“Evangelism-A Discussion and Exposition of Basic Issues.”
July 31, 2010
Saint Alban’s Pro-Cathedral (ACC)
Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States
Conference Director: The Very Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls
On July 31, 2010, St. Alban’s, the Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States, held a conference “Evangelism-A Discussion and Exposition of Basic Issues.” The conference provided a mixed media presentation including apologetics videos and, most importantly, interactive sessions and question and answers designed to involve all the members of the parish communities present. In addition to a number of diocesan clergy, some fifty laity from around the diocese provided the most telling commentary. Any errors or omissions are solely the responsibility of the Conference Director. If there is something missing, incorrect or incomplete, please e-mail your comments to email@example.com
The problem: Our parishes face the practical problems of ordinary evangelism such as introducing the Anglo-Catholic expression to practicing Christians yearning to lead a fuller faith life. More importantly, though, is the question of reaching increasing numbers of un-churched, particularly young people, in a world in which there is a rejection of any and all truth claims.
How do we speak to those for whom even basic truth is a wholly individual matter, dependent upon personal feeling for validation? How does an incarnational faith reach those who have been taught to “question reality”, yet are yearning for that which is larger than themselves?
Recent discussions on American Family Radio and in other venues have admitted that Anglicanism, even in its currently fragmented form (as well as the Orthodoxy and the Roman Church), offer concrete notions of truth to a generation weary of doubt and flux. The overarching question is how, then, do we speak to such a generation? What is the basic message we need to convey to convince the un-churched to come in the door and learn more?
Our Goals: To identify the large issues and questions for the non-Christian or “post-Christian”, and to set out what has worked and what has not in reaching this increasingly large demographic. The focus was on the practical, rather than the academic, and participants are encouraged to present concrete examples of experiences and efforts in evangelism and outreach including those which have failed. The goal of this first session was to provide attendees ideas to further discuss and develop at the parish level, and for further development in subsequent sessions.
A second goal aimed at the formation of a broad group of individuals throughout the diocese who will regularly focus on evangelism and engage in ongoing sharing of new ideas and innovations for showing forth the light of Christ in a darkened world.
As a third goal, we agreed to attempt two more sessions in the coming year-one at mid-year with a national speaker/leader involved in evangelism and apologetics, and a third next summer to wrap-up of the year and kick-off the next year of evangelism.
Results: The results were at once convicting and, yet, hopeful. The bottom line: the future of traditional Anglicanism is at stake.
I. First Session-Defining the Issues
A. Session Task: To identify some of the major issues, general and specific, that confront the Church both from a “mere Christianity” perspective and from the Anglican-Catholic standpoint
B. Goal: To develop a list of specific barriers to effective evangelism at the personal (individual) level and at the parish level
The participants distinguished between outreach and evangelism. Both are important to church growth, but they are very different in aim and goal.
Outreach-We defined this effort as advertising and presence in the community. The goal is to reach those who already are Christian believers in an effort to offer them a parish home. Our concern is essentially one of advertising and program. The target demographic likely will be attracted to and willing to come to a church that appeals to them or offers something different. Also, this group may include those who already are traditional Anglicans or separating from the Episcopal Church (this latter pool is decreasing). Typical tools include door hangers, mailers, advertisements, holding special events (movie nights, participation in community festivals and other activities), a strong Sunday school, and a current appealing website. The task is to explain to believing Christians why they should be Christians of the Anglican Catholic variety.
Unless at least a strong core group within the parish can explain the faith catholic, then outreach, no matter how glossy, will fail. This puts a premium on catechesis and adult education. Some frank discussion must also be had concerning “gate keepers”, proper levels of friendliness to newcomers and “cloying.” The task is to convey an open image that bespeaks genuine Christian hospitality, without over-pitching newcomers. Greeters and/or ushers should be at the ready to guide and welcome newcomers and introduce them to the other members of the parish. Do not attempt to immediately recruit newcomers into parish activities—they likely will need to learn basic faith and practice questions, or to decompress from the shock of having had to leave their former parish in the case of ECUSA refugees.
