Sharing the gift – Evangelising effectively
Transforming Presence has always been an agenda for mission and particularly for evangelism. There has been a sober acknowledgement across the diocese that many parishes weren’t necessarily very good at evangelism. Most of the models being used rested on the premise that either people knew about the Christian faith and were just waiting for an invitation to sign up, or had lapsed from faith and might one day return. There was an agreement that the diocese needed to start again with some basic training. And that’s what has happened.
In 2013 and 2014 very nearly 5,000 people took part in training events across the diocese. We made the centenary of the diocese a year of outreach and mission. Hundreds of parishes put on ‘Mission Weekends’, that is some sort of celebration event that included opportunities for people to experience something of the Christian community, find out more about the Christian faith, and be invited to take a next step. All this was a tremendous success. As the stories below show, many parishes did new things and reached out to their communities in new ways. But there is still a long way to go. What happened in 2014 must continue: small scale ‘do-it-yourself ’ evangelistic events needs to be the new business as usual.
To support this we aspire to having an evangelist or an evangelism enabler in every Mission and Ministry Unit. Brilliant work has taken place to train these people and there are now seven centres teaching a foundational ‘Certificate in Evangelism’ that can lead on to training as an Evangelism Enabler. Newham deanery has developed their own imaginative training scheme as described below. Some of our evangelists are now members of the wider Church Army mission community.
Doing evangelism needs to be as normal as the Christmas market or the Harvest supper. This is beginning to happen, but further work is needed to train lay people and clergy, and to get the discipline of evangelism into the bloodstream of the local Church.
A lot has been learned. In particular, reflecting on the ministry of evangelism both after the year of mission and as a result of Time for Talk 2, we can affirm that evangelism is effective when:
- A small group of people take responsibility for this ministry – that’s why every benefice should have an evangelist or an evangelism enabler.
- The local Church puts on regular evangelistic events – that’s why it’s still important to think about having a mission weekend (or something like it) every year.
- There is proper follow up – pastoral and catechetical. People become part of the Church when they feel they belong. This is about pastoral care. People nowadays know very little about the Christian faith, therefore for most of them becoming a Christian is like a journey. This about ongoing nurture and catechesis. Therefore every local Church needs to provide opportunities for people to find out about the Christian faith and to explore it with others. This is why nurture courses like Alpha or Pilgrim or Christianity Explored are so important. Every Church – or group of Churches in a Mission and Ministry Unit – ought to be putting on a course at least once a year.
And there are other ways of evangelising that can also be explored.
Fresh expressions and Pioneer Ministry
We have already achieved much; work by the Church Army shows that Fresh Expressions in this diocese are being successful in drawing in those who once went to Church and those who have never been to Church. In March 2014 the Diocesan Synod passed this motion:
This Synod welcomes the Audit of Fresh Expressions and rejoices in the effective mission exercised by a good variety of Fresh Expressions in our diocese. We therefore: (a) Reaffirm our commitment to becoming a ‘mixed economy Church’, developing both new and inherited forms of mission and ministry; one of the principles set out in Reimagining Ministry, (b) Urge deaneries, benefices and parishes to actively consider what mix of Fresh Expressions, pioneer and inherited forms of ministry is appropriate in each of our Mission and Ministry Units, and ensure deanery resourcing plans take full account of these, and (c) Commit to on-going evaluation of coverage and effectiveness of Fresh Expressions and pioneer ministries through the Area Mission and Pastoral Committees and Archdeacons visitations.
A recent development is the opening of the St Cedd’s Centre in Havering Deanery. This is an imaginative project which draws together resources from the Church of the Good Shepherd with those of the diocese and the national expertise of the Church Mission Society to provide a hub for equipping lay pioneer ministers. A different type of hub with similar aims is being planned for Colchester.
Mission Priority Areas
A Mission Priority Area is:
- a planned (or existing) housing estate that isn’t really being served by any of the parishes or one that straddles several parish boundaries.
- a people group such as young people or men or families that many Churches struggle to attract.
- a social need that is particular to your deanery and that could be met in some way if the Churches worked more closely together.
- a community drawn from a different cultural or ethnic background, some of whom may be Christians
- a Church which is really struggling, perhaps unable to pay its share and with an ageing and dwindling congregation, or making a low impact in terms of average attendance relative to the size of the population.
