Becoming Chief Evangelists
In recent years, The Episcopal Church has wrestled with its call to share the Good News of God in Christ Jesus through the work of evangelism. Those familiar with The Episcopal Church believe that evangelism isn’t a place where we naturally excel. However, The Episcopal Church has a great missionary heritage. We should claim that heritage as our own and consider our call in this time and context.
The word evangelism has a variety of meanings and connotations, but the definition can also be as simple as “sharing the good news.” While many Episcopalians may not think they are gifted in this area, evangelism has long been a part of Church history and it is essential to the mission of The Episcopal Church. The Future Church must not shy away from sharing the good news of God in Christ.
Evangelism can be seen as a form of art and in the case of The Episcopal Church it is an art form that needs some polishing. The Future Church will use innovation and creativity to share the message of Christ and will find new ways to continue teaching and nurturing those on their pilgrimage. Even today, we see for-profit companies investing in their own kind of evangelism. Guy Kawasaki of Apple created a position for himself as the Chief Evangelist of Apple Computer. Since the 1990s, Apple has been making disciples and followers, thus creating loyalty and trust in the company. This is what the Future Church must do as well. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must become chief evangelists, encouraging pilgrims to continue on their journey towards Christ. We must reclaim the word evangelism as part of our work. In the Episcopal Diocese of Texas we say that we are engaged in God’s mission of reconciliation through the work of service and evangelism.
The Future Church must explain that the God we believe in doesn’t want you to buy something, unlike the gods of the marketplace who demand product loyalty no matter what. The God we believe in is a God of grace and mercy and God is invested in our wellbeing, as well as that of the whole creation.
Generous evangelism happens when people are invited and they are graciously welcomed into community and when new communities are formed in the midst of the world. Generous evangelism helps people find language (in this case, an Episcopalian language or vocabulary) for making a community of faith. It welcomes and gathers without judgement or scorn. This renewed form of evangelism that will characterize the Future Church will take many forms as we seek to reengage the fallen, encourage those on their journey, and to create new loyalty with past followers.
Good evangelists will focus on those looking for God, those who are exploring Christian communities, and those who are genuinely interested in new spiritual experiences. Kawasaki says (and I agree) that a good evangelist knows within five minutes if they have a chance of success with an individual. It is far better to focus on those who are truly interested in what we have to share and give. The evangelist will always remember that being kind is essential; the future Episcopal Church will be known for its hospitality and welcoming aide. The goal is to have people find us and stay but if they choose another path, we want them to say “The Episcopal Church wasn’t for us but they were helpful, kind, and supportive of our spiritual journey.”
In order to get to that place, the generous evangelist must take the first step, beginning with invitation. It is crucial that interested people are invited to church so that they may begin to experience a Christian community. After the invitation is given, the generous evangelist must listen. And while this sounds easy, this is the most crucial step for securing retention. If someone doesn’t feel like they are being heard or that the person isn’t truly listening, they will continue their pilgrimage on a different path. And while accompanying a person on their journey, a generous evangelist must practice humility. They will make time for those with genuine interest in the Episcopal faith and for those who simply want to explore. They will understand that God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love is truly free and that there is nothing anyone can do to earn it–not even join The Episcopal Church.
Further Reading on Evangelism