Faith Works 3-5-16
Proclaiming Your Particular Good News
For Christian faith communities, the good news, the Gospel we proclaim, is Jesus Christ.
Gospel is simply the Old English word for "good news." It has become both the name for the books of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus, and is shorthand for the meaning and implication of his life, so when preachers talk about the gospel, or evangelists share the gospel, it's both telling people about Jesus, and also talking about who he is, and why that story matters.
Communities, congregations of gospel-tellers, are connected in that storytelling to the events in Israel two thousand years ago (not to mention a couple thousand years of prophecy that came before), and to our time and place where there's also a particular need to hear that good news for us. The gospel itself doesn't change, but its implications for Jewish Christians in Thessaly, for Gentiles coming to Christianity in Rome, and for Ohioans today, each makes for a different way of telling the story.
Since we've been talking about church communications the last two weeks, the focus has been largely internal. But I didn't want this subject to pass us by without addressing the thorny question of how churches communicate with those outside their walls, beyond their communities.
Some might call this advertising, or marketing. Others might say we're talking about the nuts and bolts of evangelism. I'm just going to take a very wide, general look at this issue for now.
If you are not a church-goer (and my e-mail and community contacts tell me many of you regular readers aren't), you have a number of ways to find out how different faith communities are sharing their take on what God is up to, that good news as it works out through their lives.
One common means is the church sign – quite a few have them, and we all use them a little differently. The name, denominational affiliation if any, times of services, and often a message that may give you a sense of who and how they are.
In this section of the newspaper, there's a church listing, and those brief notes tell a fair amount about the weekday life of the congregation. Approaching Easter, some churches will take out ads, and the look and wording of those ads say something about the priorities and emphases of that place.
During this season, and often before Christmas or in the lead-up to a Vacation Bible School in the summer, churches can put inserts into newspapers or shoppers that are distributed (those bagged bundles), and door-hangers can be printed up and put on houses in selected neighborhoods.
And you can be pretty selective by neighborhood, zip code, or city in putting out bulk mail pieces. We don't see as many of those in Licking County as you might in other places, but it's an option.
The statistics and anecdotal evidence is all over the map, but in general, I think it's safe to say this: most of those means of communicating what your good news is from your church to the wider community are of limited effectiveness. They have a place, each of them, but usually work best when you have a very precise plan and purpose behind putting the time and money into a print or published piece.
What is absolutely clear is that the best way to communicate your shared values, your spiritual priorities, your passion for Jesus, is through face-to-face contact. The ol' "word of mouth" connection from your members, your participants, to those in their circles of connection, whether family, friends, co-workers, or even casual contacts.
Mission projects that get your people out into the community can also be a great pump-priming activity to get folks talking about who and Whose they are. It's not the only reason you serve and share in Christ's name, but it's sincerely a part of why you go out and work on community needs. It's also the best way to help flip people of faith from saying "I don't know anyone who doesn't go to church" to realizing that every day they have around them people who are searching for some good news in their lives.
And you may be exactly the right person to tell that story.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has lots of stories, and they all revolve around the central story of God's love for us. Tell him how you tell your story at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.