But many evangelism efforts in Lutheran parishes peter out because laity and pastor alike get discouraged by the amount of time and effort put in on the one hand and the paucity of new members and baptisms on the other. This is most common in established, demographically constant communities where most everybody is a Christian already (though obviously not most everybody is active in their faith). In a quickly growing community, things are different. Many of the folks moving in will be Lutheran, or making a new start in their lives, and they will be happy to hear from your parish. In that setting, a "welcome committee" and a subscription to an agency that gathers public mortgage data for your zipcode is effort well spent.
I have heard good things about another tactic for seeking out God's elect from men who serve in an urban context. They will go to homes throughout their neighborhood, knock on the door, and instead of doing a Kennedy Evangelism presentation, they will say, "We're from St. Ira Dei Lutheran Church on the corner of State and Main. How can we pray for you and your family? Is there anything you need?"
So in the growing suburbs, get a few outgoing folks and a subscription to a service that will give you new mortgage addresses. Have your welcome committee stop by with a welcome basket and an invitation to Sunday services. In the city, lead with mercy; just meet people and pray for them and leave your card. That's what I hear from faithful guys on the ground: those are the good leads in those places.
But every place is different: in the city always a reflection, in the woods always a sound. So around here in rural/semi-rural communities where the majority of LCMS parishes reside: Where's the gold? You know, I'm reluctant to tell you. You might think I'm lazy. But here's what I've found: I've already got the good leads. The good leads, the [expletive deleted] Glengarry leads are my list of delinquent members.
They've been right here all the time!
Cute, huh? Cute as a pail full of kittens. But it's true. You'd be delighted if I said I could hand you a list of names of people who would be glad to hear from the pastor when something went wrong in their lives; who would want to see you at their bedside if you heard they fell ill; who would send their kids to be catechized if you sent them a letter letting them know when the class was. Well, you've already got that list.
So I don't worry too much about cleaning up the rolls: worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due. I don't look at them as delinquents, problems, or a load of work. I pray for them and I look at them as evangelism leads and just wait for one of them to have a heart attack or a baby and then get to work.
PS: Free Gottesdienst Subscription for you to give to a non-subscriber to the first commenter that lists all the David Mamet references in this post. Well, maybe just to the fellow who gets most of them. Some are hard.