- a successful Church on the threshold of breakthrough to higher numbers or planting out.
- a local FE College, Secondary School or cluster of Primary Schools
One of the next stages of the strategy for growing the Church is for every Mission and Ministry Unit to work out its priority areas, and begin to think which ones to focus on first. 2 One of the signs of this working will be the emergence and development of more new Churches and fresh expressions of Church right across the diocese. There is a close connection between evangelism and social justice. The more we are engaged effectively in the world the more people will see and be challenged by the gospel of Christ.
As with each of these four priorities it is important to see the overlaps between them. The distinctive living out of the Christian life by individuals and Church communities will be one of the surest ways in which those outside the Church see the influence and attractiveness of Christ and will be prompted to want to find out more.
Worship and evangelism
There are also liturgical implications; that is implications for the way the Church worships. What sort of welcome do people get in our Churches? How geared up are we to welcome new people? How might our worship, whatever the tradition of a particular Church, be renewed so that it can be the very best offering possible? If the Church delivers dull and uninspiring worship no amount of evangelism will help.
As we move forward, longing to share with others the good of the gospel that we have received, we would expect to become a Church which is more confident about its faith and better equipped to tell its story. Evangelistic ministry will be business as usual. Worship will be diverse, welcoming and engaging. There will be more Church, not less. The number of adults being baptised and confirmed each year should increase as should the overall attendance per head of population.
- every Mission and Ministry Unit identifies their particular mission priority areas
- an Evangelist or Evangelism Enabler in every Mission and Ministry Unit
- regular, annual evangelistic events
- a nurture course run at least once in every benefice every year
- thinking ‘school’ as well as ‘congregation’ in planning mission where there is a Church school or Sparrows nursery in the area.
- training in the parishes for people to be able to tell their faith story
- worship that encourages people to stay and learnmore
- training and deployment of pioneer ministers
- integrated concern for social action and justice
What might be the indicators that we are evangelisingeffectively? Potentially there are many, including:
- How many Mission and Ministry Units have Evangelism Enablers or similar
- Identified Mission Priority Areas
- Adults coming forward for baptism and confirmation
- Growth of Church plants and fresh expressions
- Availability of enquirer and nurture courses locally and take up
- Reach in the population – attendance at all forms of Church as a proportion of the population
We can’t make this happen. God is the evangelist not us. But we do believe that our faithfulness to these first two priorities will make us a luminous Church, that is, a Church which shines brightly with the brilliance and beauty of the gospel because it is living a faithful, distinctive Christian life in and for the world and because it is wanting to share that life with others. In the Bible faithfulness leads to fruitfulness. Our task is simply to be faithful in these things that God has set before us and trust, that the Lord of the Harvest will gather in the crops that we have sown.
This is also the apostolic vocation of the Church. God has called us in order to be sent, and it is those ministries of witness in daily life, faith in action for the building of the kingdom of God in the world, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ that are the ‘sent out’ bit of our Christian vocation.
Some stories from around the diocese
As St Saviour’s, Westcliff-on-Sea, discovered, evangelism can start with quite unexpected aspects of Church life, as a way to reach out to the immediate community and those further afield. Churchwarden Robert Palmer tells their story.
The World War 1 memorial in St Saviour’s Church contains the names of 196 men who lost their lives during the course of the war. Every year in November, the Church congregation would stand in front of the memorial and say that ‘we will remember them’. But in 2014 we realised that, 100 years since the start of the war, we actually knew nothing about any of them. So as our response to Bishop Stephen’s call to mission, we decided to find out as much as possible about these men and, if possible, to find any living relatives.
For some, only rank and regiment could be found, but for others we also identified the place of burial, and a number of living relatives have been tracked down and invited to visit the Church. We gathered together all of the information into a book which was sent to relatives. The project is still ongoing, and has enabled the Church to make contact with people within the local community and beyond who are grateful that the sacrifice made by relatives has not been forgotten. We knew it had all been worthwhile when, last Christmas, a card was received from a lady in Belgium which said, “Thanks to you our grandfather has somewhere to be remembered”.
