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Friday, October 20, 2006 

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 7

This post will conclude my answering “B’s” question "You may have done this in the past but could you please post your reasons for being so hostile against Ablaze! Do you have theological issues and can you back them up with scripture and the Lutheran confessions. I hear so much negative talk but no one to my knowledge has ever backed it up with scripture.”
Last post I wrote that Ablaze! says that it’s not an answer but an invitation. Now I know there are those who say whether its called a program or a movement is unimportant, as long as we get the Good News out, that’s what’s important. After all, if Ablaze! gets us excited about spreading the Gospel, we’ll bring more people into the church. The previous issues discussing that faith looks only to where our Lord says He meets us, in Word and Sacrament, aside, what are we inviting people to? When all these “seeds of faith” and “critical events” that we are counting that “lead” people to the local congregation, what are they going to find? Are they going to find the Word preached purely and the Sacrament administered rightly? Let’s start with the official “Start up to Ablaze!” manual. Inside the manual are several featured resources that may or may not be familiar to some. The congregations that are strongly encouraged by their districts to have an Ablaze! educator can choose from programs like Friendship Ablaze!, 50 Days Ablaze!, Groups Ablaze! or Individuals Ablaze!. Lots of stuff about being Ablaze!. One of these days I’ll need to do a post on how much fun fire is in Scripture, but that’s for another time. Friendship Ablaze! promotes itself thusly;

Welcome to Friendship Ablaze!
This resource will help your congregation to celebrate friendship in Jesus Christ, both among the saints of the congregation, as well as new and familiar people in the community. Jesus declared: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). He expressed that loving friendship perfectly and profoundly on the cross, giving His life as a ransom for all. And now, the friendships which God’s people create and nurture are dynamic opportunities for Christian witness, authentic relationship involvement which provides the opportunity for the Word of Christ to be shared and received.
A group of gifted friends of Jesus gathered to plan and prepare this resource to support and strengthen outreach to friends in your personal life and congregation.
Christian demographers claim that there are more than 150,000,000 unchurched people living in the United States, making this nation the third largest English-speaking mission field in the world. Jesus Christ yearns for them to be His friends in faith and connected to His body, the church. There is a growing need for God’s people to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15)
Through the Ablaze! initiative, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has called the people of our congregations to share the Good News of Jesus with 50,000,000 unchurched/uncommitted people here in the United States by 2017, and to plant 2,000 new congregations by the same year.
Individual Christians can do that. Congregations can do that. And your congregation can help your people to always be prepared to give that life-changing answer about faith in Jesus Christ. This resource was prepared with the prayer that we will be encouraged and supported in sharing the Good News about Jesus, especially with our friends. This is the reason for gathering these resources under the theme Friendship Ablaze!
Welcome to the fire, the cozy fire of Friendship Ablaze!

Since I spent so much time in the series of posts pointing to Word and Sacrament, I’ll start with the Divine Service and what to expect when gearing up for friendship Sunday. The program starts out with tips on greeting people. Now in this area, let’s be honest, all our churches could use a little work with a few exceptions. The program suggests things like wearing name tags, having ushers that know how to greet people properly, welcome cards in the pews, and good signage inside and outside of the building. Good suggestions all!

Then things take a strange turn. The program suggests that a gift be given to each guest; often a congregational coffee mug, (how Lutheran!)? and parking attendants with brightly colored umbrellas for rainy days.? All of these are innocent by themselves, but what happens when you add the dreaded “Four Touch Rule”? What is that you ask? See here;

The “Four Touch Rule.”
This “rule” says guests should have at least four experiences of someone smiling at them, shaking their hand and welcoming them. The four touches are:
A host/greeter smiles, shakes their hand and welcomes them.
An usher smiles, welcomes them, offers a bulletin and assistance in finding a place to sit.
At a time of greeting at the beginning of the service, a fellow worshiper smiles at them, shakes their hand, welcomes them and introduces him/herself to the guest.
At the end of the service, the pastor greets and welcomes them as he greets all worshipers at the door.
Some congregations add a fifth “touch.” They have hosts greet guests in the parking lot (assumes a dedicated guest parking area), welcoming them and giving them directions to the sanctuary.
Does your congregation observe The Four Touch Rule?
What fifth or sixth “touch” could you add?

That’s just plain creepy if you ask me. Actually what it is, is more business model lingo creeping into our churches. How can we close the deal if we don’t touch the client four or five times? Newsflash, someone tries to make sure they touch me four times is in serious trouble! All of this can be explained away with just very enthusiastic people trying to do their best at putting on a good face. But what happens when the visitor goes into the sanctuary? Let’s look at what to expect from the Friendship Ablaze! folks:

