THE object of evangelism is not to “squeeze” people into church, a new booklet from the Archbishops’ task group says.
The 24-page booklet, Evangelism for the Local Church, is being sent to every diocese with a message from the two Archbishops: “This isn’t an off-the-shelf programme that guarantees a full church.” Instead, following the suggestions in the booklet would lead, they say, to “the renewal of those taking part”.
The booklet, which grows out of the Thy Kingdom Come prayer initiative, describes evangelism as a four-stage “virtuous circle”.
Contact: “the initial relationships — probably already existing — of those God has brought into your path.” Nurture: “an intentional investment in specific events that seek to grow the initial contact”. Commitment: “the specific issuing of the invitation to people to follow Jesus Christ”. Growth: “the development of the faith that has begun. In this way a person is grafted into the community of faith.”
The booklet warns against traditional approaches to evangelism: “Too often we ask how we can get more people to come to church. But we mustn’t start with church and then wonder how to squeeze people in. We must start with people, with their questions and needs.
“So instead try asking, ‘How can we serve these people with whom we already have contact in such a way as to make the gospel intriguing, challenging and appealing?’”
Every contact is an evangelistic opportunity, the booklet says; but it warns that this is “a privilege that mustn’t be abused”. The offer has no strings attached, and in the end, people choose whether they become Christians or not.
A key message of the booklet is that churchgoers must be more intentional in their relationship with others. On events, for example, it says: “Unless the gospel is shared, it’s just another social gathering.” Referring to Christ’s words about becoming fishers of people, the booklet’s authors say: “at some point we want to make a catch.”
None the less, the message is not just about doing things: “The best evangelism of all is the Christ-like witness of ordinary Christians in their daily lives.”
The booklet includes four case studies from a range of churches, including one liberal Catholic parish.