Gatekeepers are poisonous, and must be educated about toxic behaviors. These include: those who feel the need to address levels of churchmanship (when there may, in fact be no churchmanship), those who favor negative outreach by disparaging other churches or denominations especially other continuing churches, or those who like to ask probing personal questions to see whether an individual is “right” for the parish. Listening and openness win more new parish members than a recitation of what happened in the “former church” or rehashing animosities with other bodies. Finally, parish members need to avoid false distinctions between “protestant” and “catholic”—the Baptist, Presbyterian or independent Bible Christian seeking the sacramental life will never get past such comments.
Evangelism-The participants defined this in terms of fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20. There was a sense that many Christians have a wrong understanding of what the Great Commission of Jesus Christ is. They conflate this essentially with outreach and believe that tools like radio, television, publications, and the internet, we will be on track. Assume that a commission is (1) an authorization to perform certain duties or tasks, or to take on certain powers, (2) authority to act in behalf of another, (3) an entrusting, as of power, authority, etc., to a person or body. There then needs to be an appraisal of who is doing the work, how well they can engage in a Christian apologetic, and how these “evangelists” view their work.
The target demographic is much broader in the case of evangelism. We are looking toward a wide variety of non-believers, secular folk, disillusioned Christians (usually young people) who think they have lost faith, skeptics and, increasingly, people who have not been exposed to the faith. Among these groups, we cannot begin with ceremonial (i.e. how many liturgical turns are in the Mass, how to genuflect, or how much incense to use). Here, we need to be operating at a mere Christianity level. The participants viewed some video of live evangelism—base line questions to engage and interest the unbeliever or seeker.
There was some difference of opinion among several participants. There was a distinct minority notion that we “are who we are” as Anglican-Catholics and that people need to immediately accept that standard of worship and belief. It seems that this hard-line approach was tempered by the real life examples and the idea that we do not have to compromise faith and practice to get the unchurched in the gate of the churchyard if not the parish doors.
Several concrete ideas emerged from the session:
Outreach Method: Use your resources, people with talent to sponsor an event. Use special events.
- Animal Blessings
- Healing Services
- Offer house blessings
- Start and end with prayer
- Build your church building or make the existing facility presentable
- Include the basic message of the salvation via worship (here)
- Petition the Lord for guidance
Evangelism: How do we equip our people to be evangelists?
- Scripture awareness
- Bible study
- Courses to explain the Anglican Ethos
- Know God is behind you / supports you
- Examine yourself
- Confront fears
- Accept flaws
- Awareness of your sins before you forgive others
- Take initiative
- Watch for opportunities
Who do we approach?
- Everyone in your sphere
-A fundamental consideration: Are we merely looking for members or spreading the Word of God? The first approach may put people in the pews-temporarily. Numbers are an elusive game. Absent a desire to teach people about the Incarnate Christ and boldness to do so, we are doomed to failure.
-We need to tailor message - 5 minutes in person or through an electronic medium such as YouTube.
The 4 Questions: Engaging the Unbeliever
We explored tools such as this mini-apologetic for the self-proclaimed atheist or unbeliever who states, "There is no God":
1. What do you mean?
2. How do you know?
3. So what?
4. What if you’re wrong?
Obviously there is overlap between outreach and evangelism. However, a grasp of the fundamental differences is key to the approach and work needed.
The participants had a keen notion of approaches and methods that are pre- destined for failure.
1. What does not work?
- High Church/Low Church. Churchmanship is an important matter but not a “deal breaker”. The ACC has a wide range of liturgical expressions, but it is Christian and catholic to its core. We must recognize that certain liturgical expressions will frighten away any number of people. One must grow into an appreciation of Anglican practice: beware of jumping into a “Spanish madrigal” show lest you want to empty a parish.
- Our basic Christian witness-For many, there are fundamental gaps in how we teach even the rudiments of the faith. Adult inquirers classes need to focus on the elements of Christianity and Biblical literacy. Did we mention Biblical literacy? This ties squarely to clergy training and formation, as well as lay leader study and formation.
- Impersonal conversation. While we do not wish to counsel effusiveness, surely we wish to engage newcomers and inquirers in some form of conversation. Speaking only to the in-crowd is off-putting.
