This is the first in a blog series on Evangelism and the topic of “Who is visiting your church?” In this first post, I have challenged myself to write a statement on what I believe (currently, subject to change) Evangelism is (and isn’t). As always, these are my thoughts, relevant to my context, you can certainly add or subtract, but this is what I think. Initially I challenged myself to do so in less than 750 words, but that was too wordy. So I lowered it a bit, and even at that, it is too wordy, but here we go…
Evangelism’s root word Evangel means “Good News.” So Evangelism is simply doing “Good News Work.” Yet the Evangelical in ELCA not withstanding, Lutheran reticence to identify with such labels is well documented. Although centered theologically on the Cross and Empty Tomb, the Good News, we aren’t sure about accepting such a label.
Much of this reticence is produced by a culture in which Evangelism/Evangelicalism are fraught with negative meaning and images. Think crazy street preachers, abortion clinic sign holders, gay funeral protesters, clergy sex/financial scandals, hard sell altar calls, get rich quick theology, etc… Despite the spectacular size of some “mega-churches”, the overall percentage of American’s attending worship continues to decline. These mega-parishes preach to the choir and many more are sneaking out the back door.
But it is also well documented that these folks sneak out the back door not because they don’t believe in Jesus or that his teachings aren’t relevant. Many want to be Christian, the Good News sounds good to them but they struggle with where they belong. Maybe they have slightly more nuanced views on those “hot button” issues or maybe they just don’t want to be so “loud” a Christian.
How can I and these folks claim the title Evangelical? I suggest three do’s and don’ts...
Do…equip yourselves and others to live out the good news in word and service, especially in relation to Biblical principals of compassion, stewardship and tithing. Remember God’s preference for the poor and forgotten, the widow and the alien. (see…the Prophets)
Don’t…equate worldly riches with God’s favor and poverty with God’s wrath. If you have above average wealth and resources (i.e. above the median income in your county), give thanks and follow Biblical principals of stewardship and tithing. If you are not, do the same.
Do…equip yourself and others to engage neighbors about faith, but only after asking them about their lives, actually listening and learning their joys and sorrows. (see…Woman at the Well)
Don’t…try to hard sell your neighbors on their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, guilt them into church attendance or threaten them or those they love with hellfire, they will stop talking to you.
Do...worship authentically and excellently. Preach the Law AND the Gospel. Connect Sunday to Monday. Sing and dance. Welcome visitors genuinely and follow up with them! Have multi-generational education to equip disciples of Jesus. And DO IT WELL!
Don’t…assume worship style and programs will grow your church. The folks looking for flashy programs and high performance worship can find it and you probably don’t have the resources to do it or even the calling.
Obviously these are relevant to some and not to others, but they are guidelines I use in evaluating how “Evangelical” we are being in my context. Basically they are simply principals of Good News living, of discipleship, and because of that they are hard. Being Authentic to who you are, your context and choosing to be Excellent in that will cause trouble because it isn’t easy and requires tough decisions, but it is Evangelical.
Next week… Do signs, advertising, mailers actually work in generating visitors?