by John Hoh
Often, our congregations and organizations meet internally. We discuss internal affairs, such as staffing and budget. There might be other concerns addressed. A congregation may have to vote on membership issues raised by the pastor. An organization may need to study matters such as the effects new legislation, local or federal, may have on the organization.
In short, we can all too often suffer from what is called the “omphalos syndrome.” Omphalos is a fancy Greek word derived from the word used for navel, or our belly button. Yes, we can be so focused on our “belly buttons” we forget what our mission is, and here I’ll just comment that if your congregation or organization has no Mission and Statement of Vision, now would be a good time to develop these.
If we look at the Great Commission in Matthew 28 we see a simple verb, “Go.” Somehow, we have turned that into, “Come to our church, come to our meetings, come, come, come … ” But the Great Commission is outward-looking in order to be inclusive. There have been debates in my Bible classes as to the extent we “go” — do we travel to the ends of the earth like Paul?
Or do we go out into our communities and interact with the people we meet next door who might have an interest in our message and our mission? My pastor has often told the story that he lamented to a seminary professor that he never seems to meet anyone in the neighborhood. The professor’s advice? Sit on the front steps reading the newspaper. When pastor did that, he did start meeting neighbors.
In our east side neighborhood we have many opportunities to mingle with the community — walk a dog, visit the farmer’s market, interact at a street festival. This is passive, and it’s OK, but consider an active mingle. At my church every year we have a “Meet Your Neighbor Street Picnic.” We grill bratwurst and hot dogs, have salads and desserts, and invite our neighbors to join us. We have booked mascots from the local sports teams (many do so for free), had Christian bands and puppeteers perform and award a “Neighbor of the Year Award.” In recent years I have invited local authors to come and meet our neighbors and let them get exposure for their works.
This annual event has become popular in the neighborhood. To be sure, we have had to re-evaluate how we do things and change process the next year, but the community always looks forward to it and embraces it. A number of our award winners have even taken a liking to some of our ministries and our mission and have helped whenever and wherever they can. It has been a win-win for everyone.
Another Salem community event, which will be held again this coming weekend, is our St. Patrick’s Day open house. We open our doors, offer free corned beef and cabbage and have videos and literature on the life and mission of St. Patrick. The Sunday following we have our Mission Sunday because St. Patrick was a missionary! The Irish hymns sung that Sunday are a real treat and welcomed by all. On our carillon on St. Patrick’s Day we also play CDs of Irish hymns. It connects us to our community, and it is amazing how many people do not know who St. Patrick really was!
Getting your organization visible in the community is important, and it doesn’t even have to be that hard. It’s not just for churches, either — if you’re active in the community and people see what you do, that can increase volunteers, donations and simple awareness. This awareness may sound obvious, but if you don’t get out and talk with the people, then you don’t know what they don’t know about you.
If you would like more details, I will be glad to provide them. In future installments I will visit this topic more, as well as the topic of Process/Procedure.
John L. Hoh, Jr., is a former seminary student active in the volunteer ministry of his east side Milwaukee congregation. He lives in Milwaukee with his son, Matthew, and is a published author with many books on Lutheran history, theology and practice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.