October 25, 2016

Easier Evangelism: So, Tell Me Your Story

Our leading evangelist is not a Baby Boomer with conversational skills honed by the Dale Carnegie school of making friends and influencing people. It is not a latchkey Gen-Xer, earnest to please or a freewheeling Millennial breaking from social media to be social.

Nope. Our leading evangelist is a 92-year-old woman with white hair braided into a ring around her head.

I have never seen newcomers enter our church—on Sundays, at spaghetti suppers, for Bible studies, or community gatherings—without Fran making sure to welcome them. And somehow, she never makes her greeting seem forced or awkward. She gives a full-mouth smile, perhaps places her hand on an arm or shoulder, and introduces herself. Then, often, she asks, “So, tell me your story.”

Tell me your story.

What better way is there to get to know someone? Not “Let me tell you my story.” Not “What do you do? Where do you live? Who do you know?” But “Tell me your story.”

This past month, like many congregations, we have been conducting our annual stewardship program. Each week, someone from the congregation has given a five-minute testimonial about the value of our church in their lives. I was struck by one of the testimonials, from a 30-something. He lives in the county, not “in town.” He was a football player for the “other” high school. After the death of his father, he was searching for a place that would offer meaning. He tried, by his own count, nearly every church in the county. So he walked into St. Andrew’s and there was Fran. From the lectern, Kevin said she stuck out her hand, introduced herself, and then said, “So, tell me your story.”

He was home.

We make evangelism hard. We talk about it as the “e-word,” like it’s a dirty word that we shouldn’t be saying for fear of a bar of soap in our mouths. We talk about how it’s a dreaded word (and concept) for Episcopalians (which, I think frankly, gives us a paradigm to excuse our lack of evangelism). We talk a lot. But we don’t do.

Here’s this 92-year-old, showing us every day that evangelism isn’t hard. Or scary. Or something that requires months of preparation. It’s sticking out your hand, saying your name, smiling wide, and asking someone: “So, tell me your story.”

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