Across the two churches in which I am minister these include:
- expanding our messy churches in the next academic year to make them both monthly and to make a more determined and focused effort to bring new families into them (with the help of interns with us for a year)
- reaching out to the community in the village church by making our anniversary exhibition, service and supper as attractive and as interesting as possible and by publicising them effectively
- mounting an exhibition of the work of local artists and combining this with events that reflect on the relationship of art and faith
- supporting the new food bank in the town being launched by one of our sister churches in the Churches Together group
- exploring the possibility of a ministry of service to people with mental health problems, in partnership with the other local churches, the Health Services locally and charities already active in this area
All this is beginning to feel slightly over-ambitious but I’m determined to see which if any have real life and purpose (a process of discernment under the guidance of the Spirit).
When running through all this at Elders’ I was, quite properly, challenged to explain how, if at all, these could be expected to result in the kind of growth in the worshiping congregation and church roll that is absolutely necessary if our congregation is to have a medium term future as a self-sustaining Christian fellowship. It was difficult for me to answer this question and yet I can see that it is an inescapable one. The congregation can only reach out in service if it has the resources to do so.
Part of the answer, which I gave, was that my feeling is that finding ways to serve is part of what is required to be the kind of purposeful and self-confident community that will be attractive to people looking for a context to develop their discipleship.
This feels like only part of the answer, though. It is essential also that we witness clearly and distinctly to the good news. This requires, though, having a clear and well understood view of what that good news is.
Our Bible Study yesterday was fascinating as ever on this. In particular we circled around whether the core message is about what we should do, the kind of life we should live, or about God’s promises and nature. Is the central and core message “love God and love your neighbour” (a command or perhaps some advice) or “God loves you” (a reassurance or promise). Both of these are part of the proclamation but it is worth thinking, I feel, about which (if either) has priority.
My Christianity has always favoured the second, the announcement of God’s love, over the first, the explanation of the proper way to live. This means that it can sometimes be hard for me to respond to the query “well if God loves me already why do I have to come to church?” since I don’t think anyone does HAVE to. Rather I think that if people experience the truth of God’s love they’ll want to and if they don’t want to then that’s OK with me.
Which may be why evangelism doesn’t come naturally to me. In what I think of as a classic Calvinist attitude I feel that if people are called (by God) they will come and it isn’t up to me to try to do the calling. I’m aware that this ignores the role I might have as God’s instrument in making his call heard but nonetheless something like this shapes my bias towards acting out of discipleship in service rather than an evangelism that recruits.
All of this, I should stress, is presented not as the way I think it should be but as my attempt to figure out how to fit a more evangelistic mission alongside my missional service.
Anyway I’d welcome any views on effective evangelism in the context of aging and mainstream churches in prosperous commuter country!