Week One
Goal: introduce the theme during worship, children’s message, and Sunday School. We cast the goal of at least 100 “friends” in worship on May 1. Our average attendance is 300.
Bumper music for greeting/handshake time: “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts (theme from TV show “Friends”)
Week Two
Goal: by the end of the sermon, each hearer will identify 3 individuals that they will invite to Friendship Sunday on May 1. The sermon included teaching on receptivity. Children’s message included this focus. Makes use of a baseball theme.
Bumper Music for greeting/handshake time: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty (“Put me in, Coach”)
Gave out “Impact/Invitation Cards” for individuals to “target mail” with their signature and personal postage stamp.
Sunday School students received child-focused invitations to give away to their friends.
Enlisted additional greeters, Welcome Center workers, and people to staff the name tag tables.
Enlisted people and distributed phone call lists with “talk sheets” to invite people from our attender and pre-attender data base.
Enlisted people to make follow-up phone calls within 2 days of Friendship Sunday.
Week Three
Goal: teach the congregation how to “do the ask” – extending the invitation through both indirect and direct methods. Instructed the congregation how the next Sunday would work, the things we needed them to do to welcome people, the challenge to park away from the choice parking spots, and the importance of personal follow-up.
Bumper music for greeting/handshake time: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman (Song from “Toy Story”)
Gave out additional “Impact/Invitation Cards” for individual mailings. Sunday School received additional child-focused invitations.
In the week prior to May 1, Milpitas Post Newspaper carried an ad about Friendship Sunday on May 1 which included the promotion of special guest musical performance by Manuel Romero (Latin Grammy Nominated Recording Artist and member of our church). Manuel sang two Chris Tomlin songs, “Unfailing Love” and “How Great is our God,” accompanied by our worship band.
All the guests in the database received phone call invitations and also an “Impact/Invitation Card” in the mail prior to May 1.
Week Four – Friendship Sunday
Goal: invite our friends to personally know our friend, Jesus.
A substantial “coffee bar” with a wide variety of juice, coffees, flavor additives, creamers, fresh scones, and juices was available before and after each of the 3 services.
Name tag tables in place; greeters to welcome every person who attended
Welcome Center staffed all morning, even during worship
Special welcome of guests to Sunday School
People introduced their friends and family to others. Those that invited friends walked them to the Welcome Center after worship to get their gift and turn in the Welcome Card (registration).
Awesome morning of worship! We had 120 more people in worship on May 1 than we had on April 24!
Special Production Pieces within worship
“Jay Walking” – man on the street interview video - “What’s a Friend?”
“Friendship” by Cole Porter performed in character by two drama team members to a recorded accompaniment track

What in the world is a visitor going to think when he hears those great Christian hymns “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty, or “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman? Are they going be reminded of the sacred or the divine? Let look at things realistically, even Twila Paris would look that those songs and say “what the hell?” Chances are, the “unchurched” visitor is going to think they just walked into the local optimist club gathering.

The service does to its credit focus on making the visitor welcome. But that is the problem, the focus is the visitor. And what should the focus be? The Marks of the Church, Word and Sacrament, that is how a Christian Church is to be identified. So where are the Marks of the Church? Where was Jesus in all of this? Well, he was mentioned once in week 4. I guess he had to be brought up sooner or later.

Seriously, the parish that followed the Friendship Sunday Worship series was not focusing on Christ and His gifts at all. What they were focused on was what they were going to do for Jesus. The service was all about satisfying and validating the stupid idea that God just can’t get by without our help. True faith looks to Christ and what he did for us and continues to do for us on the cross. A Christian by faith hears his or her Lord in the faithful preaching of the Word. The faithful believer experiences a foretaste of the eternal feast in the right administration of the Sacrament.

What Friendship Ablaze! and Ablaze! with it’s counting of “critical events” and “seeds of faith” looks to, is what we do. Ablaze! and all programs like it make us no better than Pharisees who count our own righteousness as worthy.

Perhaps we should follow the example of Paul who in 1 Corinthians 2:2 said “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

When we look to our works instead of Christ we fall short. Ablaze! looks to count human works and declare them divine. Ablaze! falls short by design, and it is therefore wrong.

And that, “B”, is why I seem to be so hostile to our beloved synod’s latest fad. The thing that upsets me most, even though we have the Confessions and Scripture, is the fact that we should know better.

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Not much help here. I could only come up with a few No-Touch Rules:

1) Don’t touch your neighbor’s eye when you do the actions to Awesome God.
2) Don’t let your children get up on the stage and touch the amplifier buttons.
3) If you do let your child bring a little toy which has a button causing it to neigh, moo, oink, gallop, vroom, throttle down its jake brakes, or play a football fight song, don’t let them touch that either.

As for the rest… Bumper Music?!?!???? What does this mean? Sounds like it could break one of the No-Touch Rules, if you ask me.

Excellent series of posts, Frank. Thank you!

I really thought it was just a joke when you mentioned the bumper music selections. I'm still hoping that I only missed a very elaborate satirical construction.

The thing that bothers me most about the Church Growth / Ablazing thought is that it always has what sounds like a touch of averice in it. As in "150 million unchurched potential customers right here on our doorsteps, just think of the money... er souls to be harvested!"
Even if taken at face value the thinking assumes that the unchurched are not saved because they are not with us, and the focus is on the congregation doing the CG work getting those people in their doors, not just pointing them to Christ.

Maybe the best way to address the Ablazing thought is to pick it up like a medieval penance and proclaim it as our rightous work. (sarcasm added for effect)
As always, like the blog.

Whey Lay,
First, thanks for the kind words!
Second, when you wrote; "I really thought it was just a joke when you mentioned the bumper music selections. I'm still hoping that I only missed a very elaborate satirical construction." you were NOT missing my usual satirical view on things. My bad for not providing links to the Fiendship Ablaze! site where I found my material.
So, to correct that error, every time Fiendship Ablaze! pops up there is now a link. Once again, I humbly apologize.

Whew! That makes me feel better! No apology needed, my fault for blogging when I should be sleeping.
Ha Ha's to me.
Peace to you

Whey Lay,
You feel better now that you know I WASN'T joking around???? For crying out loud, this kind of thing is enough to KEEP me awake! You can sleep now? Are you off your rocker?! LOL.
Peace to you as well brother.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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