What the Mainline Denominations Are Doing in Evangelism
by Alfred C. Krass
Mr. Krass is co-pastor of the United Christian Church in Levittown, Pennsylvania. This article appeared in the Christian Century May 2, 1979, p. 490. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Evangelism in the U.S. today, as practiced by the denominations, is a very different thing from what it has been in the past -- and it is constantly changing.
In recent months I have served the Evangelism Working Group of the National Council of Churches as a part-time consultant, compiling a report on what the denominations are doing in evangelism today -- and what they are not doing. The working group has an extremely broad constituency, including not only member communions of the NCC but also the Christian Reformed Church, two of the Churches of God denominations, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the American Lutheran Church. The United Church of Canada has also participated.
A word of caution is in order: the materials used for this study -- a two-foot-high pile of manuals, textbooks, pamphlets and memos -- came from denominational secretaries of evangelism. Many denominations, do not have separate evangelism departments but expect those to whom evangelism is assigned to work closely with people in other departments of church life. That one denomination’s approach seems more holistic than another’s may not in fact reflect the actual degree of holism. It may simply mean that in that denomination evangelism is a separate function -- and therefore needs to develop a holism of its own -- or that the materials sent me represent a larger slice of that denomination’s life than what others would call “evangelism pure and simple.” Even when the constellation that different groups have in mind in speaking of “evangelism” differs, what they say about it is revelatory of how they conceive of the communication of the faith and the church’s relationship to the world.
The first question raised by a reading of these materials is: In what ways do they all agree? What is accepted by all may not be talked about as much as what people differ about, but it is often more significant. Is there a common Gestalt to the evangelism practiced by these denominations? I found seven common characteristics.
1. Proclaiming the Word. Again and again I encounter evidence of the conviction that this is a time to emphasize “naming the Name” and calling people to discipleship. There is a suggestion that the past decade or more was a period during which the proclamation of the word was insufficiently emphasized. Some denominations express the interrelation between word and deed by speaking of “word-and-deed,” “word-in-deed,” or “doing, being and telling.” This is not merely a trick, a way of convincing diehard social activists (“We’ve got to talk about the deed in order to bring them along”), but rather a way in which the gospel is conceived. The phrase “the whole gospel for the whole person” recurs time and again. Every denomination stresses the importance of social concern, of a gospel that affects life.
2. Emphasizing the local. Likewise the literature is constant in its affirmation of the centrality of the local congregation to evangelism. “The goal of evangelism,” says the Reformed Church in America’s Equipping the Evangelist, “is not decisions, but incorporation into the body of Christ.” Let’s place this feature within a historical context. A decade ago, the catchwords were “the church inside out” and “the church for others.” In the current literature I detect not a rejection of those earlier slogans but rather an affirmation that, unless there is a church, there cannot be a “church for others.” The vision of a church that serves has by no means been replaced by the image of a self-serving church. But there is a new appreciation of the importance of the gathered congregation. One cannot become a member of Christ’s body without relating to a particular congregation of believers. The church, as it engages in evangelism, apologizes for this fact or sidesteps it at the peril of its own institutional survival and at the peril of the new believer’s life in Christ.
3. Renewing the church. That the foregoing is not simply a matter of institutional survival becomes clear when we consider the third characteristic the writings on evangelism have in common: a recognition that the church itself needs to be renewed.
The literature of the denominations emphasizes our learning of the Story as we prepare to share it with others, our becoming the people of God as we go out to invite others to join God’s people. This understanding squares well with my own experience. Whenever I’ve led evangelism workshops in recent years, the church people who have studied the word they are to go out to spread have heard that word as if for the first time. My assumption that we were simply reviewing an old, old story has been challenged by the freshness with which it hits them. Over and over again, when people are asked to strategize for evangelism, their first thought is to turn to those in their own congregation -- active members in most cases. “Let’s have an evangelism retreat in which they can participate,” they say, or “Let’s have a series of meetings in our church for the members to learn the Story.”
