Domestic Mission congregation series: Madison Heights (Detroit), Michigan

Domestic Mission congregation series Mt. Zion Ev. Lutheran Church, Madison Heights (Detroit), Michigan

When the Apostle Paul, in the course of his missionary travels, came to a new community, it was his practice to go first to the Jewish synagogue. There, as the “new teacher in town,” he was usually given the opportunity to address the members of the congregation who gathered on the Sabbath. Sometimes word got around that Paul’s message was something new and remarkable and even non-Jews came to hear what he had to say. These opportunities to speak of Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, were used by the Holy Spirit to work saving faith in the hearts of many who heard the Word. (cf. Acts 13:14,15; 17:2-4)

While we proclaim the same crucified and risen Savior as the Apostle did in the 1 century, we can no longer expect to be invited to address the local synagogue. There are, however, times when a change in location or place of worship makes one of our congregations the “new kid on the block.” Following the example of Paul we can turn the fact of our newness or change of situation into an opportunity to share the Word of life with others.

For over 30 years Mt. Zion held services in various suburbs of Detroit, including Canton, Birmingham, Southfield and Royal Oak – at the homes of members or in rented quarters.

At different times property for a permanent worship site was sought but nothing developed until 2008. Beginning in February of that year the Lord led the people of Mt. Zion to investigate a small (seats 65) church in Madison Heights that was for sale. One thing that made it appeal to a congregation with a limited budget was the possibility of remodeling the basement into an apartment for the pastor and his wife.

By the grace of God and with the aid of many in the CLC (through a CEF loan, a temporary increase in subsidy — and special advice, counsel and hands-on help from our brothers in Saginaw) in November 2008 the church building on the corner of Spicer and Northeastern Hwy in Madison Heights, MI became the new home of Mt. Zion Lutheran and (downstairs) Pastor Walt and Kathy Schaller. This location, though in a different suburb, was only 6 miles from the Weight Watchers at 13 Mile and Woodward where we had been holding services. (see Metro- Detroit map)

One of the first things Mt. Zion did as the “new kid on the block” was to erect a new sign and distribute introductory flyers announcing who we were and inviting our neighbors to “check us out.” These flyers were hand-delivered (as much as possible) to the homes in the immediate area – with special attention given to the two short streets that intersect at the church. A visitor or two came in connection with this initial introductory flyer.

Because Mt. Zion has, instead of a lawn, a 20car parking lot, the asphalt area behind the church became a patio of sorts when outdoor furniture was Zion Location added. Relaxing here on summer evenings made for excellent opportunities to meet and interact with the neighbors. These casual contacts became friendships the Lord blessed in a number of ways – the most important being instruction classes. Two families (4 adults and 3 children) were involved. One of these families is now regularly attending church and Sunday school, with the father having become a member and the oldest youngster in confirmation instruction. In early December of 2009, on a Sunday after church, a number of members of Mt. Zion went to the homes on Spicer and Northeastern with a colorful printed invitation to our Christmastide services – and a plate of cookies prepared by the ladies of Mt Zion. While we learned that in the future we should choose a different time for this type of contact (less than 50% of the houses called on had anyone home), we did stir the interest of a neighbor who visited services a number of times.

Focusing on the immediate neighborhood around the church, flyers and signs have also led to VBS opportunities. This is something most of our CLC congregations have done, but information gained in connection with another outreach effort leads me to encourage an annual distribution of VBS information – house by house, if possible. Here’s why. We have been sending 4×6 informational postcards to new move-ins within a mile of the church. These postcards invite these people to visit our services. We were surprised to find that in the last 6 months there were more than 200 new move-ins within a one-mile radius of us. That’s a lot of turnover. And this in an area severely affected by the recent recession.

In spreading the Gospel it is good to use opportunities elicited by changes in our situation and those occasioned by changes in location on the part of others. We also should not assume that our church’s neighbors actually know who we are and what we believe and teach. Finally, let us not forget that life-changes in the homes that surround our churches may be used by the Spirit to provide opportunities for us to share Christ where only a few days previous there was no open door.

– Pastor Walter Schaller