Telling our Story
Evangelism – It’s Now or Never
For as long as I’ve been an Episcopalian, I have heard people joke about our aversion to evangelism. These jokes come from not only the pulpit, but also from the deviled egg line at coffee hour. (It is my not so humble opinion that no Episcopal coffee hour is complete without deviled eggs.) There is a pithy statement that I believe many have likely heard before: “There is a grain of truth in every joke.” Concerning the particular and repeated Episcopal habit of joking about evangelism, I’m pretty sure that over the years, our church has amassed enough grains of truth to construct a beach that would rival any exotic island destination.
However, as the membership of our churches has continued to decline over the years, many in our ranks are beginning to change their tune from laughter about being the frozen chosen to serious discussion on what we might do to gain new members and share the hope, love and acceptance we have found in the Episcopal Church with future generations.
Time to spread the Word with enthusiasm and passion
Our challenge now is to think outside the box. We can no longer be the best kept secret in whatever town we reside in. Gone are the days when we can simply paint the door red or rely on our social positions or status to draw people in. Even a flourishing outreach program is not enough to seriously attract a significant population — and especially from the already over-programmed, young singles and families who might carry the torch and light of Christ after us.
We no longer have a choice. We must begin spreading the word about how wonderful our churches are with enthusiasm and passion. We must get serious about evangelism, about sharing God’s love for the world and about fulfilling Jesus’ great commission to “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When I first began at my current parish, I felt that God was about to do a new thing with our church community. I began preaching a message that I have shared from the both the pulpit and the dining room table. That message is this:
Your friends and neighbors aren’t going to know just how amazing this caring community is. Your friends and neighbors aren’t going to know about the hope and healing that people experience at this church. Your friends and neighbors aren’t going to know the love that our people have for one another and our surrounding community. And last of all, your friends and neighbors aren’t going to know about the grace, mercy, forgiveness, freedom, love and life that can be found through Christ in the Episcopal Church.
Unless you tell them, they aren’t going to walk into our churches and experience the risen Christ. Unless you invite them to come and see. Unless you say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come check out the church I go to. It’s different. It’s special.’
Granted, it took some time for this message, for this mission that Christ has given our parish to take hold. But once it did, people were excited, enthusiastic and energized. And we saw results.
Many ways to say ‘we’re here’ and invite people in
We formed an evangelism ministry charged with finding ways to bring people to our church and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. No idea was too far out there for us to consider. We brainstormed ways to let people know that our church was here and that they were invited. Forty of us went Christmas caroling, many armed with ukuleles, and we handed out candy canes and flyers about our loving little church on the corner. During Advent and Lent, we have handed out free coffee to morning commuters and passersby on a weekly basis, culminating in an invitation to our Christmas and Easter services.
We set up outside our church for “Ashes to Go” during the morning rush hour and had 25 cars stop for the imposition of ashes. We’ve handed out ice cream at little league games, and have even stood out by the street as cars drive by on Sunday mornings, waving to people and holding large signs with messages about the love of Jesus for all people or an invitation to come and check out our church.
We hope people who drive by or live in our neighborhood will notice us and talk about the bold messengers for Christ at the little church on the corner. During this pandemic, in addition to online Sunday services, our congregation is live streaming Morning Prayer at 9:00 am PT and Compline 8:00 pm PT, Monday through Friday, where people from across the street, across the country and even across the world join our online community.
No longer just another church building
This has all been possible because our congregation has decided to own our part in the great commission and take evangelism seriously. Our surrounding neighborhood now knows that the Holy Spirit is active in our community. We are no longer just another church building that people barely notice as they pass by. Once, when my wife and I were touring a daycare, one of the managers kept telling me how familiar I look. Eventually, she said, “I’ve got it! You’re the free coffee guy!” During the holidays, we receive Christmas cards from people in our neighborhood and people who drive by on their commute to work. They tell us that our unconventional approach to evangelism puts a smile on their face every morning when they see us on the curb, holding our signs and spreading the joy and love that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
And to boot, our unorthodox tactics have increased our numbers on Sunday mornings. People who once passed by our little church without even a glance, have joined our congregation and are finding a home in the Episcopal Church. They are taking up the torch of our parish, shining the light of Christ for all to see — or at the very least, anyone who happens to drive by!
The Rev. Kenn Katona is a priest currently serving at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in the diocese of Northern California. Kenn strives to be a sparkplug in his vocation as a priest. From high energy sermons to his contagious enthusiasm while celebrating the liturgy, he believes that when we share the love of Jesus with excitement, seeds are planted and fruit will burst forth, all to the glory of God.
- Midnight Evangelism by Robert Hendrickson, ECF Vital Practices blog, July 22, 2016
- Drive Through Mission by Alan Bentrup, ECF Vital Practices blog, March 18, 2017
- At the End of the Day... by Mary Parmer, Vestry Papers, January 2012
- How Do You Share Jesus by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices blog, August 29, 2016