There is a real danger that no evangelism ad extra will take place at all if this impulse is followed too strongly: the church will spend its whole time doing evangelism ad intra. Nonetheless; if we heed what the Spirit is telling the churches these days, we will recognize the importance of church renewal. Only renewed communities can be agents of renewal.
4. Methods. Several characteristics that come under the heading of “methodology” seem to be shared by all the churches, and they show that the emphasis on dialogue and interpersonal relations during the past decade has had a profound effect.
The first is the overwhelmingly negative connotation attached to the word “manipulation.” To manipulate, all seem to agree, is dehumanizing and demonic. Evangelism must not become a form of religious manipulation. The Church of the Brethren lays down this principle:
Let our evangelism respect the integrity of individuals. No matter how reasonable the claims of the gospel may seem, many persons will exercise their God-given right to say No. There is no place in the gospel for manipulating the response of people, for forcing a decision or for requiring a commitment that does not honestly represent a free response to God’s invitation to life. God does not twist our arm. He respects our need to be ourselves even as he offers to help us become more than we are. . . .
Second, there is an affirmation of the importance of relating to those we wish to evangelize instead of merely preaching at them. Therefore, the denominations tend to “sit loose” with packaged programs. They are open in most cases to a variety of styles, all of them to be related to the actual people to whom the evangelizers go.
The Reformed Church in America warns those using its evangelism training manual against the temptation to think of the program as a mechanical formula to be followed. Our Western penchant for technology makes us want to try to program the Spirit, say the writers, but the Spirit works rather in freedom. To use a manual slavishly makes it become “a burden on our backs holding us down rather than wings helping us fly.”
“Gimmickry” is another word used pejoratively throughout the literature. There is a general suspicion of campaign and crusade evangelism. “Relational evangelism” is rather what people look for -- evangelism that leads us to become involved with the people to whom we go. An important consequence of this attitude is that we ourselves are vulnerable. D. T. Niles’s dictum that “evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food” is quoted in the documents almost as often as the Great Commission itself! “Do not hesitate to speak about your weaknesses, doubts, and fears,” Arman Ulbrich counsels his Missouri Synod readers. “The more ready you are to reveal yourself to them, the more likely they will be to confide in you.”
What it all adds up to is authenticity. “You need to say what’s true for you,” the Brethren counsel prospective visitors in evangelism, “and you need to use words that are yours.” This is clearly a new phase in the, history of American evangelism. No longer is evangelism a top/bottom type of thing, whereby we “preach down” to others from a position of superiority and invulnerability. The attitude that “I’ve got the answers and your task is to get them from me” -- which characterized the social action movement at its worst as much as it characterized evangelism -- has been replaced by a new relational approach to people from within a sense of common humanity.
Many persons have been critical of the “I’m OK/ You’re OK” message of transactional analysis. But if that word results in a less imperialistic approach to evangelism -- if all the talk about dialogue and relationship-building, the use of group process and small-group support, have led us in the direction of a vulnerable, open style of evangelistic communication -- then the effort has, not been just a fad. The church has been changed.
5. Telling the Story. It was a surprise to me to discover how far the churches have moved in common toward a new paradigm for expressing what we do in sharing the gospel with others: storytelling. I suspect that its usage stems for the most part from the work of Gabriel Fackre, whose books on evangelism have circulated far and wide in this decade. The United Church of Christ evangelism training manual, which he helped design, distinguishes between what we have to do to “get the story straight” and to “get the story out.” The Story is defined as “the drama of God’s deeds with its central act in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.” Louis Almen, writing for the Lutherans, gives a good description of how verbal witness is conceived of:
Evangelical outreach centers around the telling of the story. There are actually three Stories. The central story is the story of Jesus, the Christ. This is “his story”! But “my story” is also important, particularly as it relates to his story. The interrelationship of his story and my story provides the substance of my personal witness. How his story relates to the story of the person to whom we are witnessing (your story”) is crucial. Effective witnessing is my telling Jesus’ story in a way which is relevant to the listener.
