What is Evangelism?

Wow!  This is the fun of being a bloggergetting to chat about your own personal passion when it comes to things like evangelism.  So, what is "Episcopal evangelism"?  I'd sure love to hear what some of the rest of you think.  But, for me, personally, it is this....

Other than "love one another" it is probably the clearest imperative we have in the Gospels.  It is the Great Commissionthe "go" "tell" and "do."  And, it is most and first about intentionally mirroring the embodiment of hospitality Christ lived out in his ministry.

Evangelism is an inside-out proposition.  I believe it begins with preparing ourselves, personally and collectively, spiritually and practically, to intentionally welcome and incorporate the stranger in our midst.  In most congregations, I believe it entails a significant culture shiftone where every individual comes to feel very personal responsibility for the ministry of hospitality and incorporation, beyond just an assumption that it is something the clergy or the "evangelism committee" or "welcome committee"or ushers/greeters are responsible for accomplishing.  Only when we make that culture shift, and embrace those personal roles, can we effectively reach out to others.  Have you ever stepped into a church where this type of cultural shift has taken place?  The truth is, you can feel the living nature of it in the room before you even speak to a person.  It is a very palpable, atmospheric, living sensory experience. 

What does this personal and collective behavior mean, more specificially?  It is about orienting absolutely everything to the guest in our midst.  Practical things such as our worship bulletin, our signage, and even our parking lot.  A thousand personal behaviors such as holding one another accountable for how positively we speak to each other and our guests on Sunday mornings about our church... saying hello to three strangers after church before chatting up your best friend... not assuming that, just because you have brunch plans each Sunday, your guest is surely included somewhere/with someone else, too.  Not assuming anything, basicallyBiblical knowledge, liturgical language, even that everyone surely knows there's a coffee hour AND how to find the church restrooms.

Next?  It is about truly wanting to grow.  The desire to stretch and share one's church with the wider world, risking that new people might bring change but giving that over to God's care.  One night, I spent a three-hour marathon vestry meeting in a small, languishing Episcopal parish where the topic was evangelism. Well into our third hour of discussion, a quiet person at the end of the table spoke up.  "WellI think we DO want to grow our churchso long as we can grow it with people who sort of fit in with us and can accept the ways we do things here."  I wanted to stand up and cheer for their honesty.  Claiming that in the cold light of day is a starting point, allowing us to perhaps begin to re-think a different road forward together. 

There are a lot of bad reasons to want to grow a church.  I hear them all the time.  "So we can finally make our budget." and "So we can get ourselves off of mission status."  "So we can make this capital campaign work." and "So we'll have some more people around here to serve on committees and relieve those who are burned-out."  There is actually just ONE good reason for a church to reach out and growas followers of Jesus Christ, it is a primary thing we are called to do. 

Some evangelism truths... two-thirds of the people in the state of Indiana are statistically unchurched. 80% of the people who come to an Episcopal Church come because someonea friend, family member, or business associate, or neighborpersonally invited them.  Once they do come to church, we've got about 24 hours to begin the process of welcoming and incorporating them into our collective life. It begins the moment they drive up to the church and park their car.  And, if we don't do a good job with our ministry of hospitality and welcome/incorporation, chances are they'll go somewhere else oreven worsenowhere at all.

Evangelism, as a word, needs to be reclaimed in our culture.  It has somehow been co-opted by folks who tend to have rather narrow, limiting agendas in the Church.  And, a lot of Episcopalians need to learn not to be afraid of the word or the concept. 

Evangelism happens one person at a time.  One of the singular, most important things we can all do is to create a compelling "30-second pitch"true-to-ourselves personal answers to the questions "Sowhat's YOUR church like?  And, what's an Episcopalian, anyway?"  When I ask those questions around the diocese, folks tend to automatically default to the negative, going on about "older" parishes in "dying towns" and what their church "used to be" years ago.  When it comes to their denomination, I hear about Henry the VIII and controversies on CNN.  So, I look them in the eye and say, "Noyou don't understand.  Tell me what's REALYOUR story.  What is it about this church, your church, that causes you to get up out of bed on Sunday mornings and show up here week after week?"

Evangelism begins to happen when we can all personally speak a real wordperson-to-personabout who we are, and whose we are, and why.  It doesn't require newspaper ads or billboards or incorporating Flash on our websites, though those things can certainly support our storytelling efforts.  It is just most fundamentally one Episcopalian talking to one other person, grounded in a commitment to the type of hospitality modeled by Jesus Christ.

Anyone else care to join in this discussion?!

Blessings, Kathy                  

Evangelism can be sort of a scary word for Episcopalians

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