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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Are They Looking For A Sign?

Self disclosure - before deciding to go to ACU and get a ministry degree I seriously considered working on computer animation and graphic design at Texas A&M (I was highly influenced by bi-vocational ministers who didn't have seminary type training for ministry).

Folks who know me know that I love to play around with logos and designs. I've got some cheap software that lets me dabble and I've even done some stuff for other folks on occasion. All that is to say that I really appreciate communicating through visual media.

We've been incredibly blessed with a professional graphic artist who has donated her time and talent to design us a whole theme packet for our support raising endeavors. Amy's contribution is so valuable because it tells me that folks are connecting with our vision and want to help in whatever way they can. It's also valuable because I know how much it would have cost to have something like this designed!

However, recently I've had the opportunity to reflect on signs and logos and their purpose. Our hope is that our information packet communicates certain things to people - that we're serious and invested in what we're doing rather than just throwing something together on a whim; that we value the visual aspects of community and faith, etc.

What I hope that it does not communicate is that marketing and a professional looking organization is the basis for our evangelism. I hope it does not communicate that our expectation is to create an attractional community - in other words that our evangelistic strategy is "build it so that they will come". We certainly want folks to feel welcome - and to know where to find us if they so choose.

But where evangelism is concerned, I find this word "missional" to be valuable. I realize that this buzzword is sometimes used indiscriminately to mean "progressive" or something like that. For me this word means that our focus is on a community of people who have been called by God to faith and sent by God to invite others to faith as well. Missional means that our primary evangelism strategy is to meet people where they are rather than inviting them to join us where we are. It doesn't mean that we don't invite people or seek for our gatherings to be welcoming and just means that there's something more central to our mission than inviting someone to church on Sunday morning.

I will say this though, when things start getting practical, it is very hard to avoid an attractional mindset. We think in terms of programs and events. We think about advertising to the community. We think about signs, banners, websites and yellow page ads. We think about ways to attract people to our building. Again there's nothing inherently wrong with any of this.

But what about when there are groups and agencies with more money that can host better felt needs events? Do we try to compete with the YMCA or social agencies providing the same basic content in their parenting seminar? Sure we want to incorporate a spiritual component...but do we assume that non-Christians are going to choose a program with a spiritual component over something conducted by a social agency? At that point has the program lost its evangelistic focus and become more internally motivated? (which is fine so long as we're aware that it has happened and we're not wondering why our evangelistic event is only attended by members of our church)

What about when teens have their own entertainment and "free pizza and PG movie" just doesn't sound all that attractive? How do we respond then? Do we sit around and lament this new generation that doesn't care about their spiritual life?

Are we counting on a sign by the road to attract large crowds? Maybe it will...what if it doesn't? Does that mean we need to reevaluate the look of our sign? The content? The biblical permission to have a sign? Or does it mean we need to reevaluate our assumptions about evangelism?

I am very much in favor of spending some time and energy making sure that what we do is done well. I like the idea of catchy name, logo, sign or banner. I don't think this is an either/or situation. In the end, I'm convinced that people ARE looking for a sign...

just maybe not the ones we've focused on...

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