05 March 2008

Church and Evangelism

I might be being foolish by publishing another post on this subject, but a short exchange with my friend Sally in the comments section of my post Minister as Evangelist? got me thinking.

I think I might be on to something here and I throw the question open to you:

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a difference between: 1) Telling someone the Good News of the gospel and 2) Getting them to come to church.

I actually do wonder whether the bigger 'conversation experience' in today's culture is the church-going bit.

I suspect that, in the past - even in my own lifetime - people attended group activities outside the home for recreation and entertainment. Nowadays, recreation and entertainment are much more 'private' - me and my friends or me and my family. This is what's foreign: belonging to civic and cultural organisations. And the 'foreignness' of group activity is why people find church so uncomfortable.

I do genuinely find it easy to talk to people about God, about Christ and about the Christian Gospel and about my personal faith. I'm not, however, convinced of my ability to 'get people into church' who don't want to be there.

Over to you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pam - great thoughts. I think you're right: there is a difference of sorts, but I imagine that they could both seen as evangelism. If we understand the Great Commission to be more than just evangelism as trying to bring people to conversion and hear it's call to make them disciples (which in my opinion is a life-long process - 'Pick up your cross daily.') The Methodist 'Our Calling' seems to understands evangelism as discipleship (they use the phrase 'make followers). Part of discipleship as I understand it is belonging to the community that gathers together in the body of Christ.

Now the question becomes, what sort of church? I don't know if loads of young, non-churched people are going to come into our churches as they are. I think such movements like the emerging church (though I have some differences with them) may have a message to them that my ageing congregations do not. And that should be ok! We will move to reach those we can, who though older still need to hear the message of God's love. But, I don't want to discount the moving of the Spirit in whatever way the spirit sees fit. Like you and Sally, I believe it's her that converts, we are just invited to help. This is all a part of playing into your strengths. I would say that I'm not always so good at sharing my faith or getting them into church. But, I think my calling is moving them into a deeper relationship once there, primarily through teaching the faith.

Those are my initial thoughts on it.

David said...

Pam, haven't got time to blog today in detail but I am thinking along the same lines - people are less inclined "to join". It isn't just affecting the Church.

I'll follow this up at the weekend.

Doorman-Priest said...

In my experience, corporate worship is the biggest barrier to maintaining a faith stance, but I too think you are on to something with the joining culture.

Fat Prophet said...

I tend to think that part of the problem today is that people do not want to be 'committed' and that is true in many things not just church life.
I think another problem is that people outside the church always seems to know more about what goes on in church than those who actually go to church.
I remember years ago being told that people in a certain type of church swung on the chandeliers - I joined a church of this type and found the people were quite normal (except for those who spoke in tongues). I did realise afetr that even the ones who spoke in tongues were quite normal.
I suspect another difficulty is that often there is much about our worship that might put us off asking people to church. There is a letter in this week's Methodist Recorder about poor preachers and it may be that there are some peoplev who would not invite their friends if I am preaching (because I am a little mad).
I am looking foward to this being a good topic of debate

Steve Hayes said...

Yes, I think you're on to something there.

Over the last few years, I've found I don't get out much. I don't go for walks, because there's nothing new to see in the neighbourhood. I don't like to drive, because for one thing it's a schlep to get the car out, and I keep thinking about things like carbon dioxide emissions and the price of petrol, which just jumped by 60c a couple of days ago.

In fact the only thing I do go out for is church, but that's just me. I'm not very missional, because I don't really meet any secualr people.

PamBG said...

I think you're right: there is a difference of sorts, but I imagine that they could both seen as evangelism

Yes, but how many people think that the unchurched have to be 'converted' to what Doorman-Priest has named 'the joining culture'? (I really like that term!)

We seem to think that if we just tell people the good news that they'll come to church. I think that 'church' - the joining in an organisation - is now a hurdle. And I think that, 50 years ago, the joining-in was not a hurdle, but it was actually something that people sought out.

'Joining in', in the current cultural climate, is lame and stupid and something your granny does.

It may very well be that the radical change that the church needs to make in order to evangelise is actually to de-institutionalise. I don't know.

I do know that the requirements of 'institutionalisation' are getting harder. Society views us as and wants to treat us as either businesses or as public institutions. By that, I mean, that with a few elderly volunteers, we are expected to provide professional-standard services and pay business rates. And if we can't do that, then society doesn't want to have anything to do with us.

This might work for the larger congregations. It won't work at all for 30 people trying to maintain a building, which is what all my congregations are trying to do. I suspect that these smaller congregations would work a lot better as house-churches.

I agree that we need the fellowship, support and accountability of a community of fellow Christians. It's just that I think that the prayer group of which I'm a member probably feeds people much better than all the 'institutional' trappings (Sunday worship and socials, etc.) when only 20 people come to church on a Sunday.

Anonymous said...

I'm not entirely sure where we disagree. I thought I was making the same point, but likely you did it better. I think I was trying to redefine what you said about 'Getting them to come to church'. I wanted to say that I don't think Christianity makes sense disconnected from the body of Christ but I don't think that has to mean coming to the church in the traditional sense (the 'institutionalised' church you mentioned), which is why I mentioned the 'emergent church' (the closest thing we have to a de-institutionalised church). Still, I think that belonging to some form of Christian community is part of Christian discipleship. I don't particularly like the language of 'joining' either, especially is it makes us sound like some kind of club.

PamBG said...

I apologise, Will. I didn't think I was disagreeing with you either!

I'm just struggling with the whole issue and trying to think it through.

I don't like the 'joining' language either, but I think that 'institutional church' IS a club. There, I'll be blunt. Yes, many people came to Christ through this club and I'm not doubting the sincerity of people's faith but it seems clear to me that it *was* a club.

I expect you won't disagree with this either, but I think that ministers are expected to be CEOs of the club, they are supposed to keep it going and bring in new members.

The other ministers in my circuit and I have an idea for having discussions about faith at our local Coffee Conglomerate Shop. What keeps us from doing it? Partly, I suspect, that our congregations don't think that they pay us for evangelising to people who aren't going to come to church and pay their 'subscriptions'.

All of what I'm saying is being said in light of the belief that 'If we preach the Real Gospel, people will come and join our club' and in light of the idea expressed on Locusts and Honey that ministers should be evaluated on their ability to put bums on pews (be great club leaders).

Also, if I'm right and the institution isn't where it's at any more then ministry is going to take a whole new form. Which doesn't matter much to me but would do to younger ministers!

Anonymous said...

This may not be the right place to post this but I wanted to say that I really like your blog and your view on things. There seems no pretence in what you say and although I don't know you I feel I can trust your line of thought.
I would really like to know what you think of the 'emerging church' and the 'fresh expressions' movement. I feel a bit tired of the constant need in every part of life to reinvent and rebrand things as new, fresh and unique!
I have been part of and committed to lots of different types of churches over the years and yet what I feel most drawn to now is almost a 'going back' to a sort of monastic approach to worship and prayer... without all the trappings of the consumerist approach to life which seems to pervade even our relationship with God now.

PamBG said...

Anon, thank you for your compliment on my blog. Good way to start a conversation! ;-)

To be honest, I'm not really part of this movement and I don't feel qualified to speak to it.

For instance, I believe that a number of people have even identified 'back to tradition' as one form of post-modern influence if not 'Fresh Expressions'.

I can understand being wearied by needing to constantly reinterpret things but I actually suspect that this reinterpretation is what the post-modern challenge is about. No answer here!