Unchurched have new option in Austin

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2001

Saturday, May 19, 2001

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Unchurched have new option in Austin

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By Lee Bonorden

Austin Daily Herald

It’s Sunday in Austin and not everybody is in church.

Ideally, ministers everywhere would like church members to attend services.

Realistically, not all of them do.

If it isn’t Easter or Christmas, many church members decide against regularly attended Sunday morning worship services.

There are also people who do not belong to a church, so their Sunday passes much like the other six days of the week.

While congregations struggle to attract members to attend services regularly, many times their efforts go unrewarded.

Now, the unchurched have an option.

Anyone who is uncomfortable with church can go to the Austin Area Outreach Chapel.

Meetings takes place on "neutral ground" at the Mower County Senior Center, beginning 7 p.m. Thursday evenings.

Those who attend sit around a table in a small meeting room. There are no pews, stained-glass windows, altar or other accouterments of a house of God, but there are two or more gathered in his name.

Only two to be sure.

At the Austin Area Outreach Chapel’s first Thursday night meeting, three people attended and they were all facilitators.

Undaunted, another Thursday night session is planned this week.

"We offer a doorway for people to come back to church. We aren’t a church. We’re a means of focusing on Christ’s love and eventually a way to help people find a church home if they want one," Paul Deckard said.

Deckard and Steve Ivanca of St. John’s Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) waited an entire hour for someone to show up last Thursday night at the Mower County Senior Center.

The Rev. William Natzke, pastor of St. John’s Church, also waited.

It was in vain.

The facilitators said the lack of publicity was the reason.

"People don’t know we’re here," said Deckard, a willing spokesman for the venture. "Once they find out, they’ll come. We know they’re out there."

St. John’s Lutheran Church of Austin has undertaken the outreach mission with assistance and endorsement from Holy Cross Lutheran Church (also a Missouri Synod church), the Austin Church of the Open Bible and Faith Free Evangelical Church.

Natzke is working to recruit other churches of all denominations to also embrace the idea.

According to the facilitators, the plans for the Thursday night meetings are simple.

"They will hear a short message from an ordained minister," Deckard explained. "Then, there will be a question-and-answer period about that message. Afterward, there will be prayers and that’s it. We’re open to all denominations."

A study Bible is used and free editions will be given to those who request them.

There is no music and no collection plate to be passed.

It’s strictly a come-as-you-are informal environment to discuss religion.

Natzke reiterated what Deckard said.

"This is a service, a mission for everybody, who feels they need it," he said. "There will be no pressure to join any church. People will be invited to decide that themselves."

Deckard and Ivanca are St. John’s Lutheran Church board members, who agreed to pursue the unique church-for-the-unchurched effort.

"People can come and choose their own church later. We won’t do that for them. All we will do is tell the truth," Deckard said.

"This is for people who are troubled or in trouble. For people who have lost direction and don’t feel empowered, but who all want to be introduced to God," he said.

According to the Austin Area Outreach Chapel, a similar venture is taking place at Sargeant, where others are trying to help the unchurched find their way back to a church.

"We just want people to get back into a relationship with Jesus Christ," Deckard said. "It’s a people thing. It’s for people who may be burnt out on mainstream religion. Something is wrong with the way they see religion and here is their way to fix it."

According to Deckard, the mission also can help congregations that find their memberships faltering.

"Come here and let us show you how God will grow your church," Deckard said.

For more information about the Austin Area Outreach Chapel, call Deckard at 433-9795, Ivanca at 437-6319 or St. John’s Lutheran Church at 433-2642.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com.