Connecting to Your Community: The Importance of Reputation and Contextualization, Rev. Jonathan Bourman
We all yearn to have “the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). And why? So that—as Luke would say—the Lord can add to our number daily. In the 21st century post-Christian America, it is not enough for congregations simply to exist within their community. Congregations need to find positive ways to connect to their community, for two reasons.
First, congregations need to connect to the community to establish a favorable reputation. Reputation matters. Your congregation’s reputation can help (or hurt) as you attempt to gain an audience for the gospel. A related challenge is if your congregation has no reputation at all… if no one in your community, other than your members, know or care that your congregation exists.
Second, congregations need to connect to the community as part of their contextualization efforts. Contextualization done correctly is simply a matter of congregational leaders lovingly abiding within their community and learning the views and values of the people there. Why? It helps shape our ministry tactics. When St. Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13), he followed the customs of their synagogue. He quotes Scripture repeatedly. He cites Jewish heroes. Why? That was a good way to communicate to the audience there, which was entirely Jewish. However, when Paul preached in the Areopagus of Athens, he takes more a philosophical approach. He refers to mankind’s natural knowledge of God. He quotes Greek poets. Why? That was the best way to communicate with that audience. Paul took the time to understand the community he was serving so that he might communicate law and gospel clearly to that audience.
In this session, we will discuss some practical ways we can connect to our community, both to enhance our church’s reputation through powerful Lutheran ministry and to formulate strategies for gospel proclamation that fit our ministry context. It boils down to this: we want to have more opportunities to share the Word with more people. This is a major question for all churches, but especially for many WELS ministries that work in smaller city centers or suburban settings away from the urban core.
Rev. Jonathan Bourman
Jonathan Bourman is a 2008 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. His began his pastoral ministry by serving a large church in Brillion, Wis. However, he always wanted the chance to try launching a new congregation. The Lord of the Church gave him that opportunity in 2014, when Jonathan was called to plant a church in Aiken, S.C. Jonathan, his wife Melanie, and their daughter made the move. Peace Lutheran in Aiken was launched.
Aiken was supposed to explode with growth due to ongoing federal funding of nuclear projects at the Savannah River Site. The District Mission Board provided a plan to start a new congregation in midst of all the new subdivisions that were going to be built. However, in Jonathan’s very first year in Aiken, the federal government stopped funding the site for a time and, afterward, shifted priorities. It required Jonathan and his leaders to come up with an entirely different plan. So, they connected to the community. They knew they would need to connect to the people of Aiken—not necessarily the people who would be coming to Aiken. They discovered that one way to connect and stick out was to be a part of Aiken’s historical downtown. Thus, Peace Lutheran began worshipping downtown. Eventually they bought an old warehouse and converted it into a church. While Aiken remains a smaller city, the Lord is blessing their efforts to connect to the community. Peace not only has a wonderful reputation in Aiken, it is also one of the fasting growing congregations in WELS.
Jonathan is a blogger, a regular contributor to Forward in Christ, and a commentator on the podcast The Notable. He works formally as a mentor for other pastors and provides support for fellow church planters.