Making Evangelism Personal
When the Rev. Darius Larsen realized only one student had enrolled in his first confirmation class at All Saints in Big Sky, Mont., he told the parents, "You must know other kids who might want to do confirmation."
And they did. As these parents starting inviting other youth in the community, the class size quickly grew to seven.
"It is a different form of evangelism that I've never used before in other parishes, but so far it seems to work," Pastor Darius says.
"I tell people they have to be out there in the community spreading the word. This is one way that they did that very well."
All Saints is a union congregation of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). It's also the only mainline Protestant worship option in this small resort town.
Describing outreach as "not getting people into the church, but getting church people out into the communities," Pastor Darius challenges members to talk about the congregation and to let people know what is happening when they go to their Kiwanis or poker groups.
"That is much more effective if the laity talk about their enthusiasm, than the pastor knocking on somebody's door to talk about it," Pastor Darius said.
Instead of becoming so inwardly focused on the management of the congregation, Pastor Darius urges members to constantly look out.
"I sometimes have people turn to the windows of the church and ask, 'What is God calling you to do out there?'" he said. "It is so important for people to think of one thing they could do each week or month [to reach out to their neighbors]."
While knocking on doors works in some communities, outreach takes on a unique approach in Big Sky, an affluent area with numerous gated communities.
"You still have to get out in the community. You can't sit in your office and expect things to happen," Pastor Darius remarks.
"Here I talk to people in coffee shops, or while riding up on ski lifts, or golfing. I'm part of the hiking club and cross country ski group. I let everybody know that I'm a pastor."
Pastor Darius says the congregation is not as concerned about membership numbers as they are about discipleship.
"I applaud people every time I see marks of a disciple," he said. "I name it and tell them, 'Thank you for being a disciple of Jesus Christ.' One woman I said this to had tears in her eyes. She gets it."