The storytelling model is exactly the right one to help the church along with a relational, non-manipulative methodology. Storytelling is a mode of communication that yields nothing to preaching in its faithfulness to Scripture, but avoids the Bible-pounding dogmatism that characterizes many evangelistic sermons.
For too long laypersons in our churches have felt that their stories were second-rate and inferior, that they could engage in evangelism only if they learned some “authoritative” version of the gospel and could communicate it, step by step. In lay-witness missions earlier in this decade that notion was challenged. But the lay witnesses may have erred on the side of emphasizing the personal, the existential, too much; at some of those events the attitude was that “I’ll communicate my high to you in the hope that you’ll get a Jesus high, too.” Now storytelling has come along as a way of integrating the Story with our stories as we relate to people who have their own stories. It seems made to order.
A word of warning, however. Whereas Fackre has enough sense of history to make clear that it is never just a matter of the sum of our individual stories constituting “our story” -- but the story of a people in time as God works his purpose out historically -- there is the danger that others will not be as historical-minded. A church which has been over-existentialized for a quarter of a century now, which dotes on “sharing” and “personal growth,” often to the exclusion of any meaningful sense of the corporate, will need to be reminded that such a dimension exists, and that if we do not tell the story of the Confessing Church and the Uganda martyrs, of Selma and Vietnam, we are telling a truncated version.
6. Intentional planning. A further common feature of most of the evangelism programs is their use of the planning process in organizing the church to communicate the faith. In some denominations there is a high degree of sophistication, with desired outcomes carefully prioritized and strategies designed to achieve -- insofar as possible in as Spirit- dependent an activity as evangelism -- measurable goals and objectives. There is a recognition that a conscientious evangelism program depends on making what have been rather inchoate dreams more explicit and more a matter of conscious planning in which many people participate. The wide use of the planning process in other aspects of the church’s life over the past decade has made people suspicious of revival and crusade strategies which spring full-blown from the pastor’s head. The pastor is now more a part of a parish team -- a leader still, but at least as much a group facilitator as a charismatic operator.
7. Ecumenism. It was with considerable joy and surprise that I discovered how negative the practice of “sheep-stealing” has come to appear in the minds of the denominations. One detects in the literature a sense that those who ought to be reached are not members of another denomination but rather those outside of any denomination. This “hands-off ecumenism” seems to extend even to Roman Catholics (for perhaps the first time in American church history). Those who are already related to Christ through another body are considered “off-limits” for all of these denominations. There are enough unreached people and inactive members of our own churches that we do not need to take someone else’s sheep.
There is still another positive sign of ecumenism: the high degree of ecumenical borrowing evidenced in the manuals. There has been much good material put out by the churches in the past decade, and denominations seem no longer to feel that they must reinvent the wheel in order to provide their own original materials on every aspect of evangelism. In some cases this means that a church leaves a particular aspect of evangelism untreated and recommends to its leaders a good resource in that field available from another denomination. In other cases it incorporates approaches from other bodies into its own materials.
Perhaps such features are the necessary step on the way toward greater ecumenical cooperation and joint action. It may take several more years of getting to know one another better before we can engender the trust necessary for joint strategic planning and action to reach the unreached.
In addition to those characteristics that mark all, or almost all, members of the working group, there were a great number of things which two or more of the bodies held in common.
1. Defining the term. Regarding the relationship of evangelism to other aspects of the church’s ministry, there were two discernible groups. One -- consisting of the Lutheran Church in America, Episcopalians, Missouri Synod Lutherans and, in some ways, Reformed Church in America -- wants to define evangelism clearly as a separate category of the church’s ministry. The term is not, they insist, a catch-all for everything the church does. Another group, which includes United Methodists and Southern Baptists (not yet part of our working group), defines evangelism more broadly.