- Are we present to the world? To often we do not get out of our cofortable little parishes. St. Paul took great chances, appearing in many different venues and cultural melieus. So the faith catholic spread. We do not use the opportunities such as new media, community events and face to face encounter to evangelize. We often are worried about reaction, manners or have a fear of talking about Christianity and Anglicanism.
- Irrelevance. We have to face the fact that we have, in some cases, evangelism materials that are decades old. Young people do not identify with the image of that dad in a fedora and driving a Hudson sedan. Are we even familiar with the issues of the day, much less addressing them? This is not a plea to give in to the spirit of the age, or introduce pull down screens and liturgical dance. However, we must have a clear definition of who we are as part of the ancient church in the modern world.
- Teaching office-We have failed in many ways to teach basic faith. Anxiousness for membership has caused a lapse in catechesis. The need to work has hindered clergy from staying up on their studies, and the failure of some parishes to support clergy education-initial and continuing-impairs the teaching office. We must “teach the teachers” so they may in turn teach others in the faith catholic.
- GATEKEEPING, GATEKEEPING, GATEKEEPING-A number of participants indicated a need to give up “Angricanism”. Few people wish to hear of the sleights and wounds of the past, even if they were ever aware of them. Remember: the Anglican-Catholic Church was founded over 35 years ago, and the grave events of things like Deerfiend Beach (Do you know what that is?) are nearly 20 years gone by. This is not a cry to forget history, but to keep it in perspective. As well, those who would impose a personal standard on others who approach Christ’s Church do well to check the log in their own eye.
2. What does work?
- Direct invitation-“Come taste and see how good it is” is effective. Christianity Today surveys indicate that the single most effective method of outreach or evangelism is the personal invitation.
- Counter-cultural-We are counter-cultural as Anglican Catholics. We stand in stark relief to the cheap and easy of post-modern culture and morality. “I want something better in my life,” is the opening to tell people that there is that something. We know that it works, but it involves a process of growing accustomed to that counter-cultural milieu in which the newcomer has entered.
- Symbolism => Sacraments, true reality-There is a reality to the Sacraments that is profound and deep. The symbolism of our worship draws people toward that reality until they finally confront it. We need to keep this tied to Scripture.
- Meeting people where they are (loving people). This speaks for itself.
- Presenting a win-win-This point emphasizes that we need to keep the negative at bay.
- Involvement-Again, our involvement in and engagement with the community around us makes Christ present to the world. People are drawn to that.
- Bible Study-This is the most emphasized point by the participants. A Biblically literate, thinking individual-properly guided by orthodox teaching-is the single most effective member of the parish. Whether it is apologetic, or teaching or daily life, a parishioner well-armed with the Word is an effective force for evangelism.
- Living with Faith-Here is a straightforward point: where our parishes have taught the faith and have lived it, they have grown. Where we have concentrated on mere appearance of faith, we have withered and died.
III. Third Session-Small Groups
The groups reached a consensus on the following points:
- Contact with God-This is a personalist appeal to physical contact through the Real Presence of Christ and to the intellectual contact in Word.
- Prayer life-Parishes must seek to foster a regular prayer life among the members. This, in turn, draws others into that circle of prayer.
- Community/Communion-In an impersonal world, our parish offers a real community, one not founded on contract or rule, but bound together in a mystical body. We are all parts of that body and the unique roles for each makes this wholly unlike any any other group to which one might attach oneself seeking community.
- Teach the faith
- User friendly:
- Worship bulletins / booklets
- Greeter / Mentor
- Classes to be Greeter / Mentor
- Guest-book sign in
- Follow up to sign in
- lay person
- Consistent Worship Services
- Be positive
- Warm welcome (not smothering)
- Create opportunities for all kinds of service
- Instructive Service
- Youth Service
- The way you treat your co-workers
- How you do your job tells much about how you live out Christian values.
- Bible Studies-You may want to organize one on lunch hour or after work off-site. The study may have to initially take a literary, rather than overtly religious, perspective.
- Opus Dei: Make all that you do a work of and for God
- They might say no
- It could affect your work relationships