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Students at commencement

Biblical Fluency

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Location: Woodstock, Ga.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Size: Worship attendance average is 300 per Sunday

 Download Good Shepherd's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context

Good Shepherd is located in a northern suburb of Atlanta. The congregation is 23 years old and has grown up in an affluent, master-planned community (mix of commercial, residential) called Towne Lake. It has experienced explosive growth in its twenty year history. Towne Lake is now “built out” and the demographic in which we are situated is a transient mix of families, empty nesters and retirees. We also draw from neighboring towns outside of Towne Lake with similar demographics.

Good Shepherd is the only Lutheran congregation in Towne Lake and the Lutheran church, in general, is a minority presence in the religion and faith expressions that make up the “Bible Belt.” Towne Lake and surrounding communities have a growing presence of Latinos, though our congregation demographics are 96% Caucasian.

Our congregation considers itself called, gathered, and blessed to be a community and instrument of grace for all sheep of the Good Shepherd.

Pre-existing practices

1. Small Group Bible Study

Good Shepherd currently has nine small groups that meet around Bible study. There is currently at least one study every day of the week except Friday. All but one meet at Good Shepherd. The other meets in the homes of its members. Six of these are led by rostered leaders and three by lay leaders. Approximately 75 of our members are regularly engaged in one of these study groups. Topics of study are selected by the groups and range from biblical books to biblical themes to studies of other religions to group studies of other books of interest. Also included in this mix is a group using the Crossways Bible study.

Good Shepherd has long had a great track record for participation in Bible studies. Many of the regular participants participate in more than one.

2. Seasonal Planning

For the last five years Good Shepherd has been engaged in the practice of seasonal planning. During Advent (and Christmas), Lent (and Easter Sunday), and occasionally on other major church festivals (such as Pentecost) the congregational will participate in a thematic examination of a Biblical concept. Through worship, Bible study, and Christian Education the congregation devotes itself to being fully immersed in that exploration during the season. Often the sanctuary is transformed to aid in the visual contemplation of the theme. In Lent of 2011 the congregation walked “The Wilderness Way” in which the congregation journeyed through the book of Exodus while examining possible wilderness situations in their own life. During Advent in 2010 members asked each other “Do You See What I See?” as they were challenged to see the connections of Christmas and Easter and Incarnation and Resurrection in images of Jesus. Occasionally the them will provide a further opportunity for ministry as in our campaign to raise funds for God’s Global Barnyard that occurred with the “Bread of Life” theme of Lent 2010.

The people of Good Shepherd have found Seasonal Planning to be a rewarding experience that enhances their worship and learning practices. It has created an environment in which the congregation looks forward to change and new opportunities and even is willing to participate in creating such offerings.

3. Shared Ministry Team

The Shared Ministry Team (formerly referred to as efforts related to use of time and talents within congregational life) has taken surveys, interviews of the congregation – their passions, experiences, talents – and seeks to connect people with others around shared interests, some of which may spring new ministries to bless and enrich the lives of our faith community. This team also creates annual congregational celebrations to lift up and appreciate the ministry of all who seek intentional ways to live out their faith in everyday life.

Discoveries from listening process

1. Internet is a Key Resource

Most people go to the internet for information, including for Bible study.

2. Worship Helps Bible Fluency

People indicate sermons/worship as the source that is most helpful to them in gaining a deeper understanding of the Bible.

3. “Fluency” is Intimidating

“Fluency” is a scary word for people when talking about learning Scripture. In conversations around the congregation, use of the word “fluency” implied “expertise” to many. Those who felt this way expressed doubt and concern over their ability to become fluent.

4. Interpreting the Bible is Daunting

Many in the congregation expressed a strong desire to get the “real” or “right” meaning of the Bible and see it as a guide for moral living. Many also expressed hesitation in their own ability to “correctly” encounter Scripture and rely on the rostered leaders of the congregation to lead Bible study and to tell them how it is to be interpreted.

Opportunities for growth

1. Grow Confidence among Members

Our online surveys indicate that our congregation leans toward approaching Bible study with a “there is right way” to interpret Scripture mindset and that this is what they expect to hear in sermons and in Bible study. The challenge for us is: How do we better equip our congregation with knowledge of the story Scripture tells so that members are more comfortable in their own engagement and interpretation with it rather than a reliance on rostered leaders to tell them what it means.

2. Make the Bible a Priority

Surveys indicate that many in the congregation struggle to make time for encountering Scripture due to their busy schedules. We are thus challenged to encourage members in this struggle and aid them in allowing Scripture to become a higher priority.

3. Engage Scripture in Worship

Our online surveys indicate that worship is the primary place that our members encounter Scripture on a regular basis. The challenge for us is: How do we better utilize time in worship to engage the congregation in Scripture?

Experiments undertaken

1. God’s Story. Our Story (Narrative Lectionary)

A nine-month sermon series beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation that presents the grand story of God’s promises and God’s faithfulness to promise.

Narrative Lectionary allows us to use worship time, the time that most people identified as their primary and most frequent encounter with Scripture, to teach the biblical narrative.

We have extended the idea of Narrative Lectionary into all facets of congregational life, including Sunday School and Bible study groups, by using resources that help participants to understand the big picture that Scripture tells. For example, our children and youth Sunday School classes follow the Narrative Lectionary for this program year.

2. Your Story

Weekly resource (called Your Story) provided as a hand-out on Sundays and online which encourages individuals and families to engage in Scripture during the week. Each Your Story contains the focus reading for the following Sunday, the extended reading to help inform the focus reading, and questions for both adults and children to help in reflecting on the text prior to hearing it in the sermon.

The objective is to encourage participation in "God’s Story. Our Story" and to provide tools for self-engagement of Scripture individually or as a family.

A related tool which developed out of the need to provide “hands-on” ways for people to participate is a weekly coloring sheet. It is drawn by our senior pastor, who is also a gifted artist, and used in our weekly children’s messages. Each week a child takes one home and colors it. Upon its return, it is hung in sequential order in the sanctuary so that "God’s Story. Our Story" now has a physical presence in our worship space.

3. Website

Our website, www.gslutheran.org, seeks to use technology and the Internet to support and invite interaction with "God’s Story. Our Story."

Good Shepherd’s website was outdated, unattractive to visit, and had limited usefulness for both members and visitors. As conversation around a new website had been happening for months, "God’s Story. Our Story" provided the impetus for us to launch a new website in collaboration with the kick-off of "God’s Story. Our Story."

Online surveys indicated that the internet is the first place people go to for resources for Bible study. We have recognized for some time that we are behind the curve on use of technology and internet to invite and inform others.

Specific ideas for support of "God’s Story. Our Story" include a blog, sermon podcasts, the weekly Your Story resource and a list of vetted online Bible study resources.