Evangelism: some invitational approaches (Part Three)

Darcy LDarcey Lazerte 

This month we conclude our series on evangelism and how we begin locally by looking at what is often termed “invitational” evangelism. 

This is something most Anglican churches in Canada have little experience in, as in the past we have primarily depended upon the “attractive” model of evangelism.  

We built good churches and for a time filled them, through favourable immigration policies (England and the West Indies), with the hope that we would retain young families when they brought their children to be baptized.  

Immigration patterns have changed, and infant baptism rates have plummeted, which means that we need new methods of evangelism, hence invitational evangelism.

When looking at the mission field, experts often speak of the “unchurched” and the “dechurched”. In my opinion this forgets “new Canadians”, a group which has filled our churches since the beginning.  

Also, it needs to be noted that first nations people are a significant part of our identity, but addressing this is beyond the scope of this article.  

So, let us take a look at each of these areas with an eye to evangelism and with the understanding that there is no set solution, but rather something communities need to discern, sometimes alone and sometimes in partnership with other churches and dioceses.  

It also should be noted that alongside these evangelical initiatives there needs to be a high-profile online presence, as a majority of people do learn about faith communities on the internet.

The Unchurched

The Unchurched are a group which is growing and, according to all data, are spiritually hungry.  

With no foundation in the Christian tradition they do not speak the language of the Christian faith, but they do share the same existential questions we all face.  Many argue that this group is not unlike the Gentile converts to early Christianity.  

Approaches with some success have been Alpha, church in a pub, lecture/discussion series, some of the missional church endeavours and social justice partnerships where the lived faith is seen.

The Dechurched

The Dechurched are another growing segment in Canadian society. 

Fully twenty-five percent of Canadians indicate “no religious affiliation” as of 2011, the bulk of which are one-time Roman Catholic, United and Anglican church persons.  

The challenge here is that those who have stepped away from their faith often have a deep cynicism when it comes to organized religion.  

Approaches which have produced some results are “Back to Church Sunday”, the pastoral offices and personal invitation.  As well, parish records (parish lists to pastoral office) of past and lapsed parishioners, can be approached in an invitational manner.

New Canadians

At over 350,000 per year, New Canadians are a group which should not be forgotten.  

Many readers of this paper are familiar with the Oakville Chinese Missional initiative. This builds on others’ experience, most notably, the diocese of Toronto where retired Bishop Patrick Yu leads an investment made of $100,000 a year for five years meant to reach out to this community.  

It also builds on a long church tradition of locally raised up missioners/evangelists who know how to contextualize the Christian gospel to new communities.  

As Canada truly is a nation of immigrants, this is an initiative which needs to move beyond just the Mandarin community.

Closing thought

While far from comprehensive when the mission field is looked at in this manner, what it does is allow evangelism initiatives to be clear about where and in what context the gospel is being proclaimed. 

It also lets a church identify their mission field and put a prayerful plan into place.

The Reverend Canon Darcey Lazerte is Rector of St. Simon’s Oakville.