Wayne Schwab, evangelism ‘and renewal officer of the Episcopal Church, writes:
Everything the church does is not evangelism. Evangelism is an identifiable, unique activity. It centers, in the presentation of Jesus Christ (encounter with him) and the response of faith (commitment to him and responsible membership in his Church). Liturgy, education, social ministry may have evangelistic elements but they are not evangelism. The Episcopal Church tends to mistake ministry to persons in need and work for social justice as evangelism. These must be done but they are not evangelism. We seem to have lost confidence in the power of the message to stand on its own. While it must always be lovingly presented, the Gospel does always go beyond whatever works of love and justice we do in its name.
Some denominations distinguish between evangelism and witness. They include social action in the latter category. The LCA, in an attractive little pamphlet, “Evangelical Outreach and Social Service,” puts it this way:
Evangelical Outreach is one way of witnessing to the Gospel. Social ministry or social action is another way. One cannot happen without the other. Unless social ministry is done within the context of a clear proclamation of the evangel (gospel), it lacks the dimension that makes it ministry. By the same token, unless Evangelical Outreach is done within the context of a clear understanding of its implications for serving others in the name of Christ, it lacks the dimension that makes it evangelical. So they are both part of a whole ministry and must interact and support each other at every step of the way.
A good test of this interrelation, the writers believe, is what people see when they look at the congregation: “Do they see things going on that are predominantly designed to maintain the institution? Or do they see activities that clearly demonstrate what it means to be the salt, light and leaven in society?”
The other group would probably agree with what the Southern Baptists write:
One can hardly separate “ministry” from “evangelistic ministry.” All Christian ministry is evangelistic ministry, or it is not Christian. In the life and ministry of Jesus, there was no separation of doing good and doing God’s will. There was no division between life and life with God. The early church “went about doing good” in the name of Jesus Christ. . . . Laypersons who are Christians must go to the marketplace where men are and minister in Christ’s name.
Because of their different conception of evangelism, the Southern Baptists can describe it as the task of “every child of God.” The Reformed Church in America, with a narrower definition, expects what the church-growth school teaches, that only 10 per cent of any congregation is likely to be gifted in the ministry of evangelism.
2. Focus on church growth. The big news of the past triennium is that the church-growth approach, originating in Fuller Seminary, has been sweeping the mainline denominations. Some, responding to grass-roots pressure to reverse membership declines, have appointed new staff executives who are inclined toward a membership-growth approach. In other cases the existing evangelism staff has been attracted to church-growth theory and practice; some staffers have gone to workshops at Pasadena or have otherwise gotten hold of the insights of the movement’s theoreticians and incorporated them into their programs.
In still other cases certain catchwords and theories of the church-growth people appear in a denomination’s literature, but they are either so poorly integrated into the total approach or so changed from what movement theorists Win Arn and Donald McGavran write about that one wonders why the terminology is even used.
In any case, the denominations have a choice when it comes to church growth. The recent technologizing of it by McGavran and Arn has stamped church growth with a marketing mentality that many who are concerned for increasing the number of servants for the Kingdom find distasteful. In addition, the theology of the church-growth school -- and in particular its ecclesiology -- is very different from that of some of the denominations that employ it. There is no need for any historic denomination to become neo-revivalistic in order to adopt approaches and insights the church-growth people put out. As William G. Weinhauer, the Episcopal bishop of Western North Carolina, pointed out after attending a church-growth course:
Let us use the tools and strategies helpfully shared with us by the Institute for American Church Growth, but let us contextualize them in biblical and Anglican forms. . . . Further work needs to be done in relating “conversion” to our doctrine of sacramental initiation in baptism. The difference in theology is reflected in Dr. McGavran’s distinction between “brought to Christ” and “brought to the Church.” An Anglican would have to expand this and qualify these phrases greatly.
