One of the most important words to gain traction in the Christian Church over the last decade is the word “missional”. It describes an orientation for the Church that is really a rediscovery of an ancient calling. We are acutely aware that while it’s important to shepherd the flock we have, it’s vital to reach out to those who are not yet part of the Christian movement.
Here are a few ideas that may help your church share the Good News in your community. But first, I want to ask you to consider these questions:
- Is sharing Christ with those who don’t know him a major part of the culture of my church?
- How could we embrace a few of the following ideas to help free us to share Jesus more effectively?
God is at Work
Remember that the work of evangelism is primarily God’s doing. The Church is called to proclaim Christ crucified and risen, but it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and enlightenment to a person. The Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, delights in partnering with Christ’s disciples in testifying to Jesus (John 15:26, 27). We’re to do our part joyfully, knowing that people receive Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Our Spiritual Health?
Begin by considering the spiritual health of those already attending. Do the people themselves of your church have a relationship with God through Jesus? In the midst of all the stresses of life, do we manifest joy, love, and kindness in the following of our Lord? Part of my ministry has been to invite people to move into a more personal relationship with Jesus, building on what they have already received. Often church people are themselves only waiting to be invited to “go deeper” with Jesus.
A long-time Anglican in one of my parish churches was taking an Alpha course. He asked, “I’m 78 years old, and I’ve gone to church most of my life. Why am I only now discovering what my faith is all about?” I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. Often in order to cultivate a church that can share its faith well, a renewed experience of God is needed within that faith community.
Being the Good News
Somebody has wisely said: “The Church should not only proclaim the Good News, it ought to BE Good News!” The world longs to see a Christian church where the members are living in loving relationships with each other and with people in the community. Social events where church members have a good time and where there’s lots of laughter and fun, are great places to bring a friend who’s considering Jesus Christ. Such events can be a bridge for them to explore more who He is, especially if church members understand these events in this light.
We all have our gifts
Some folk seem to be “naturals” when it comes to sharing their faith in Christ. We suspect those people have a particular gift of evangelism. But if this doesn’t describe you, think about how you can help your church reach out with your particular gifts. My wife is actively involved in the life of the condo complex in which we live. She’s on the Board, the Decorating Committee, takes part in aqua-fit classes and so on. She’s made a lot of friends. And a good number of them started asking her about attending “her” church.
By offering her friendship and by displaying integrity my wife has helped several people to take the plunge and become part of our church. By starting to attend a few events with her they placed themselves in a milieu where they began to hear the Gospel in all kinds of ways.
Lots of people in your church have the gift of hospitality, that is, of making people feel welcome. If you have this gift, put it at the disposal of your church when it’s reaching out. The gift of music likewise is often fundamental in helping people to respond to Christ at the emotional level. You can use your gift of music evangelistically!
Coming to Christ
Most people come to the Church and to the Lord of the Church by stages. Every Christian has it within him or her to invite a friend to a church event, such as an Advent Carol Service, a ‘Blue Christmas’ service, a Book Club, a Grief Support Group, or a Parents & Tots play group. Some people come to church looking for a loving community. It may take them a while to finally seek the Lord around which your parish community is formed. My friend Bruce Smith at Christ Church St. James has launched events such as a “Summer Sizzler” complete with free hot dogs, a Bouncy Castle, a book table, an upbeat Christian band, and a short testimony by a church leader.
A couple who were clients of our Food Bank met me on the street. They said, “Your church really cares for people like us. We never feel we’re being talked down to at the Food Bank.” I was thrilled to hear this. It’s an example of how a church concerned with the physical needs of people in the community can create space for people to have a positive attitude to the church, which may help them one day want to know more.
Does your church have a small group where people can move through various stages to Christ? Some people have a lot of objections to the Christian faith. It’s helpful if there’s a forum where these can be voiced and thoughtful responses provided. It’s not helpful if someone is seeking that kind of group in September and you tell them “we might have one of those groups in Lent.” It is best if you can provide such a group within a few weeks of a person’s expressing the need. The Alpha Course, Christianity Explored, and Christian Foundations are all courses that can be offered in small groups in people’s homes or in a neighbourhood church.
Pray for Courage
It’s helpful to ask, how could I and how could my Christian community overcome some of the obstacles to sharing our faith more freely and effectively? Perhaps the greatest obstacle is fear. It’s amazing how often Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospels: “Don’t be afraid!” Tim Keller suggests that many Christians and their churches are in the “blend-in mode”. He points out that we should actually pray for courage, especially in our day when Christians “are (rightly) concerned about losing influence, being persecuted in behind-the- scenes ways, or being penalized professionally” (Center Church, p.285).
The parish priest or pastor has a special role here, in modelling how to graciously and lovingly bear witness to Christ and to help each of their church members grow in their ability to bear witness to their family, friends and colleagues about why they are followers of Jesus.
I’m always moved by Jesus’ challenge to his disciples: “But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting” (John 4:35). He’s out there in the world, doing the work of the Kingdom. Let’s rejoice his heart, by gathering in the people he’s sending to us.