Evangelism and Discipleship
Evangelism Matters, but Can We Do It?
When he was elected, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said he wanted to be known as a CEO, a Chief Evangelism Officer. His election was part of a wider surge of interest in the knowledge and practice of evangelism in our Church. At the same General Convention in 2015, in an almost unprecedented move, the church-wide budget was amended from the floor to add $2.8 million for evangelism initiatives.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that an Episcopal conference focused on evangelism would be A Big Deal. In November 2016, Forward Movement partnered with the Presiding Bishop’s office to offer Evangelism Matters — an entire conference on evangelism. The name of the conference has a bit of a double meaning. Evangelism matters a great deal. And if you want to tell people about Jesus, you’ll want to learn more about evangelism matters — the “stuff” of sharing the Good News.
A new day for evangelism
That the conference was oversold, with a waiting list, speaks volumes. If you had told me several years ago that the Episcopal Church would host a conference on telling people about Jesus and that there would be a waiting list, I’d have thought you were delusional. But here we are. It is a new age.
No longer must we speak in circumlocution, “the E-word”. We can speak proudly of evangelism and what it means. The tenor of the conference was to claim our newfound desire to share the Good News of God in Christ. Aside from practical matters, one important aspect of the conference was the simple and repeated assertion that inviting people into a loving relationship with Jesus is a good thing to do. In the past this has sadly been a controversial idea.
Frank Logue offered a summation of the conference in the final session, and it’s worth reading to see his summary of what happened, especially in plenary sessions. The core theme of the conference, repeated again and again, is that sharing Good News is a good thing — because it leads to transformation.
In one session, Stephanie Spellers invited conference participants to practice sharing good news with cardboard testimonies. It’s a simple but powerfully effective idea. You write before and after messages on the two sides of a cardboard sign. Flipping the sign reveals the effect of God’s transforming love. You can see an example of what this looks like on Youtube. Part of the power of an exercise like this — which could work in any vestry or congregation — is that it empowers us all; it helps us realize that all we need is a simple, short phrase or two to reveal the transforming love of Jesus Christ at work in our lives.
The workshop sessions were filled with practical ways to practice effective evangelism. Casey Shobe taught us how to practice “elevator evangelism.” Imagine you’re in an elevator, and you have just a few seconds with someone to share your story of transformation. Through a bit of preparation and some practice, we can all be ready to bear witness to what God is doing in our lives. We don’t need to go to seminary or memorize the Bible; we just need to stand ready with thirty seconds or so of our own story.
Mary Parmer shared Invite*Welcome*Connect , an excellent free program she has created to help congregations be more welcoming to seekers and to help newcomers make connections with church ministries.
Continuing a theme of free resources to support evangelism, Melody Shobe and your author offered a workshop on the formation that must accompany evangelism for those who seek to become followers of Jesus. Forward Movement has created a free resource, Transforming Questions, that congregations can use to teach people some of the basics of Christian faith and encourage their continued formation in following Jesus.
There were plenty of other workshops for those starting new churches, for incorporating new members into the life of a church community, and for practicing evangelism with our community — in person and online. You can see the array of workshops and download handouts on the Evangelism Matters website.
While practical tips were a clear part of the conference, perhaps more remarkable was the shared sense that evangelism is something that we Episcopalians can and must do — and that we are capable of doing it. We don’t need to live in fear, thinking that evangelism is impossible. Rather, we can live in hope that God’s Spirit abides in us and that we have already been equipped to proclaim the Good News of what God is doing in our own lives and in the world.
The planning team is already working on Evangelism Matters 2.0, slated for early 2018. Stay tuned to the Evangelism Matters website at www.evangelismmatters.org for news and updates.
Scott Gunn is executive director of Forward Movement, whose mission is to inspire disciples and empower evangelists.
- Evangelism Matters website
- Cardboard Testimonies video from Evangelism Matters
- Handouts and downloads from workshops at Evangelism Matters
- Transforming Questions, free downloadable course by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe
- Invite*Welcome*Connect website
- St. Paul’s Open Letter to Presiding Bishop Curry by Linda Buskirk, ECF blog post
- Loving, Liberating, and Life-Giving by Michael Curry, ECF blog post