The United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church in America have sought a more holistic approach to growth. The American Baptists agree that “we should be a growing fellowship,” but they disagree that this in itself is a worthy end. “We need to be a faithful and expanding witness for Jesus Christ.” When I asked the director of the American Baptists’ Evangelizing Community program why a denomination that has involved itself so deeply in the planning process has projected no measurable goals for numerical growth, he said: “That’s an insight we got from the General Conference Baptists: all we can in faithfulness measure is the number of attempts we will make to confront people with the gospel -- the Spirit gives the increase.”
3. Well-developed training schemes. A number of communions have done for evangelism what for too long has been done only for Christian education and stewardship: provided extensive training processes, with all the hallmarks of sound pedagogy, insight into personal and social psychology, and good biblical hermeneutics. I am particularly impressed with the United Church of Canada’s training guide, Telling My Story, Sharing My Faith, and the Reformed Church’s Good News People: Growing, Nurturing, Proclaiming.
4. The pastor’s role. Here again there are two prevalent points of view. Some denominations continue to see the pastor as the key evangelist, as the sparkplug of all recruitment of new members, as the one eminently qualified by training to direct a program of evangelism. Others tend to emphasize the centrality of the congregation as the evangelizer, with the pastor in a facilitating role. Yet even these latter groups, no matter how much they may scorn what they call the “Big Daddy” or “Herr Pastor” model, recognize that the pastor is a key person to be reckoned with, one whose sense of turf is not to be discounted, and whose ego, if not provided alternative gratification, can get in the way.:
5. Awareness of developmental psychology. A number of denominations have gotten away from the “oblong blur” view of society, in which children are seen as little adults, to a more sophisticated view of how persons develop. The writings of Erikson, Maslow and others have not gone unheeded; indeed, they are quoted. Just what can we expect in the way of a “decision for Christ” from children? teen-agers? young adults? These are questions several of the denominations are asking. A book sent out by the Presbyterian Church, U.S. -- John Hendrick’s Opening the Doors of Faith (John Knox, 1977) -- is probably the best example of the application of developmental psychology to evangelism.
6. The medium and the message. One would, of course, expect that it would be from Marshall McLuhan’s Canada that the strongest affirmation of the importance of the process of evangelism should come. The process, according to a United Church of Canada publication, is not only a means to the communication of content, but part of the content. “You may get very impatient with the process we are using in this manual,” those training for evangelism are told. “However, the point of going the long way around is to help you form your own answers from your own experience. You are going on a journey of true personal and community insight into the nature of faith -- and that is never a quick, easy or neat process.” Those trained in such a way will, it can be expected, conduct themselves as evangelists in similar ways, and the process by which they evangelize will be part of the message they convey.
7. Action/reflection modes of learning/doing. It would be a matter of some surprise if action /reflection models had permeated the field of evangelism as thoroughly as the planning process and relational approaches have. Evangelism has, sociologically speaking, always been on the right wing of mainline denominations; action/reflection has been on the sociological or political left, associated most recently with liberation theology.
“People learn,” the UC Canada manual nonetheless postulates with regard to evangelism, “by reflecting on experience. It is often said ‘Experience is the best teacher.’” And so that denomination’s manual is designed to help those being trained to reflect on what is happening to them and what they are doing.
8. The importance of listening. Evangelism, has often been regarded as a matter of our communicating with or to others. It is a new age in which those training others in evangelism feel called to stress the importance of listening. The American Baptists and the United Church of Canada have reprinted in their materials a piece on listening in which Masumi Toyotome says:
It would be a great thing if Christianity became a listening religion more than a talking religion, if each Christian became a practiced listener rather than an habitual talker. If the church became known as one place where anyone with a burden on his or her heart would be sure to find listening, understanding, and acceptance, that would be quite a reversal or reformation. God gave each of us two ears and only one mouth. In his encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus spoke 175 words and the woman 122. For us, who have far less to say than Jesus, the ratio of listening to talking should be far more than half and half.
