Friday, January 21, 2011

Go Fish!: Engaging Evangelism

Over the last few years the PCUSA folks in Louisville have been making an effort to get Presbyterians interested in evangelism. As you might imagine, this is not an easy task.

I attended the evangelism track of Big Tent in 2009, and found that some attendees seemed wary of how to proceed when it came to evangelism in their congregations. There were the usual (cringe-worthy, for me) comments about the “dreaded E-word”, followed by nervous laughter. And yet, I think we all understood that sharing the Good News with our communities is an imperative if our churches are to continue in the years to come.

Eric Hoey, Director of Evangelism and Church Growth, and Ray Jones, Coordinator for Evangelism, patiently made the case for evangelism, and introduced speakers from around the country to encourage and train us.

Since Jones and his colleagues have been hard at work on a new church resource they will unveil at this June’s Big Tent in Indianapolis, called, Engage. After talking to Jones, I find the upcoming initiative promising, because it links discipleship, social justice and evangelism. Jones himself said they are very excited about Engage.

Jones pointed out that discipleship is the necessary foundation to Christians engaging in evangelism. He told me that practicing evangelism “outside of disciple making is going to be a weird and wacky exercise.”

He also made the case that evangelism and social justice always linked in the New Testament, but that somehow in church history the two were separated.

“The main thing we’re hoping is that people will see that evangelism is essential to the church’s ministry, and that it’s closely tied to social justice,” he told me.

Engage is something he hopes will help churches produce people who will not only serve their communities, but will also share their faith with others.

The initiative has four main emphases, Jones said. Each aspect will:

  • - Engage participants with the Gospel, starting with the story of Jesus, showing how God is on a mission to heal a broken world;
  • - -Engage participants in their own faith stories, showing how each of us has a story of transformation to share with others;
  • - -Engage the congregation in what it means to be a disciple making church; what shifts have to be made to encourage disciple making?
  • - Engage the community by first finding out how congregations can serve the communities around them.

“The first thing that we really looked at was where do we begin? We have to begin with this notion that we’ve all got a story, and we’re part of a larger story,” Jones said of the first two emphases.

On the last emphasis, Jones said Engage would ask congregants to think about their spheres of influence in the community at large. Who do they regularly come into contact with? And if they aren’t coming into contact with non-Christians, how can they stop hanging out at church, and start hanging out with people who aren’t a part of church? Where is God already at work out in the community, and how can we get in on that work?

Jones said Engage is designed to start with a Session before it is introduced to the congregation. The idea would be for the elders to interact on the material for the first 45 minutes of a Session meeting, taking the place of a devotional time. Elders would engage with the Gospel, as well as with their own faith stories.

Once the Session had gone through the materials, other church leaders would participate. Jones said the recommendation would be that the leaders begin with a retreat that takes them through the same material as the Session went through.

The retreat would then be followed by gatherings one night a month. At the gatherings the leaders would break into small groups, with elders leading the groups. The main focus at these gatherings would help elders and leaders determine their spheres of influence outside of the church, and what it would look like to engage others in the community.

There would also be a chance for the leadership of the church to actually walk the community surrounding the church, and notice what’s happening. The exercise is designed to help leaders see where God is already at work, and to figure out how to partner with the community to get in on what God is doing.

The final piece of Engage is a six-week small group experience for the entire congregation, linked to the Sunday worship experience.

While it would be tempting to see Engage as a program to help congregations bring more people into church, Jones said that’s not the point.

“When you talk about evangelism, most churches think it means getting more people into church,” he said. “It’s more than that; it’s making Jesus real for people.”

Are you ready to Engage? How are you or your congregation already engaging the community around you?

3 comments:

Whitey Lawful said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Whitey Lawful said...

I'd like nothing more then to appeal to them at the postmodern church... But--they are there because they refuse traditional Protestantism.

SOON said...

Dear friends,

I've just found your blog and notice your emphasis on evangelism. I wonder if you have seen my friend's page and resources about online evangelism, at
www.internetevangelismday.com


blessings


Gweno