Meeting & Engaging God’s People Where They Are
September 19, 2022
By Deacon Timothy Siburg
Throughout the gospels Jesus shows up where the people are. He goes and finds them, and joins them. Meeting them where they are at, and accompanying them amid their day or journey, out in the experiences and realities of daily life. Whether it be out along the street, in a marketplace, along the riverside, on a boat, or in a tax collector’s home, Jesus shows up. And we are called to do likewise.
Now if your experience in your congregation is like mine, some two and a half years since the start of the pandemic, you might be wondering how to engage people that for whatever reason won’t be in person on Sunday mornings to be engaged? It’s a question I hear a lot. So if you are wondering it or asking it, first of all know that you are not alone.
This question though, if asked with a discipleship mindset, is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to experiment. To try something new. To pivot. To innovate. To lean into the Holy Spirit’s invitation to meet God’s people where they are at, even if that might not be the most typical or traditional of spaces. This isn’t to say that you need to change everything you are doing, or to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” so to speak. But perhaps in your context there are ways that you might try something new to meet people who are a part of your faith community and larger community in new ways and perhaps even on their terms?
Most congregations at this point have discerned some way to provide an online and/or hybrid worship experience. But how might such an offering be a way to engage rather than to just broadcast and communicate one direction? How might you intentionally connect with those joining worship from home or their cabin or elsewhere, near or far, and provide prayer, conversation, and support? These are some of the questions that the Nebraska Synod Outreach Table is currently researching and wrestling with. Stay tuned to an upcoming edition of the E-news where we will share best practices for digital and hybrid ministry now. But that’s not all.
Trying Something New with Discipleship
Perhaps you have noticed that Sunday School, Confirmation, or Faith Formation in your context isn’t the same or flat out isn’t working anymore? Congregations that have faced this reality have invited new possibilities and experiments. Many have begun engaging in discipleship building through cross+generational means and opportunities, like by providing Sunday School or Faith Formation or Discipleship for all ages in a new way. Ideas for this are regularly shared and generated by the Nebraska Synod 4G Network, “Growing God’s Generous Generations.” Check out the website and their presence on Facebook for more.
I have been moved especially by hearing about disciples and leaders from congregations who have decided that because youth and young adults are too busy to be able to attend a normal Sunday School, they are meeting them before or after their soccer practice at the soccer field or at the football stadium before or after a high-school football game for brief Bible Study and “highs and lows” check-ins. This is yet another way that some congregations have pivoted to embody the presence of Jesus showing up in the world where God’s people are at.
Showing Up in Daily Life
Now that fall is here, perhaps your congregation might enjoy some kind of vocational visits? Where a ministry leader or leaders from your congregation go to visit disciples and members of your faith community where they are in the community- not necessarily at home, but perhaps if they are comfortable at their place of work. For farmers, how about jumping in a combine for some conversation during the long days of harvest. For teachers, how about showing up early with coffee or some sort of sign of appreciation to start the day off on the right foot.
Whatever one’s vocations are, engaging in this way provides an opportunity to remember that discipleship is a daily thing not just reserved for Sunday mornings in a church building. It’s a daily life thing. To show up in this way might provide a tangible blessing, that could serve as an opportunity for a congregation to more deeply reflect on who it is, who its community is, and what God might be up to. It also would be an easy way for the larger community to see that this church practices what it preaches- by showing up and being with God’s people, no questions asked, as signs of God’s love.
These are just a few ideas for engaging God’s people where they are at. I’m sure you have many more, and perhaps these have sparked more ideas for you. If so, or if you have a story to share about anything like this, we want to hear from you! Please share your story or ideas with me by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so that in a future article we can share more, but also to create and provide a new resource of ideas and best practices for engaging God’s people here and now. It would be a gift to the whole church to share these ideas as we continue to walk together, and I would be grateful for your partnership in this effort.
Go out, show up, be with, and join in with God, and see what happens!