By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Evangelism and church planting got major boosts Monday from the House of Deputies, which approved two new initiatives despite their $8 million combined price tag.
Deputies authorized creating a $3 million “digital evangelism initiative” aimed at sharing the gospel and attracting new churchgoers via the Web. They also gave their green light to create a $5 million church-planting network, including $2.7 million in grants to establish up to 30 congregations.
“We are alive and present and increasing our presence in the digital world,” said Bonnie Perry, senior deputy from the Diocese of Chicago.
These developments came as the triennial General Convention began its weeklong push to the finish line. They were part of a wave of resolutions that put the deputies’ imprimatur on such things as a campaign for a $15 minimum wage, a push for new gun restrictions, and a call for all public and religious institutions to take down their Confederate flags.
The deputies’ visions for evangelism and church planting have a way to go before becoming reality. They first need approval from the House of Bishops, or else they go nowhere.
Funding is also uncertain, at least on the level requested. A budget subcommittee is planning to authorize only half of what the two initiatives call for. If current plans hold firm, the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee would allocate $1 million to digital evangelism and $3 million to church planting.
But proponents are hopeful more can come through.
“A million dollars is better than zero dollars,” said Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, which produces resources for evangelism, stewardship, and other projects. “But I hope the church can fund evangelism extravagantly.”
At stake, Gunn said, is whether the church can invest the kind of resources that yield significant results amid the fierce competition for attention on the Web.
“More money equals more content which equals more people,” Gunn said. “It equals better search results.”
On the floor, the digital evangelism initiative drew a mix of enthusiastic support and leeriness. Skeptics questioned whether results would be worth the money, or if replicating effective parish-based programs might be a better idea.
On the budget subcommittee, Frank Logue found himself alone in pushing for the full $3 million in requested funding. He said $1.5 million could come from the budget and another $1.5 million could come from matching grants, thus getting more “skin in the game” of developing effective evangelism tools. As it stands, the resolution directs the Episcopal Church Development Office to make a priority of raising $1.5 million for the project.
“I feel like other people will directly benefit and they should have skin in the game,” Logue said. “I just think there’s a way to do it without expanding an already large budget.”