Tools for Evangelism
A Ministry of Invitation
Evangelism. For years, the word made me uncomfortable, calling to mind the memory of feeling trapped in my small dorm room after opening the door to a pair of earnest Campus Crusade for Christ students intent on convincing me of the rightness of their beliefs and practice of the Christian faith. What I knew that day – and still believe – is that words alone, no matter how persuasive the voice, aren’t enough to change my mind or my heart. Seeing, or experiencing, actions that match the words are what I need to become a believer and an advocate.
While my comfort with evangelism has grown over time, I expect I was not alone in feeling this way. Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism and Reconciliation, in her introduction to The Episcopal Church’s Evangelism Initiatives, notes:
“Lots of Episcopalians get skittish the moment they hear the “E” word. Let’s imagine evangelism that is true to the bold, generous and hopeful spirit of the Jesus Movement. Evangelism that welcomes people into a loving, liberating, and lifegiving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Evangelism that first listens for what God is doing in our lives and in the world … and then celebrates and shares it.”
The power of invitation
In recent years, part of my ministry has included seeking out and sharing the many ways congregations and other Episcopal communities of faith are living into our Baptismal Covenant, specifically proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. The challenge for some continues to be a reticence related to talking about their faith outside of the circle of people who share their same belief.
What changed things for me was an invitation. A friend, knowing I had gutted and helped rebuild houses after Katrina, invited me to join her on a Habitat for Humanity workday sponsored by her church. This led to other invitations, including joining one of her church’s teams that provides a meal six times a year at a local community services program. Invitation honors an individual’s capacity to experience this holy work while participation builds relationship with others and may be the first step in laying a foundation that may lead a person closer to Christ.
Taking that first step
How do we become comfortable issuing an invitation outside of our comfort zones? Stephanie Spellers, writing about Episcopal Evangelism Initiatives, recommends these steps:
“First, by sharing stories that energize and inspire Episcopalians. Then, by spreading resources that equip regular Episcopalians and churches to become evangelists and storytellers in daily life. Finally, by sharing good news with people beyond the Episcopal fold via new ministries and digital evangelism.”
Here are examples of congregations, dioceses, or organizations taking these steps or developing and sharing resources to equip themselves and others to become evangelists and storytellers in daily life.
1. Sharing stories that energize and inspire Episcopalians: What first springs to mind are the many ways Episcopalians share their stories during the annual pledge campaign. From personal witness during worship services or community gatherings to videos or stories shared in the parish newsletter or pledge materials.
The question we may not be asking ourselves is: Are we providing enough opportunities to share all of our stories? As congregational leaders, our level of engagement presumes a knowledge and understanding of all of the church’s programs and ministries that may not be widely shared. How might we find ways to incorporate stories in an intentional way to the fabric of our congregational life?
2. Spreading resources: The sharing of resources is central to ECF Vital Practices. Among my favorites are these websites, each of which provides specific ideas or practices for congregations to consider, adapt, and/or try: Acts 8 Movement evangelism resources, including video invitations congregations might use; All Our Children school partnerships; ECF Vital Practices; Episcopal Evangelism Initiatives; Invite! Welcome! Connect!; Radical Sending: Go to Love and Serve, and Sharing Faith Dinners.
3. Sharing the Good News beyond the Episcopal fold: For some, this may be the most difficult step. There are many reasons for this ranging from time limitations to believing to do so may be seen as looking for accolades from the wider community, or the fear of what might happen if we talked openly, in public, about our faith.
Extending an invitation may take many forms. For the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Lexington, Massachusetts, the invitation – offered via a sandwich board sign, local news stories, word-of-mouth, and a website - is to become part of a collaborative community initiative: Lex Eats Together. This weekly dinner, initiated by members from Redeemer and a local synagogue and carried out by volunteers from the wider community, offers a weekly meal in a restaurant-like setting that respects privacy and dignity. Two memories stand out from my meal there earlier this fall: How different this felt from the ‘soup kitchen’ type meal I volunteer for. The positive energy level in room, building from familiarity, genuine pleasure dining with friends, and a blurring of the lines between volunteers and guests.
Inspired by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s invitation to become part of the Jesus Movement the congregation of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, Mississippi made a decision to overcome their fear of evangelism and created a reason to go out and talk with people in their immediate neighborhood. And, while making these face-to-face visits was difficult, they discovered it became easier with each knock on a door.
At St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, their ministry of invitation recently expanded to include a food truck, The Holy Grill. Photos posted on Facebook, brought this ministry of offering breakfast to people who are hungry and homeless to my attention. Visiting their website and reading the October and November (2016) issues of their parish newsletter, The Sampler (scroll to the rector’s letter, page 2) I learned this church is one that talks openly about evangelism, with the rector offering support and encouragement to help individuals move from a place of resistance to becoming comfortable extending an invitation.
A ministry of invitation
Two of our strongest tools for evangelism are the sharing of our personal stories: be they offered face-to-face or via video and spoken, or through the written word and shared via print, the web, or social media; and extending an invitation to witness our faith in action.
Mark Andrew Jones, rector of St. Nicholas Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, writing about evangelism and invitation, offered this advice to his congregation:
“Remember – you’re Ministry of Invitation is successful the moment you extend the invitation, regardless of whether the person you invite accepts or not. We are to be a People of Invitation. We are to invite everyone with out limitation. Then, as act of loving respect for their dignity – after letting people know they are welcome – we accept their answer without a desire to possess or control”
The Sampler, October 2016
Nancy Davidge is the former editor of ECF Vital Practices and editor of the 2015 revision of the Vestry Resource Guide.
- Episcopal Evangelism Initiatives: Evangelism resources from The Episcopal Church
- “Making God’s Love Visible” by Robin Banks, Vestry Papers, November 2011
- “Making Space to Share Our Stories” and “Sharing Our Stories” by Nancy Davidge, ECF Vital Practices’ Vital Posts and Tools
- Radical Sending: Go to Love and Serve and “Get the Hell out of Church” by Demi Prentiss and J. Fletcher Lowe
- “Sharing Faith Dinners” by Luke Blount and Laura Shaver, ECF Vital Practices’ Vestry Papers, July 2013and Sharing Faith Dinners website
- St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Pompano Beach, Florida and their rector’s messages in the October and November 2016 issues of their newsletter, The Sampler.
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, Mississippi’s evangelism experience "St. Paul's Open Letter to Presiding Bishop Curry" and "Follow-up: St. Paul's Open Letter to Presiding Bishop Curry", ECF Vital Practices blog posts
Don’t miss an issue of Vestry Papers! Sign up for your free subscription here.