AS CHURCH attendance falls, evangelism might be viewed by some
as a miracle cure. Bible and theological colleges are trying a
range of approaches to assist future numerical growth. But how
successful are they likely to be?
Seventy years ago, Moorlands College, near Christchurch,
Hampshire, was founded by a group of Plymouth Brethren to train
evangelists. "That was our seedbed," the Vice-Principal and
Director of Leadership Training, the Revd Ian Coffey, says. He
views evangelism as an integral part of sound leadership
"We're trying to train pastors who know how to do the work of
evangelists, and evangelists who have pastors' hearts. So we see it
as a blend, without in any sense taking away from the uniqueness of
the gifting God gives."
Applying theology is critical, he says; so students undertake
placements in, say, a hostel for battered wives, or on the streets
with rough sleepers. They work alongside practitioners, "because
some of these things are caught as well as taught", he says.
At Mattersey Hall College, near Doncaster, local churches are
central in helping students to apply their learning. "We don't want
people to come just for an academic education," the Ministries and
Mentoring Officer, Shannon Buckner, says. "All students are
required to be part of a local church community while they're here
- not just to attend, but to be involved."
Students support outreach work by going on "weekend ministries".
"They will be hands and feet that will work with the church as
they're evangelising in communities," Ms Buckner says.
At the London School of Theology (LST), students are encouraged
to think critically and to ask questions. The Vice-Principal, Dr
Graham McFarlane, says: "We are transformed by the renewing of our
minds. Theological education is dynamic: it changes the person
being trained so that they can go out and make a difference."
Society has changed; so evangelism needs to change, too, he
says. "Our graduates are going into a much more fluid, open-ended,
questioning culture, where we've got to be able to defend what we
believe, in the true sense of apologetics. And [they have] to
communicate that in a context where we no longer have the right to
say 'We're the majority.'"
IN ANSWER to the question "Can evangelism be taught, or is it a
natural gift?" Mr Coffey says that "You need the seed of a gifting,
but the skills can be taught. There needs to be a willingness to
take criticism, and accept help."
Dr McFarlane says: "Evangelism is really about creating social
contact and engaging with people. That makes it more difficult to
teach." Nevertheless, he feels that it is also to do with
character, passion, and conviction. "These are formational issues.
At LST, formation is at the heart of everything we do. And that can
The Director of Evangelism at Cliff College, in Derbyshire, the
Revd Piers Lane, says that he is convinced that "the best
evangelists are people who just love people." Being an extrovert
can help, but it is not always essential, he says. "We all know
someone who's small, quiet, and unassuming, who somehow has an
amazing ability to speak to people about Jesus."
Listening skills, alongside preaching or apologetics, are highly
rated. "One of the reasons why Alpha or Christianity Explored have
been so successful is that people ask questions," Mr Coffey says.
"The ones who lead well listen carefully to what might lie behind
them, and respond."
Mr Lane agrees that listening is important. "I don't just mean
listening to people, but listening to the culture."
CANON Martyn Percy, the Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon,
and Professor of Theological Education at King's College, London,
sees evangelism as part of a much bigger picture, where mission
embraces hospitality, works of virtue, and outreach. He says that
research has shown that coming to faith is sometimes part of a
long, subtle process.
"It's not necessarily a Billy Graham-type meeting" where faith
is found, he says. Some people come to church "because their
partner died, and church was the only place that you can talk about
bereavement. . . Were it not for the faithfulness of the clergymen
or women, they probably wouldn't be there."
In an age of mass-production, he says, it has been tempting to
use a one-size-fits-all approach to evangelism. "But everything
these days is geared much more towards the personal, the local, the
Not everyone will find his or her way into a church. "There are
whole groups of people who have no contact with church, Christians,
or God," Canon Percy says.
Last year, Ripon College, Cuddesdon, launched a three-year
pathway in pioneer-leadership training, in association with the
Church Mission Society, which is designed to be suitable for those
selected for ordained pioneer ministry. Students have worked with
Goths and bikers, exploring unlikely contexts for church, such as
Mr Lane agrees that being "out there" is important. He
recognises Cliff College's Methodist heritage, with its Wesleyan
tradition of "preaching abroad". "The fear of proclamation should
not drive us away from the streets. God loves lost people. And,
therefore, we need to go where they are rather than just hoping
that they might somehow turn up at our place."
