The Gretna United Methodist Church hosted Bishop Scott Jones on Saturday, March 8, to discuss successful evangelism in the fastest-growing area in Nebraska.
Jones’ workshop, titled “The Twenty Components of an Evangelistically Effective Congregation,” focused on the United Methodist Church’s mission to reach out and welcome new members and strategies for churches to successfully grow.
Missouri River Superintendent Dr. Dan Flanagan organized the event. A dozen members of the Gretna UMC attended as well as several churches from the Omaha area.
Although his presentation included twenty points, he said the first four are the most important, and the rest are details. The first four are:
Jones said God’s mission created the church so that the gospel would be preached and His mission could continue. Part of that mission is evangelism.
The first component, create and sustain a missional culture, encourages congregations to create a biblically based, simple yet comprehensive mission statement and make decisions based on its content and style. Clergy, church staff and lay leaders must embody this and set the norm within the Church.
The second component, create and sustain a spiritual culture, says that congregations must understand that God is using their church. It encourages praying for pre-Christians, those who are not yet part of the Church, by name.
The third component, creating a culture of hospitality, starts with a congregation’s mindset, said Jones. It is easy for congregations to fall into a club mentality, which could exclude outsiders and potential new members. Jones said congregations must see themselves as a mission outpost and ask themselves who needs to hear the gospel, and how do they reach those people.
“Christ died for everybody, every soul,” Jones said.
Steve Gangwish, a member of Gretna UMC, said the hospitality mindset might mean churches need to step outside their comfort zones. Gangwish serves on Gretna’s evangelism committee. Even though he has been a part of the United Methodist Church his whole life, this is his first leadership position within the church.
“It’s scary,” Gangwish said. “You worry if you can do a good job.”
Gangwish added that churches should move outside their comfort zones and try something new.
“That’s how you grow,” Gangwish said.
“We are called to do what God does,” said the Rev. Dr. Janice Japp, pastor at the Gretna UMC.
Bishop Jones defined hospitality has discerning a person’s needs and finding how to meet them. He gave an example of a church in Arizona that started a Bring a Friend Sunday program. The congregation advertised on a local radio station, but they didn’t know the motorcycle community listened to that station. Bring a Friend Sunday brought in many bikers, but instead of welcoming them for only one day, the church reached out and started a Biker Sunday service each spring.
To test a congregation’s hospitality, Bishop Jones said members could invite a friend to visit their church and have her write what she experiences as a first-time visitor. Both clergy and members of the congregation should read this document.
The fourth component, determine your target population and learn to love them well, may seem contradictory, Jones said. But he clarified, stating that messages intended to reach everybody tend to reach nobody. Though it is important to welcome anyone who enters a church.
Jones said congregations must ask themselves, who has God given them as a target population and what is their niche.
To help churches understand their surrounding population and its needs, Jones recommended visiting MissionInsite.org, a website that organizes demographic information.
The Bishop compared this to online advertisements. When someone searches for a term or frequents certain websites, he will get special advertisements based on things he is already interested in.
“Why is it that companies study populations well and we don’t?” Jones said.
The last sixteen of the twenty points include:
Jones also said the United Methodist Church should target people who do not have a home church, adding that people have good reasons for following other religions.
“We’re Wesleyans,” Jones said. “We say God’s grace is available to everybody.”