In the warmth of the Florida sunshine in early March, Praise and Proclaim Ministries launched an outreach initiative at Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Lakewood Ranch, FL. Located eleven miles northeast of Sarasota and sixty miles south of downtown Tampa Bay, this community is the home of burgeoning growth and private golf clubs along with natural marshlands dotting its landscape.
Risen Savior Lutheran Church was established in 2005. Rev. Caleb Free and his wife, Kristin, arrived two years ago and the Lord has been blessing their faithful, gospel ministry. With approximately 75 members, the congregation has seen a surge in worship attendance and is rapidly completing the construction of a new sanctuary with a classroom and office wing.
Praise and Proclaim Ministries was blessed with the opportunity of partnering with Pastor Free and the members at Risen Savior to train how to conquer our natural fears and intimidation of verbally proclaiming the gospel and to learn a simplified approach and methodology that incorporates treating people with love and respect. Then, we provide an immediate opportunity for members to put their training into action.
A primary reason for the arrival of Praise and Proclaim was to prepare members for the upcoming Grand Opening celebration of their facility. On March 24th, members of the Lakewood Ranch community will be invited to an open house where there will be food, games, and activities for the kids along with an opportunity to visit inside the worship and education facility. This will be followed by a Grand Opening worship service the following Sunday in the new sanctuary. Plans for the immediate future include establishing a preschool and taking full advantage of the new, spacious classrooms for Sunday School.
A new component of the training that Praise and Proclaim Ministries provides congregations is training members how to conduct follow-up visits. Many members often feel uncomfortable making visits with individuals and families who have already come to a worship service or an event hosted by the congregation. Many times, it can be just as hard for a family return a second time than it is to have them initially come through the doors. When a core group of members participate with the pastor in continuing to connect, engage, and invite visitors for return visits, it can have an impact on those visitors becoming regular attenders.
After spending the morning going door-to-door and refreshed with a noon meal, members were given four to five names and addresses of people who have attended church in the past six months. Risen Savior is currently blessed with an abundance of visitors each Sunday. The members received additional training to make visits, proclaim a short gospel message, and invite them to return to church for the Grand Opening weekend. Most of these recent visitors we met expressed eagerness to come back and were grateful for our visit.
The challenge of going door-to-door in Lakewood Ranch is the amount of gated communities that often have security guards at the front entrance. Going door-to-door is limited along with making follow-up visits. Yet, the Lord provided opportunities to engage people and plant gospel seeds.
In the parable of the seeds, Jesus asks believers to be faithful farmers and generously sow seeds everywhere. They are not called upon to judge the soils, but sow seeds in both tilled ground that may appear favorable and hard ground that may appear thorny and impenetrable. It is the power in the message that creates faith in the tilled and untilled soil of people’s hearts, not the one who delivers the message. One of the greatest promises a faithful farmer can trust is that God’s Word works.
One team went out in the afternoon after making follow-up visits and ran across a lady who was just exiting her garage. At first, she was startled, but our team member graciously apologized and handed her an invitation to come to Risen Savior. About ten to fifteen minutes later, the team was alarmed to see the same lady walking quickly towards them. Concern evaporated into joy when she asked, “Are you denominational?” They replied, “Yes! Risen Savior is a conservative, Bible-based Lutheran church.” She answered, “Great! I think I will come and visit!” A few doors later, they were greeted at the door by a retired military man. One of our team members quickly thanked the man for his service and shook his hand. Moments later, the man graciously received the invite to Risen Savior and told them with tears in his eyes, “My wife just recently passed away and I’m really struggling.” A member replied to him, “I’m so sorry to hear that. It is comforting to know that in Jesus, we have our sure hope in heaven.” There is not only comfort in God’s Word, but a faith family that is willing and ready to welcome him with open arms during this time of questioning and grief.
We ask the Lord to continue to bless the ongoing gospel ministry at Risen Savior Lutheran Church and ask that he blesses the outreach initiative weekend to further enhance the work being doing there.