When Outreach Stinks

At Faith, Sharpsburg, GA, we send out mass mailings to our target area numerous times per year. The postcards are always tied to a “come event” that invites our community to join us for worship. Over the years this has led to many visitors and many new members of the body of Christ.

Over the years, however, it’s had another effect as well. Certain people in our community really don’t want to hear from a church. I found the postcard pictured above put into the door of our church building. I don’t know if the person got it by mail or doorhanger (we did 10,000 of the former and 1800 of the latter) but there was no doubt that they didn’t want it. They wrote “Keep it” across its face.

Think of all the effort that went into taking the postcard, writing a note on it, and then driving to my church, and sticking it in the front door. The person undoubtedly planned their trip to be when no one was there. I couldn’t believe how much forethought and effort they went through. I mean, I usually forget to pick up milk and eggs when I am told to do it three times!

Can you imagine doing this with the coupon that the local Papa Johns sends you in the mail? “I don’t want your pizza, so I drove to your restaurant and to give it back to you with a nasty note!” No one would do that over pizza. But over church? Absolutely. Because deep down, that person knew that the Church is very different from a pizza joint. Deep down he knew and reacted to the message of Christ crucified. The word was efficacious—but it hardened instead of healed.

Sometimes doing the work of outreach and inviting people to worship just plain stinks.

This, however, is exactly what God told us to expect. Preaching the gospel will always stink: as we take the message Christ out to an unbelieving world, Paul said that we smell with the aroma of Christ and no one reacts ambivalently.

For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 2 Corinthians 2:15ff.

Even though my postcard didn’t bring that man into church that Sunday, it still did the smelly work of God. Unfortunately for that man, we were the smell of death. But that doesn’t mean we should ever stop doing that smelly work. Sometimes our outreach efforts play the part of the Old Testament prophets or the New Testament disciples who had to wipe the dust from their sandals. Reactions like this, should only serve to highlight how important our outreach work is! Jesus is either the most important thing the world or the least important thing. The one thing he cannot be is moderately important (C. S. Lewis).

When I pulled the card from the door, I went into my study and prayed for that man. I prayed that he might be given the grace to live until the Church had a chance to call him by the Spirit. I prayed that one day, he would smell us as the fragrance of life.

Don’t let negative reactions slow down your outreach work—outreach is supposed to stink. Just be the aroma of Christ to everyone around you!

Rev. Jonathan E. Schroeder

Jonathan Schroeder is the pastor of Faith Lutheran in Sharpsburg, GA. He serves as the Moderator of the Institute of Worship and Outreach, pastor-at-large on the Synodical Council, and is actively involved in WELS School of Outreach and WELS School of Worship.

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