The E-Word

It’s Pack the Pews Sunday at the Church Around the Corner. For weeks the pastor has been making announcements about it. Everyone either has brought a friend along or is feeling the discomfort of failing at asking or remembering to ask a friend to come to church today. The number of visitors will swell the attendance figures. Some of the visitors will come back! Some won’t. But, hey, at least they made the effort, right?

It’s Bring-a-Friend Sunday at Church Down the Road. They’ve been doing this kind of thing for years. They know the statistics. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Church in the Country called a new pastor and asked her to attract new members in the neighborhoods being built on what used to be farmland.

Church in the City reached out to the surrounding neighborhoods, even though the population had changed, because this was the “only” solution they could see to the problem of a big building and a membership moving to the suburbs.

All these churches are concerned with staying open, and they all know the answer to the “problem” is more bodies, more members, more financial supporters. They undertake marketing campaigns, run advertisements.

We’ve done some things at Small Church to raise our profile in the community. We bought a new sign, improved our landscaping out front, made space in our church for an afterschool arts program and made room for New Church Start.

Did we do these things for our own survival? Or were we hoping for something more?

It seems to me there are two reasons for evangelizing. One is a belief that you have knowledge that is absolutely necessary and soul-saving for the next life. The other is a joy in something that is absolutely necessary and soul-saving for this life. You can’t keep yourself from sharing it.

I wish I could inspire the second of those two, help connect the good people at Small Church to love and joy so deep and high and wide that sharing it would seem as necessary as breathing.

But evangelism is a dirty word in many churches. It’s something “they” do and “we” don’t. It’s risky. You might be rejected. You might be asked a question you can’t answer. And do you know what it is you want to share? Does what we share together seem like enough?

I want to see us share the good things going on in our small community of faith because we feel compelled to share, not because we are afraid to die.

What makes us want to get someone into the house so desperately that we will take the roof off to do it?

It is our belief that God is present, and that in God’s presence, wonderful things may occur. In God’s presence, healing may be found. In God’s presence the hierarchy of society, the primacy of knowledge and the weight of tradition are nothing. The desire to get to God’s presence, whatever needs to happen to get us there, is what really matters.

So why do we hesitate to tell our friends about what we experience at church? Why do we settle for the lukewarm, or keep ourselves at a remove?

Who are we trying to protect when we refuse to say the “E” word?

12 thoughts on “The E-Word”

  1. We hesitate because at church we might just be revealing our truest selves. Because in relationship with God, we aspire to BE our truest selves. And if someone rejects that, they are rejecting our truest self, which is way more scary than if they reject our every day personna…

  2. WE seem to be thinking alike Songbird.
    But for me personally, and I think for many in my denomination, there is the “we don’t want to be like them” effect. We may ned to not only start saying the E word, we may need to look at how we define it as well. Actually that is the start of my sermon tomorrow — ask them what they hear when the hear the E word

  3. I get so discouraged by the mindset that we need more people for “our” survival. As pastor of the Small Church in the Small Town, I know there is some reality in that, but it is NOT what we are to be about. I even have one elder who suggested that we cut our missions giving until we complete some renovation projects, etc., that need to be done at the church. ARGHHH!!!! I say that a church without outreach and missions is nothing more than a generic community organization. I am not the director of a community organization. I am a pastor. There IS a difference. (Can you tell that your post touched a nerve for me?!)

  4. Great post.
    I came to this church saying that mission is evangelism. I was under the impression that my generation especially wanted to find a place to be involved – an outlet for their mission-minded souls. Once we developed easy-fit opportunities to serve, we would grow.
    That theory was wrong.
    As I interact with my generation and the one that follows I see a blurry vision of a ministry that goes out rather than expecting folks to come in. A ministry that shakes off the old rules and guilt like dust off our feet and talks about the realities of a relationship with Jesus Christ. The joys, the challenges, the valleys and the mountaintops.
    But I am a wussy (I’d use a stronger word there) who uses the ‘but I am the breadwinner’ excuse to keep me in the safe confines of the church “as it always was” and rests on the comfort of young families joining the church which makes the older folks happy… and keeps the offering coming in the plate.
    Meanwhile, what about the ones who won’t come to the party because they have never been told clearly what we are celebrating?
    (Too long, sorry)

  5. Not at all too long, will smama, or anyone else. This is a challenging area for those of us from the middle to the left of the theological spectrum.

