Evangelism and Discipleship
Asset Mapping as Evangelism
“How do you know what you can’t see?” said Jane Cisluycis, Diocesan Operations Coordinator in the Diocese of Northern Michigan, in one of our recent calls on The Episcopal Asset Map. “We need to know our gifts; if they are hidden we can’t share the stories.”
Katie Mears from Episcopal Relief & Development and The Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson fromThe Episcopal Church had a very similar thought in late 2012. Canon Stevenson was looking for better ways to engage Episcopalians in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) models for addressing domestic poverty. Katie, Director of the US Disaster Program wanted a more efficient and inclusive way of knowing all the gifts that The Church could mobilize in the time of disasters. Out of their conversations was born what we now call The Episcopal Asset Map (episcopalassetmap.org). This grassroots populated website seeks to support a more streamlined process in understanding the stories of the church. Rather than wait on reports that are often outdated as soon as they arrive on someone’s desk or inbox, we could flip the entire system and allow anyone to provide information about their Episcopal Community.
How it works:
- Anyone (no log in is required) can add information about their church, school, nursing home, hospital, social service agency or other Episcopal community.
- The update is then sent to a Bishop appointed map administrator (DMA) who reviews and approves (or rejects) the update.
- The update is then made public for all to see!
What once could take 3-6 months can now be done in 24 hours. And if anything changes, one does not have to wait for another reporting cycle- they can update the information immediately.
The sharing of stories
While we have learned so many ways that the site is a gift to our organizations, we didn’t quite understand how well this tool aligned with one of our main priorities out of General Convention 2015: evangelism. The Evangelism Matters Conference this past November had one resounding message: Embrace our baptismal covenant to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” And in our very Episcopalian way, we embraced this controversial term as an invitation to an evangelism that is beyond conversion, beyond recruitment to our side. Rather, we are called to an evangelism based on mutually beneficial relationships with Christ at the center.
Evangelism for our work is then defined as a “loving, liberating, and life-giving relationship with God, each other and creation.” This evangelism is not about filled pews on Sunday morning. It is about “making the world right side up again,” says Bishop Curry. It is an opportunity for us to own our stories of faith, to share these stories of faith and most importantly, listen to our neighbors so that we might acknowledge and honor the ways that God is showing up in the neighborhood. This embrace of evangelism is about celebrating God where God is, all around us. It is about telling the world, even on the Internet, how we are being the hands and feet of Christ, how we are walking with our neighbors, how we are worshipping and celebrating God’s love through word and sacrament.
When I first started working with church leaders there were some who wondered about the grassroots population of a website and doubted it could be done. As with our work on evangelism, we often doubt our skills and abilities. If you ask The Rev. Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Georgia, he will tell you that “Episcopalians are ‘natural evangelists’ - you can’t go a few minutes in conversation without them recommending a book, recipe, or podcast.” But when we asked people to talk about the church they have loved and worshipped in for 25-30-50 years, the response was often: “This is nice, but I have to ask my priest first,” or “I don’t do computers, but here is a picture of my new grandchild on Facebook.” “By empowering all levels of the church to engage with this map,” says Canon Logue, “we are guided to tell our stories in ways authentic to us. You can share all that your congregation is doing in your community, sharing what you offer quite naturally.”
Communities and connections
Jason Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Kentucky, sees it as a congregational development tool. And building strong congregations is one major step in developing evangelists. Through this guided process, churches think anew their role in spreading the Gospel via service times or ministry projects. As Margaret Woody, a lay leader in Virginia says, “As a Regional Delegate involved with outreach ministries, and a vestry member, it is great to connect directly with other congregations in our Diocese.” Church leaders no longer are networking just through the clergy leadership. They can now connect directly to each other.
This cross diocesan inspiration happened at St. Augustine’s in the Diocese of Louisiana. Members of the church took a look at their gifts and the needs of the community. They quickly realized that a community garden would be a great way to build stronger relationships with their neighbors and address issues of food insecurity. One of the places they looked for support was the Episcopal Asset Map. After a couple of clicks they found others in their diocese that had already traveled the road. Once the project was established, they posted their new ministry on the Asset Map. The update prompted Karen Mackey, Communications Coordinator to show up and cover their grand opening and blessing. The church was surprised to see a member of the diocese show up. “How did you hear about this event?” “I saw the update on the asset map and thought I would stop by to learn more.” Their evangelism, updating their profile – a simple act, sparked the diocese to tell the story, and who knows who has been inspired by seeing this story manifested.
Tracie Middleton, Ministry Support and Communications Officer in the Diocese of Fort Worth says that evangelism is about redefining membership and church participation. “Building community partnerships is a form of evangelism,” says Middleton. “There is a switch that happens in thinking about who's involved in church when you ask members about what they're doing outside of just worship services. They start to redefine participation. Is participation in the community's life confined to those who gather on Sunday morning? What about the 200-300 college students who gather every Thursday for lunch and conversation, where a box on a side table inviting prayer requests is usually filled with slips of paper afterwards. Isn't that connection? Isn’t that evangelism?”
In addition to the cultural switch that happens by engaging with the map, there are others that are inspired to create their own digital tools with the information obtained via the Episcopal Asset Map. John Burruss, Canon for Sustainable Ministries, Diocese of West Tennessee says, “When I first learned of the Episcopal Asset Map, I was moved by the idea of capturing and cataloguing the ministries of our congregations and diocese. It had me wondering if there is a way to repackage all of that data to create new ways of engaging people who are looking for connections in their communities. Creating www.transformwtn.org was about taking the data of the Asset Map, creating an evangelism tool and finding new ways of inviting people into our communities.”
While I know that evangelism isn’t about filing pews, I see the story of a church like All Saints in Salt Lake City, UT and I want to take a flight there. Storytelling, networking, revisioning, reimagining, reframing, resource sharing, deep listening, community organizing, empowerment, faith expressed digitally; these are all skills and themes that have resonated in the experience of users of the Asset Map. These are some of the skills we need to be evangelists. At the end of the day, The Episcopal Asset Map is a website. As with all digital platforms, we must allow our real, lived experiences to inform that space. The process of engaging a congregation on what they love about their church, recording stories of ministry and mission, and the gathering and consolidation of these materials in one searchable digital platform is the evangelism. As Hannah Wilder, Communications Director, Diocese of San Diego told me, “this is not about our very local stories, that is important, but the asset map reflects our connections. We are a part of this bigger community of faith. We are The Church.”
- The Episcopal Asset Map website
- Mapping Assets: Power for Growing Our Future Together by Jason Lewis, ERD Blog
- Episcopal Asset Map an ECF webinar led by Katie Mears of Episcopal Relief and Development, November 3, 2015
- Episcopal Asset Map: The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement working in the world by Tamara Plummer, ERD Blog
- Church with Garden and Food Pantry Seeks Same by Nathan Davis, Vestry Papers, March 2015
- Statistical Data on Episcopal Congregations a free resource for Episcopal congregations on their congregation and community profile