9. An end to the Christopher complex. St. Christopher was never, the church now knows, a real saint, but a legendary character. He was supposed to have borne Christ across the waters of a raging stream; hence his name. Christopher lives on in the countless missionaries and evangelists who imagine they also bear Christ, transporting him to places where he has never been. Evangelism literature of the churches testifies to the continuance of the Christopher complex in current evangelistic efforts. It also bears strong witness to a rejection of that idea. In Lifestory Conversations, a helpful little booklet on visitation evangelism from the United Presbyterians’ Good News Evangelism series, Roy Fairchild writes:
Let us not arrogantly conceive of ourselves as “bringing Christ” to those we visit. God in Christ has been there, working in that life, long before we came on the scene! Our task is to recognize with the “two or three” where God has been active in our lives and what he seeks to do there, within our journey. It is a humbling experience to be present when a person recognizes that God is with him or her; when God restores a soul!
10. The cost and the joy of discipleship. The church-growth school has elevated to a “scientific principle” the distinction between inviting people to accept Christ and nurturing their life in Christ; the first part of the process is called “discipling”; the second, “perfecting.” We are not responsible, they say, to communicate to our hearers everything the Christian life entails -- that will come later. Now we ‘crnly have to sketch its general outlines, dwelling on the meaning of ~ personal relationship with God in Christ. According to the basic church-growth approach, new believers can come to Christ without knowing that they are called to resist racism, economic injustice, and the principalities and powers of this age.
The Presbyterian Church, U.S., is a good example of those denominations that refuse to separate Kingdom issues from evangelism. It rejects what it calls a “truncated gospel” that does not deal seriously with the gospel’s demands: “When we invite folks to accept the promises and blessings of the gospel, without also facing up to the cost and demands of the gospel, we not only do them a disservice. We also do what Jesus explicitly instructed us not to do!” We cannot, say the Southern Presbyterians, disguise the fact that the radically different nature of the Kingdom of God sets it over against the kingdoms of this world.
11. Ethnic churches; It is old hat to speak of the “suburban captivity of the churches,” but probably not out of date. To find evidence that the evangelism offices of the denominations are trying to undo that captivity and deal seriously with the cities and the ethnic minority populations that live in them is not easy. This emphasis appears in the literature only rarely. It is seen most strikingly in the Southern Baptist materials. Among the members of our working group, it seemed that the UCC and the RCA have developed the most conscious plans for the establishment of non-European-type churches.’
12. Early warning systems. A number of denominations have taken seriously findings indicating that the ranks of inactive and lapsed church members are filled with persons who gave signals no one heeded that they were disenchanted with the church. Had the church recognized these signals, it could have done something to keep the person active. Evangelism departments are alerting churches to this phenomenon and giving them ways to deal with it.
13. Training of evangelism associates. It’s a long way from the denominational headquarters to St. George’s by the Grange; even when a denomination has middle judicatory staff in evangelism, it is hard for a limited national staff to respond to all the calls on its time in the synods and conferences. A number of denominations have therefore sought ways to train associates in evangelism. Generally these are local people already fully employed as pastors or in the secular world who can arrange ‘to free up’ some time to respond to calls from churches in their home areas to do evangelism training or carry out preaching missions. In some cases they function on a voluntary basis; in others a modest stipend is provided. It’s an eminently practical approach, avoiding the excesses of professionalism in evangelism while still recognizing that many congregations will need outside resource persons to help them.
Finally the literature reveals interesting thrusts and unique features which only one denomination offers.
1. Ministry of the laity. The American Baptists continue to stress the importance of the ministry of the people of God in the secular world, seeking to penetrate and transform the structures of society with the leaven of the Kingdom. The materials deal with support systems for such ministry in an extremely helpful way, with the ABC’s usual expert approach to group process.
2. Evangelism and the Kingdom of God. Only the Reformed Church and the Presbyterian Church, U.S., seem to speak of the Kingdom, and it is only in the PCUS literature that I find the Kingdom spoken of consistently as a historical, transpersonal reality, breaking into human history. “It is not enough to say that. ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for jour life,’” they comment. “The New Testament teaching is much more than that. It is that God has a plan in Jesus Christ . . . to make all things new.”
