By the Rev. Mary Vano, rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock, Ark.
I’ll never forget the day St. David’s, Austin received an incredible bequest. At the time, I was the associate priest for Newcomers and Evangelism. There was money given for everything from youth ministries to music. One line item was pertinent to me: $10,000 designated for evangelism.
That brought up an immediate question: “How do we spend $10,000 on evangelism?”
Evangelism, in its purest form, is not something we can buy. In its most effective form, evangelism happens when one person lovingly brings the Good News of God in Christ to another. Unlike what we see in tent revivals and flashy TV broadcasts, the best evangelism happens when stories of faith are shared authentically, when Christians take time to listen deeply and generously to someone who shares his own stories, doubts and questions, and when we practice genuine kindness toward one another. That is evangelism, and it doesn’t cost any money.
However, it does require intention. Just as we have to work to make our churches truly welcoming places, we also have to give some attention to teaching and equipping our members to be evangelists. Of course, most of our members would say that they don’t want to be evangelists! They “don’t believe in pressuring others to join their church.” Most have a negative connotation associated with evangelism. Many are afraid to, and don’t know how to, talk about their faith. It’s a challenge that we must face. For seven years I led the evangelism efforts of this parish, and here are some things I learned:
1. We must redefine and reclaim evangelism, sharing by word and example the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. We need to teach evangelism so that so-called “evangelicals” do not get to define the practice of evangelism. Make evangelism part of your curriculum for newcomers, and have open discussions on this topic in classes for adults and youth.
2. Help people learn to tell their stories and articulate their faith. Give people plenty of opportunities to share their experiences of faith, in small groups, classes and retreats. People who practice are more likely to share outside the church as well.
3. Equip and encourage members to make an invitation. Printed materials, such as business cards showing service times or postcards advertising the Christmas schedule, give people an easy way to invite a friend to worship or to a parish event. Printed materials must be professional and attractive, but they don’t have to be expensive. Some people put the cards out at their business, or tuck the Christmas invitation in with their own Christmas cards.
Teaching and equipping people of faith to be evangelists is sometimes challenging and requires commitment, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive.
Are you wondering now how we spent $10,000 on evangelism? We installed a new exterior sign, increasing our visibility and making it easier for guests to find us. Then we designed nine beautiful, compelling invitations, including redeemable coupons for breakfast, coffee and gifts, and mailed them over a period of months to 3,000 of our closest neighbors.
There wasn’t a huge response. Evangelism doesn’t happen in mailboxes. But, I believe it was worth every penny, because our effort into that project and the resulting ads created a new kind of energy and pride in our community. Most of the new members that we welcomed did not receive the ads in their mailbox, but rather from the hand of one of our members, personally inviting them to try out our community. Our church has hundreds of visitors every year because people have experienced the love of Christ and know how to share it.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2011 issue of Diolog, a publication of the Diocese of Texas.