By Bill Funk
In the past 30 months, we’ve volunteered in 14 ELCA congregations, helping them grow by going door-to-door to meet people who currently are not connected to any particular church home.
Our approach is to interest people through a brief, welcoming conversation. We usually spend five to six weeks each in congregations doing this kind of evangelism ministry.
We’re fortunate to bring with us some great experience we gained in developing two new mission starts. We estimate that we’ve knocked on some 21,000 doors as volunteer evangelists.
We walk through neighborhoods with a member of the congregation and knock on doors, eager to begin a conversation when someone answers. We’ll say, “Hi! We’re from the ELCA Lutheran congregation in the neighborhood and we’re saying a quick ‘hello’ to our neighbors this evening.”
Once in a while we meet someone who doesn’t have a church connection right now, and we can tell them about the ELCA. Sometimes we learn that the people we meet just moved to town, or they don’t have a congregation they attend right now. So we’ll ask, “Do you have a church preference or would you consider a visit to a congregation in the neighborhood?”
If the person is open to this idea, we’ll offer a brochure for the ELCA congregation we represent. We introduce ourselves and start a conversation, very similar to the one that follows.
“By the way I’m Bill Funk, and this is Georgia, a member of the congregation. And your name is ?”
“Kita? What a pretty name! Is that K-i-t-a?”
“And your husband’s name?”
“Angel? That’s a powerful name, one of God’s messengers!”
“And you have children? Four! Wonderful! We love to have children worship with us and we have a nursery available as well. Would you consider making a worship visit?”
“Great! I’ll send you a note with additional information about the congregation. Would it be all right to check back with you in a week or so?”
We thank our neighbor for talking with us, and promise to be back in touch.
This real interaction with “Kita” is typical of what happens with about 8 percent of our conversations with people at their front doors. Kita is now a potential prospect.
She met four criteria that we’re looking for: she is not connected to a congregation now, she accepted a brochure, provided her name, and gave us permission to check back with her.
That evening, we’ll write a handwritten, personal note thanking our prospect for the welcome we received, describe something unique about our visit (such as Kita’s four young children), and end with a reference to following up. We’ll also enclose a letter from the pastor telling more about the congregation we represent.
A week later we stopped by Kita’s place again. She greeted us with a warm, friendly smile, thanking us for the thoughtful letter. We invited her to worship in two weeks when we were having a “Hi, Neighbor, Sunday” with a brief brunch after worship.
We asked if it might be possible for Kita and her family to make a worship visit that particular Sunday. She replied that this was a good possibility and gave us her email address (or phone number).
We sent an email five days before the brunch Sunday, but did not receive a reply. So we stopped by on Friday evening. She greeted us with a big smile, again and told us she was planning to come to church with the four children. We clarified the spelling of the children’s names so we could make name tags in advance.
As it turned out, Kita came and stayed for the brunch, which included four other families who also accepted our invitation to worship for the first time. The adult Sunday school class prepared the food along with some of our calling partners.
Everyone had a great time, including the hosts and the first-time worshipers. All gave a warm goodbye, and indicated they would be back.
We call this activity “initial and follow up calling.” It involves initiating friendships with our neighbors much as we would do if someone new moves into our neighborhood, and then following up with those families.
That’s how we discover potential prospects. As we get acquainted and begin friendships, we invite our neighbors to come to worship.
We like to go door-to-door in teams of two, preferably male and female, with one acting as the spokesperson. We have the best results in neighborhoods which are new and in close proximity to the congregation.
We also seem to do well during the last two hours of daylight, especially on Saturday and Sunday. We carry a small notebook with us and record the response at each door by house number.
We find that during our initial calling, about 50 percent are not home when we knock. We don’t leave a brochure, but return at an alternative time and day of the week.
Of those who are at home, 85 percent of the conversations we have are with people who say they have a church. Normally it’s a brief and supportive conversation about their congregations. Only about 6 percent of the people we meet decline to have a conversation with us.
Bill Funk and his wife, Helen, Fairhope, Ala., work as volunteer evangelists in their retirement, meeting potential new members on behalf of smaller ELCA congregations. The Funks are presently working at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Hiram, Ga., where he is interim pastor.