It's time that the church had a conversation about the dreaded E-word.
No not that E Word, silly. (Is there an E Word by the way?) I'm talking about Evangelism.
I say that in as hushed a tone as I can because, like it or not, evangelism has fallen on hard times in progressive, grace-oriented Churches of Christ.
There are quite a few reasons for the oversight:
1) Some of us grew up knocking doors. And once we left home, we vowed we would never knock on another door if we could help it.
That's the beauty of text messaging. I text my friends and have them open the door for me because the action itself takes me back to horrible memories. (Just kidding.)
2) When we stepped out of our legalism, we left behind a message that lent itself to hit-and-run evangelism.
What is hit-and-run evangelism? Hit-and-run evangelism occurs when you have no relationship with a person you are sharing the gospel with. It often happens when you ask someone a question like, " Where would you end up if you died tonight?" Who thought reminding people of their mortality would be a great introduction to a meaningful, life-changing conversation anyway? The run part happens after our "target" or "lost person" (Both are odd jargon for someone who doesn't know Jesus. Who thought those terms up anyway?) awkwardly wiggled out of the awkward situation we created for them.
And then we would quote Luke 10, "shook the dust off our feet," and checked one more person off of our checklist. We did our part. That was what was important.*
3) We weren't sure who we were trying to convert anymore.
There was a time when anyone who wasn't Church of Christ was a person who needed to be converted. But when we realized the kingdom was more expansive than our little tribe, we lost the us/them dichotomy that was so clear in the old model.
If we aren't converting all of those people, then who are we converting? We had our notes for how to defeat a Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, or Methodist. But our playbook for people without a church background was lacking.
4) Others of us discovered that we could tell people that Evangelism wasn't our gift and we wouldn't be forced to do it as long as we used our gifts in other meaningful ways for the sake of the kingdom.
These are just a few of the many reasons we let the E Word disappear from our vocabulary and practice.
Evangelism, in the churches I've spent time in, is all but extinct.
And it's one of the reasons most of our churches are plateaued or declining. Some of our churches have kept the illusion of growth because they are in booming suburbs. Others have benefitted from the implosion of other churches in their area. And a few churches truly have grown through new Christians.
This is the first in a series blog posts I am writing on the E Word: Evangelism.
But I want to begin by confessing my own sins. I am not an evangelist. I did not grow up in an evangelistic household (Mom and Dad, it's one of the very few growth areas I have from the heritage you have passed on to me). But I want to change that in the years to come. I want to change the future of my family and my church toward this goal.
There are plenty of churches out there who are content to reach churched people. As long as they grow, it doesn't matter if the kingdom grows or not.
I don't want to be a part of that church. Do you?
The church ought to be one of the only organizations who exists for those who not a part of us yet.
But these days, I feel like we're a church for Christians rather than a church for the world.
I'm beginning to wonder if our more conservative brothers and sisters have something right that we've lost. A burden for the lost. A passion to give good news to people who need good news.
But I think we can do better than the old methods. And over the next few weeks, I hope to suggest a way forward.
What are your experiences with evangelism? What keeps you from sharing your faith?
*Though I am hard on old evangelistic techniques, I do not mean to suggest that conversions by the old methods are any less important in the kingdom. Jule Miller film strips have saved many people. So has door knocking. People who don't share the good news haven't saved anyone.