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Beware the off-putting evangelists

06 November 2015

Time for a rethink? The evangelism story in Saturday’s Telegraph

Time for a rethink? The evangelism story in Saturday’s Telegraph

TO A dispiriting press conference on Friday. Everyone was extremely cheerful; William Fittall, the Synod’s outgoing secretary-general, was positively demob-happy as he presented a report from the Evangelical Alliance and the Church of England entitled Talking Jesus.

But the report itself had nothing to cheer anyone up. All credit to John Bingham from the Telegraph, who was the first and fastest reader of the booklet in the press conference, and spotted the table on page 20 which showed that 60 per cent of those approached for a conversation about Jesus felt more negative about him as a result.

In fact, those approached for conversations were more likely than not to report that they did not want to know more about Jesus Christ; that they were not open to an experience or encounter with him; that they felt glad not to share the Christians’ faith; and that they felt more negative towards Jesus as a result of the conversation, and less close to the person who had been talking to them.

The only positive was that more people felt comfortable about the conversation than otherwise. But they were, of course, feeling comfortable about their rejection of, or indifference to, Christianity.

These statistics may be all rubbish. It’s absolutely certain that the Evangelicals polled grotesquely overestimated the frequency of their attempts to convert the world: a third of them reported a conversation about Jesus with an unbeliever in the previous week — a rate that would ensure that every hapless non-Christian in the country was approached once every four or five months.

The non-Christians, when asked, report dramatically lower figures. About a third of them don’t think they know any Christians at all. Of those who do, more than half have never discussed Jesus with them.

If you take the figures seriously, as Church House apparently does, they are very hard to spin in a positive direction. None the less, the booklet concludes that the only thing wrong with talking about Jesus is that it doesn’t happen often enough: "We need to talk about him to more people, more often, and more relevantly. The research shows that so many of us are already talking about Jesus." Oh, really.

If this is the kind of thing on which the Church of England pins its hopes, it really is doomed. Relevant here is another number from the report: "93 per cent of practising Christians came to faith more than 11 years ago."

The Times went with a straight reading of the report: "Christians who speak openly about their faith with friends and colleagues are three times more likely to put them off God than attract them, research carried out privately by the Church of England has found."


STILL, for really unpopular missionaries, you need to go to the Tablighi Jamaat. The rejection of their plans for a huge mosque in east London was widely reported. In the Express, the London Evening Standard, and The Sunday Telegraph, it was a building "three times the size of St Paul’s Cathedral", a phrase that neatly encapsulated the visceral objections to the building.

The Sunday Telegraph, as you would expect, was the best informed of the hostile papers. Andrew Gilligan wrote that the mosque had linked online to a YouTube video of one of the leading opponents, and his wife and daughter, which had been titled: "In memory of Alan Craig".

During the Newham planning process, protesters from a body called the Newham People’s Alliance (NPA), set up to express "community support" for the mosque, blockaded the council offices where the planning committee was meeting.

The NPA included extremists connected to Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of neighbouring Tower Hamlets, who had been disqualified for corruption and vote-rigging.

The Guardian’s report was as long, but contained more vox pop from the streets of Newham: two interviewees, one of them an ex- Muslim, rejected the scheme, and only one was in favour.


ON A lighter note, Harriet Sherwood had a very funny piece in The Guardian about the Kabbalah movement. She interviewed its leader here, who "describes himself as a ‘fully observant Jew’, and, indeed, wears a yarmulke, a Jewish skullcap. This he describes as a ‘source of energy, a conduit for an ‘infinite light power’ that ‘streams through the cosmos’."

This represents a technological breakthrough. Up till now, the only way a hat could work like that was with the help of a little propeller on the top.


OVER in New York, they do not write headlines the way that we do. Witness this wrap-up on the Synod in Rome: "Catholic paper on Family is hailed by all sides, raising fears of disputes." It’s worth remembering this every time you come across a report of an agreed communiqué.

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