations.
After just a few days, I am seeing results. The first day a young 27-year-old woman stopped by and talked for about 20 minutes. She said she was a “spiritual” person and a recovering alcoholic who didn’t really believe in any one particular God. I had the opportunity to listen to her, share with her, and pray with her. She took my card, snapped a photo, and walked away. The next day a pest control man, a large black man, stopped by to talk about race relations in our country and how he feels it is getting worse, not better. The next day a couple folks took pictures and said that they thought this was a great idea. Even our transgender next-door neighbor stopped, chuckled, and said “Great… really great.”
I don’t know how many doors for ministry this will open, but I believe it will open more than me sitting in my office all the time. After I had the booth built we had it blessed in our Sunday worship, asking God to use it to open doors for us to touch people’s lives with the love, life and forgiveness of Jesus. I believe, to whatever extent, that he will do it.
By Rev. John Stennfeld