The ‘Hope on Sea Mission’ was the name given to the Southend Deanery’s response to Bishop Stephen’s call for 2014 to be a time for Missionary Initiatives. The Revd Canon Stephen Burdett describes what took place.
Our Deanery decided on a joint venture in addition to any that the parishes were undertaking on their own. It took place in the last week of September so as to incorporate ‘Back to Church’ Sunday, and nearly all the parishes of the Deanery took part. We were supported and encouraged by the Missionary Organisation ‘Through Faith Missions’, 24 members of which stayed with our congregations for the week.
Our Mission was called ‘Hope On Sea’ so as to copy the Council’s branding of events in Southend such as ‘Fun on Sea’, ‘Art on Sea’, ‘Jazz on Sea’, etc. We advertised widely including large posters on bus stops throughout the Borough.
There were many outdoor events, including Beach Missions and a permanent group of us in the Royal Shopping Centre where we conducted a ‘Faith Survey ‘and offered opportunities for prayer, including prayers written on sea shells hanging from a fishing net.
Bishop John gave an inspirational talk on his crossing of the Atlantic with 20 others in a small vessel. This took place at the Thorpe Bay Yacht Club and involved many visitors who did not go to Church.
It was a splendid week, with the added bonus that our Churches worked closely together and it has left us thinking about what we can do next.
Archdeacon John Perumbalath tells the story of how we are becoming a multi-lingual diocese by reaching out to different communities.
We have had well-established Urdu (Forest Gate, Ilford) and Filipino (Walthamstow) congregations in our diocese for some time. Over the last two years we have established Malayalam (East Ham), Bulgarian (Stratford), Portuguese and Spanish (Barking) congregations. These congregations enable migrant Christians to worship and celebrate their sacraments in their mother tongues. They function effectively as a congregation of the parish Church where they worship under the general pastoral care of the host incumbent but draw people from different parts of East London and beyond. These congregations include former members of Anglican Churches overseas and through them we are now exploring how our ties with their mother Churches could be made more effective and concrete. Where liturgical provision in their own language is not available within the Church of England, these congregations use liturgy in their vernacular language as authorised in their mother Churches. These developments have helped us as a diocese to move towards being a global Church in our own context, offering hospitality to many migrant Christians and in turn being enriched by their vibrant faith and practice.
I take a personal interest in this work and, as the only Malayalam speaking priest in this diocese, celebrate the Eucharist with this particular congregation.
The Revd Ann Mackenzie tells about a mission event at the Church of Our Saviour, in Chelmer Village, Chelmsford.
Having been inspired at an evangelism training session in 2013 led by Bishop Stephen, one of our members suggested holding an Art Exhibition as he and one or two other Church members are amateur artists involved with local art clubs. This idea grew to include a children`s art competition on the theme of My Essex, a craft fair and an evening reception with Bishop Stephen as our guest speaker – four different events to attract different groups of people.
We took over a year to plan and put the event on and combined it with fundraising for our new building project. It was a lot of hard work for the organising team – encouraging Church members to get involved and making connections with the local community – but in the end we would all say it was very worthwhile as we were able to open our Church, welcome several hundred people and share something of our faith in Jesus too. On reflection we may have been a bit ambitious with the four different events happening at once but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The Revd Sarah Haywood tells an astonishing story of unexpected and profligate growth at St Paul’s Braintree and the establishment of a new congregation through Messy Church. God worked a miracle here at St Paul’s Church, Braintree. The Toddler Group needed something fun and free to do in the summer holidays. Parents told us not to organise something for a weekend, because lots of children go to their dads then. They told us the sorts of things that work for them. And they told us that what mattered most was to be welcomed with friendly faces and not have their children frowned upon for making noise or being messy. We LISTENED.
Our Messy Fun Day ran on a Thursday, with advertising that emphasised the invitation to “Come dressed to get messy” and pictures of children having a wild time. None of us expected to see over 238 children and their grown-ups piling in to Church – more than 500 people in total. Like feeding the 5,000, or casting our nets for a big catch, it was truly a miracle.
The greatest miracle is that we gathered over 50 volunteers in a Church with an electoral roll of 42, and that these volunteers from Church and community are still coming to the subsequent Messy Church where over 100 people turn up and engage with a simple Gospel truth each time. AMAZING!