“I know what you are thinking: There is no hope for this church. It is destined to close,” said Canon Michael Green as we walked out of the English village parish and stepped into the car. His words were a kinder version of what was swirling in my mind.
We had just met with the parish leadership, all five of them, a group that seemed battered and absolutely exhausted. They could not afford to keep on the heat; we shivered in coats as we talked. To keep warm, we sipped on stale instant coffee with powdered creamer.
Canon Green, at that time in his 70s, had served as an evangelist in the Church of England and throughout the Anglican Communion for much of his life. He was Archbishop George Carey’s co-chair, with Bishop Michael Marshall, for the Springboard Decade of Evangelism. Green had worked vigorously for decades to equip and encourage the church to engage in mission, locally and globally.
I remarked that indeed I thought the parish was doomed to close. It was, by all appearances, already dead. Green looked at me with a knowing smile. “My friend, just watch and pray,” he said. “When a local church even puts its baby toe in the waters of evangelism, the Holy Spirit works wonders.” I was dubious.
We met with that congregation and prayed for wisdom and guidance for how God would have them reach out to their village with the gospel. We had them explore a question: “If Jesus walked into this village, what would be the greatest need he would address?”
We then held a workshop equipping the church members on how to share the gospel story and their own story. We asked each member of the congregation to name their particular interests and gifts, whether it be sports, cooking, finances, music. We had them explore their own sphere of influence among those God had placed around them. We had them pray for particular people who did not have a church home. We connected them with a larger church for prayer support and event support. We then planned a relaxed, humble dinner at the church, to which they could invite people, hear good music (by parishioners), hear a short testimony, and share a good meal.
This was the beginning. Over time, we developed an intentional evangelism plan for the parish using the gifts of the congregants. We held cooking-school nights (a parishioner’s gift) that ended with an invitation to the church or to explore more of the Christian faith through a low-key Alpha course.
We made bread and stew to deliver to the hungry. Gasps of life began to return to the church, and slowly this small band of five grew. “The Lord added to their number daily” (Acts 2:47). As more people began to come to the church, the beaten down churghgoers were transformed into adventurers for God. They could not believe that people were actually responding to their invitation.
For the next three years, I visited numerous villages, towns and cities with Canon Green, seeing God move as his body, the Church, reached beyond its walls. When a church has a mission vision, when a church prays for the lost and lonely, when a church intentionally evangelizes in word (proclamation) and deed (social action and justice, caring for the least of these), God, the great evangelist, draws people to himself.
These experiences of seeing God’s passionate desire to reach all people and his plan and purpose for using his church captivated me and brought the Biblical principles to life. God has placed local churches as outpost embassies for his kingdom the world over.
In 2004, I returned to Texas to serve as missioner for evangelism for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. Diocesan leadership and I began to explore together what elements were needed for every parish: large and small, rural and urban, rich and poor, Anglo, Spanish-speaking, Kenyan, Korean, Nigerian, Sudanese, Bhutanese, aging and young, to grasp God’s call for them to be ambassadors for Christ. We began to examine what fundamental tools were needed, including:
- Every member of every parish should grasp the call to evangelize through the biblical mandate and our Baptismal Covenant. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will with God’s help. We emphasize that all are called to be ambassadors for Christ, especially focusing on the laity (2 Cor. 5:20). Evangelism is not a program, but a way of life. We have the opportunity to participate in what God is doing in our world.
- Every parishioner should be equipped to share the gospel story, recapturing the wonder of the good news, and to share God’s faithfulness through their own faith story. We explore how to begin faith conversations and to journey spiritually with someone.
- Every church member individually and each parish collectively should examine their landscape where God has placed them, understanding that each person and each parish is in a strategic location with specific people to love in the name of Jesus.
- Every member and each parish should cultivate an intentionally missional life.
- All should pray for their church and their communities.
Every parish is different, with different gifts and different needs in its surrounding communities. The ways to reach communities differ (sometimes quite drastically), from community gardens to innovative social-media platforms to theological discussions in pubs. The methods are endless, but the Lord and mission are the same.
In leading up to General Convention, I have been engaging the work of various Episcopal Church groups’ desire to reach the hurting, complex world in which we live. I have been encouraged by the work of episcopalresurrection.org and A Memorial to the Church and its call for this 78th General Convention to act in support of key legislation in the area of evangelism, congregational revitalization, and church planting.
I am especially encouraged by the possible passage of D019/B009 – Conducting an Online Digital Evangelism Test (seeking to reach the unreached); D009: Revitalization of Congregations (equipping churches to “re-vision their purpose” and find “new ways of proclaiming the Gospel”), D005: Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches; and A087: Creating a Task Force on Evangelism. This intentionality in and dedication to evangelism is vital if we are to thrive as a church and a society.
As we pray, as we seek God and his missional vision for our part of his body, as we step out to engage our communities with the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ, our neighborhoods, towns, and cities will be transformed and so will we. We serve a resurrected Lord. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us and fuels his Church.
Come, Lord, this General Convention.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)
The featured image is St. Peter Preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs by Jan Styka, via Wikimedia Commons.