  6. I’m not a pastor or minister, just a plain ol’ lay person, but when you asked this:

    Who are we trying to protect when we refuse to say the “E” word?

    it hit home.
    When I refuse to say the “e” word, I am rejecting the bigotry, divisiveness and hate that have been associated (for better or for worse) with that word. I am rejecting the idea that I have access to absolute truth. I am rejecting the idea that my understanding of the universe should “trump” others’ visions.
    Evangelism has a lot of very very negative connotations. When one has seen friends and loved ones actively hurt by people purportedly wielding religions (and/or attempting to “save” them) it is hard to see the “e” word as a desirable thing. “Live and let live” seems much more reasonable.
    The only form of evangelism I am comfortable with is a very “low-key” sort – I love my church community, and I do invite people who express interest to come check it out. I am not afraid or ashamed of my church, and I do not hide the support & community I find there – but I fear active “evangelism”.
    (I hope this is reasonably clear – this hit a nerve!)

  7. parodie, I know what you mean. But I guess I want to lift up the idea that “evangelism” comes from the word meaning “bringer of good news.” And the good news is that not all believers are of the whap you with a two-by-four variety. If we don’t let people know that, how will they ever find out?

  8. Parodie – I hear your frustrations with ‘evangelism’ as we have too often seen it. That version is a MAJOR stumbling block. I think it is also used to some extent as a ready excuse.
    We don’t want to be confused as one of ‘them’ so we let some opportunities slip on by.
    Your last paragraph is also evangelism and maybe the challenge is to figure out how to do that consistently where maybe we are pushing ourselves to do more, all the while not being pushy to others.

  9. Great stuff, Songbird…and, as you’d expect, something that resonates with me heaps and heaps.
    I am terribly afraid that I may currently be serving a community whose prime focus is the church per se, rather than the living God for whom it exists. They /can’t/ evangelise, because they don’t on the whole have a direct personal experience of what the Good News might be. At the same time, there exists a comfortable hope that if we live our lives well, we will somehow attract people to Christ through that (a kind of passive version of St Francis’ dictum “Preach the Gospel. If necessary use words” but there is nothing, NOTHING to mark us out from other good, upright people who are doing their best according to their own lights. I include myself in that last idictment…there is so little that is distinctive about us as a Christian community. Why would anyone want to join us?
    And meanwhile, God is active beyond the confines of the Church…perhaps we might dare to go and join in.

  10. Songbird,
    Kathy at Birmingham Blues sent me this piece because she knows how much I struggle as a layperson in my church with the issues that you shared. I don’t have an answer for the dilemna, but thank you for speaking for me and many others. For what it’s worth, I will take your point about the word “evangelism” and use the even more scary word these days-“evangelical.” I consider myself an evangelical. To me that means I am to share the love of Christ with everyone. Period. No exceptions. Unfortunately the practical meaning of that term these days in our culture has come to mean a gay-hating, Armageddon-seeking mean spirited faith that I believe to be totally inconsistent with the Gospel. I like to think Christ wants us to be evangelical about sharing Him and His true Gospel rather than much of the venom that is spewed in His name these days.
    Thanks for your thoughtful message. I needed to hear it!

  11. Kathryn and Bill, thanks for your comments.
    I’m not sure how well the sermon went over at church, but I’m glad it was thought-provoking in this context.
    One last provocative thought–does Jesus want us to invite people in, or to wait for them to ask if they are welcome?

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