3. America’s role in the world. The American Baptists seem to be the only ones to have related evangelism to global economics and environmental concerns. Under the code word “Eco-justice,” the Baptists seek to relate evangelism to the relations of the have and have-not nations, and to America’s role in the world today. “If we are truly to be an evangelizing community,” they say, “we must have a global perspective and a concern for the welfare of all humanity.” The United Methodists, through their New World Mission program, have sought to stress global interdependence by bringing Christians “from abroad to evangelize” and witness in the U.S. World interdependence does not, however, seem to be a very popular emphasis these days.
4. Youth. Almost as rarely considered in the literature is the evangelization of youth. A provocative pamphlet from the Lutheran Church in America (“Youth and Evangelical Outreach”) shows an understanding of the current mentality among youth that bodes well for designing strategies for reaching them. Youth are regarded not only as those to be reached, however, but as part of Christ’s body who are there to do the reaching of other young people.
5. Modern versions of the story. Fifteen or 20 years ago it wouldn’t have seemed unique to have creative retellings of the Christian story in rather existential, secular and modernized ways. Only the Christian Church (Disciple’s), however, has gone in for this approach as a major part of its evangelism training. Its “Adventures in Evangelism” weekend manual suggests that creative retelling of the story is something we ought not to get too far-away from.
6. The small church. The United Presbyterians have put together a booklet on evangelism in the small congregation -- The Vital Signs, by Wesley Baker. I know from my travels as a resource person that small churches in other denominations as well feel that most membership recruitment and evangelism programs are not designed for them. Baker has studied ten UPC congregations of differing location, economic class, ethnic origin and style of ministry -- congregations which show real vitality -- and his book describes the sources of that vitality.
7. Alternative congregations. The United Church of Christ has developed a new. approach in church extension -- “liberation churches” for persons who, largely, have been turned off by existing congregations. These are churches gathered around issues of common concern; the project is reminiscent of the house-church emphasis, but it is done from a liberationist perspective.
8. The disabled. Only when I saw reference to it in the United Methodist literature did I recognize that I had seen little or no mention of ministry to shut-ins, handicapped persons and the ill. The Methodists Visitation Evangelism: A Relational Ministry offers a sensitive, helpful approach to the shut-ins (and shut-outs!) of society, one which does not shy away from the difficult question of healing.
Part of my task was to tell the working group what none of the denominations were doing. I discovered two areas that no one seems to be taking seriously. The first is the relationship of the family to evangelism. The Brethren speak of the family but don’t raise the immense problems involved here: How do we relate evangelism to the changing family structures of America? Are there ways in which families can evangelize?
It would seem that part of the problem will be that families with young and teenage children are among those most absent from our churches today. While singles accuse the church of being too family oriented, statistics show that people in the 15-45 bracket are those we’re least likely to find in church, and a sizable proportion of them are persons with children. The church has spent a long time dividing its membership up into age and sex groups. Perhaps it is time to bring the family back together. The Families for Justice movement among radical evangelicals would seem to be one model that is attractive to many. With all the property churches have in camps and conference centers, it shouldn’t be difficult to find places to bring families together for evangelism, evangelism training and consciousness-raising.
The other area in which I saw nothing being done and detected no questions being raised was that of communication. The Archbishops’ Commission on evangelism in the Church of England has been asking these questions:
1. With whom do we communicate when we communicate in religious language? By using such language do we restrict the range of our communication unduly and determine that we will not reach many of the unreached?
2. How many people can we communicate with when we rely on the print media for communication? Is there a whole universe of people whom we never can hope to reach when we rely on print? Is our evangelism hopelessly biased toward the functionally literate?
Perhaps someone in the mainline churches is doing the kind of research that could give us answers to these questions; but if so, the evangelism departments of the churches seem not to be aware of it, or else are not willing to take the leap into the unknown which an acceptance of their probable answers would entail.