From a parish ministry perspective, evangelism often gets broken down between the attractive and the invitational.
The attractive looks at what a church offers. What is its music, what does it do for youth, what is its style of worship and how does the community feel?
These are important, since what our Sunday worship is like and how our communities conduct themselves are significant, but there are limitations.
What one person enjoys musically another does not — the same goes for liturgy. In Canada, many smaller pastoral size churches simply do not have the resources to offer many options.
So, what often ends up happening is that those parishes which are resourced and have more to offer retain and attract more newcomers, and those that are less well resourced attract fewer.
The result is that as we look at our churches it is not a matter of healthy or unhealthy parishes consistently across a diocese, but rather parishes can be broken down between growing, maintaining and declining. This reality one might call contraction and it makes some sense.
As the number of practicing Anglicans declines, it’s not that we should close all churches. Rather we need to adjust the number of church buildings to service the adherents we have, since those who continue to walk with us in faith will choose parishes to which they are attracted.
That said, we need to be careful we do not fall into a totally consumerist approach when it comes to looking at what we offer as churches. This is not a very compelling vision, but there is some necessity to it, so that we appropriately deploy the resources we have in order to collectively continue in God’s mission.
As some have argued, the defining characteristic of the North American church is that it exists within a free market of religions, and without any state funding it really falls upon the various churches to ensure their own survival.
Turning to the invitational approach, as the name suggests, this is what churches do to invite others to walk with them in faith.
It will surprise no one that this is not something Anglicans in Canada are traditionally adept at, but it is something we need to grow in, in terms of proficiency.
Invitational evangelism is those acts we deliberately do to invite people to our churches to be a part of our worshipping community. These include adult baptism, engagement in mission and a positive response to stewardship by those who are newer to our churches.
With regards to invitational evangelism there are both passive and deliberate approaches.
The passive are such things as web and/or social media presence, advertising campaigns, church signs and wide community invitations.
Deliberate invitations include an invitation to a church or Alpha program by active members, embracing “Back to Church Sunday” or invitations and follow ups to special services at All Saints and All Souls or seasonal celebrations. Efforts to reach specific groups, campaigns to reach out to lapsed members or to past baptismal/confirmation candidates and their families are further examples.
These deliberate acts of evangelism can be found both in wider church programming and mission, and in opportunities which are unique to the local context.
Given the new reality that church participation is no longer a given in our society and the contraction we are experiencing as Anglicans, it is important we do not just assume the attitude of “build it and they will come” (which is really the attractive model) – we must begin to be deliberate about invitation.
The Reverend Canon Darcey Lazerte is Rector of St. Simon’s Oakville.
Read Part One here. Next month, this series concludes by looking at some invitational models of evangelism more closely.