David Bosch shaped the missional conversation for a generation with his 1991 book Transforming Mission. In it, he developed two concepts which should be foundational for any congregation serious about engaging in the ministry of evangelism.
This first is that while the principles of mission apply to evangelism, not all mission is evangelism.
This means that we need to be deliberate about our understanding of evangelism. We cannot just assume because we are engaged in the mission of God that we are engaged in the ministry of evangelism. Many churches are beginning to understand this and are now asking how they can more deliberately engage in the ministry of evangelism?
The second concept helps with this engagement and is the distinction between dimensional and intentional evangelism.
Dimensional evangelism are those parts of church life which we might call ordinary. While not exhaustive, these are things like worship, Christian education, general programming, some parts of outreach initiatives and even pastoral care.
There is an evangelical dimension to them, but these are primarily things which happen within the life of the worshipping community. When they do come in contact with those outside the local community there is nothing specifically invitational about the encounter.
This is compared to intentional evangelism, which are those initiatives which deliberately are meant to engage the wider society outside the church. Again, while not exhaustive, it includes things such as advertising, personal invitations, some aspects of social justice work, online presence and some of our outreach efforts.
Today, this distinction is often called Attractive versus Invitational Evangelism. The understanding is that people will stay in churches they find attractive … if they like the preaching or the music, if they find the outreach meaningful and enjoy the community. These are things people are looking for in a church.
However good these things are, they retain people and they do not necessarily attract people.
This is an important distinction because as society grows in the areas of the unchurched and dechurched, and as new Canadians enter our land, they do not know our Anglican church. Consequently, the number of persons looking for churches on their own is shrinking. Therefore there is a shrinking number to retain as they look around for churches to make their own.
I also suspect most of us realize that we are much better in our churches at being attractive versus being invitational.
What to do then?
Given this understanding of dimensional and intentional evangelism, if a church wants to begin a deliberate ministry of evangelism, I would suggest the place to start is to get a working group together that is passionate about evangelism.
Then ask whoever upholds your parish in prayer to pray about this initiative as it begins and develops.
Make sure the first thing the group does is to do an evangelism audit; that is, make a list of what your church does which is invitational and a second list of what is attractive about it.
With that foundation of prayer and understanding in place we will come back next month and look at some subsequent steps.
The Reverend Canon Darcey Lazerte is Rector of St. Simon’s Oakville.
Building on his previous series (Niagara Anglican, September, October, November 2018) when Darcey examined the wider aspects of Evangelism, for this three-part series, he zeroes in on how local congregations can engage in the ministry of evangelism.