Making New Disciples: Exploring the paradoxes of evangelism
Mark Ireland and Mike Booker
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
HOW do people come to faith today? What nurtures new disciples? How effective are courses such as Alpha and Emmaus? What part is played by Fresh Expressions of church? What about children’s evangelism and parish missions?
Thirteen years ago, Mark Ireland and Mike Booker set out to survey the world of evangelism and discipleship in UK Anglicanism. The resulting book, Evangelism: Which way now?, rapidly established itself as a balanced and trustworthy guide to what for many was new terrain. Particularly valued was the authors’ nuanced take on the growing phenomenon of Alpha: appreciative, but far from uncritical.
A great deal has happened in the intervening years, both in society and Church. Rather than attempt a second revision of the earlier book, Ireland and Booker have paid another visit to the same terrain with a view to fresh mapping. Consequently, this book largely updates and replaces the earlier one. The authors chart changes in church attendance and in the perception of faith communities in our culture, highlighting shifts that have taken place since the earlier research. Statistics are supplemented with snapshots of current practice around the UK.
Dedicated chapters explore the rise of Mission Action Planning at parish level, Messy Church, Fresh Expressions, and the changing world of Alpha. In each case, the authors present a sympathetic overview, as well as discuss the weaknesses and limitations of each. There are helpful chapters on newer courses, and the rise of projects for the common good of society — such as Street Pastors, foodbanks, and credit unions.
Ireland and Booker see signs of hope in the growth of missional communities based on monastic and early Methodist models. They are inspired and intrigued by the research showing that nearly half of all new Anglican churches are led by “lay-lay” people — in other words, those not ordained and with no formal training or accreditation.
As an up-to-date map of the mission landscape of UK Anglicanism, this is an essential guide for church leaders and all who have an interest in church and outreach in today’s world.
But if the book’s strength is its clear focus and defined boundaries, this is also its limitation. What about the wilds beyond the edges of this particular map? In my own community, for example, there is a non-denominational church popular among twenty-somethings which confidently expects that in any given week a good half-dozen people will come to faith for the first time, and they are rarely wrong.
Here be dragons? Or Shangri-La? I, for one, would welcome a wider map from the insightful Ireland and Booker, one that includes regions beyond our own.
The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for the Church Army and author of the Faith Pictures evangelism course.