But, he admits, people need to work out ways in which to do
that. "Standing on a street corner with a big black Bible, shouting
at people, isn't going to work at all."
BIBLE or theological colleges are not the only places that are
training students to contextualise the gospel and spread its
message. The Church Army has recently been granted the status of
"Acknowledged Mission Community", which means that it is now able
to offer evangelism training to a wide range of people both inside
and outside the Anglican Church. This includes clergy, other
professionals, lay evangelists, and volunteers, as well as those
training to become Church Army evangelists.
The Acting Director of Education and Training at the Church
Army, the Revd Jane Truman, says: "We're looking at how we can
broaden what we offer. We want to offer training at different
levels, from recognised qualifications to dipping a toe in."
Training for Church Army evangelists lasts four years. The
course is 50 per cent practical, 50 per cent classroom teaching.
Practical placements are based at a Church Army-designated "centre
of mission", which can be anything from a red-light district to a
housing estate, and trainees are apprenticed to an experienced
Church Army evangelist.
Ms Truman hopes that this blend of action and theology, combined
with reflection on practical work, helps trainees to process their
experiences, particularly when they encounter suffering. "We go
into those places where people are dealing with enormous struggles.
It's about asking: how does my view of God and mission fit with
what I'm facing here?"
Many dioceses also now offer training for those whom it
recognises as having a gift for evangelism. In Chelmsford diocese,
the Mission and Evangelism Adviser, the Revd Charles Kosla, is in
the first year of running a course, "Evangelism Enablers", which
was originally developed by the Methodist Church.
The course encourages creative and critical thinking about
evangelism. One woman he trained spent time in a hospice: "She
said: 'Can you do evangelism in a hospice?' I said: 'That's
something you need to find out, and if you can't do it, that's
something to reflect on.' We try not to be prescriptive, but to get
them to look at what's best for their context."
The training does not end once the "evangelism enablers" return
to their churches. "If we want our parishes to be effective, we
don't just want one person doing it. We want one person teaching
others to do it."
The director of the Fellowship for Parish Evangelism, the Revd
George Fisher, agrees that the responsibility for evangelism falls
on all, not just on those in church leadership, or those in
training. "The role of the clergy is changing dramatically, from a
pastoral person who looks after his parish to someone who trains
Nor should responsibility fall exclusively on those seen as
having a gift for evangelism. Mr Fisher is committed to enabling
all members of a congregation to feel confident in sharing their
faith. "CPAS produced something years ago called Lost for
Words, which was a very simple course to help people tell
their story of faith. There are several other courses like it. I'd
love every Christian to be equipped to do that."
Mr Kosla acknowledges, however, that evangelism can have an
image problem. "When you mention the 'e-word' to some people, they
say: 'Oh no, Bible-bashing!" Part of my job is to say that this is
wonderful stuff. The reason you're here is that somebody, at some
point in history, bothered to share their faith."
WHETHER theology graduates go on to lead churches or not, do
their studies equip them to play a part in numerical church growth?
There are no guarantees, but colleges say that they feel
At LST, about half of the graduates end up in church leadership,
Dr McFarlane says. "An LST graduate has a very good name out in the
field. Three years' study is not sufficient preparation for
everything, but we provide phenomenal foundations."
At Mattersey Hall, Ms Buckner is confident that the students she
is training will help grow the Church. But she recognises that this
may not be in traditional ways: "They have a heart to do whatever
it takes. They're very creative. They're not willing to just do
church as normal."
"Moorlands has a [track] record," Mr Coffey says. "In this
region, two of our largest growing churches are led by Moorlands
graduates; and Roy Crowne, one of the leaders of the 'Hope'
initiative, studied here." But, he says, they are not
Canon Percy says that growth is about depth, however, not just
numbers. "Growth for its own sake, which doesn't produce fruit, is
problematic. The Church needs to take a rounded view."
Mr Lane agrees. "Students might go away and work with a small
group of 20 people for five years, but if those 20 people begin to
make a difference in the community, then you think, 'That'll