Evangelism or denominational self-preservation?

August 7, 2012

We Episcopalians don’t seem to have evangelism in our denominational DNA. General Convention evangelism resolutions have never quite gained traction. Still, the 77th General Convention resolution, A073 (Establish Diocesan Mission Enterprise Zones), may be the best opportunity for success in this domain.

A073 calls for “mission enterprise zones” and offers dioceses a matching grant of up to $40,000 to redevelop congregations with a special emphasis on groups traditionally underserved by the Episcopal Church.
This evangelism plan is different because it focuses on congregations – the only place where evangelism can truly be effective.

For nearly three years the Diocese of Maryland has included evangelism and proclamation in its five key goals.

We define evangelism as the effort to prepare every member of the church to tell her or his faith story. Proclamation involves increasing average Sunday attendance by 10 per cent. We aim to realize these goals by 2015.

Whether that happens remains to be seen. But it begs the question as to whether we’re focusing on spreading the gospel of Jesus or simply trying to preserve the Episcopal Church. I say we should hope to do both.

We live out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) whenever we support and encourage one another to talk about and publicly practice our faith. Certainly the Anglican/Episcopal expression of catholicism is a treasure worth sharing. We have held up the “via media” or middle way for nearly 500 years. Now it’s our turn to proclaim this unique way to live as the Body of Christ. And in a society paralyzed by polarity we have a gift and tradition that’s as desperately needed as it is being sought.

It has long been my hope that every congregation form a DREAM team made up those committed to Doing Real Evangelism Almost Mindlessly. DREAM team members would help fellow parishioners understand how living their Christianity is the best way to share their faith. Yes, people will listen to words but they want to see actions.

Here’s where A073 becomes noteworthy because this initiative could empower dioceses and congregations to combine stewardship and mission in their evangelism efforts.

And let’s be clear that stewardship is not fundraising. It’s definitely not about seeking new pledging units to ensure the financial viability of congregations. Stewardship is finding our place in God’s creation, discerning God’s mission in the world of God’s own making and redeeming and claiming our calling in the world.

Parishes must practice that same stewardship of God’s gifts and talents right where they are. Parish leaders must discern how their congregations can be relevant to their neighborhoods. The mission field begins just beyond the narthex.

Most Episcopalians I know are not aware that the official name of our church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Imagine congregations being the neighborhood and city missionary society. Imagine everyone in the neighborhood and city knowing exactly what the mission is of every congregation.

Could it be that then people will see a glimpse of the reign of God? That Episcopalians would then be living out the Great Commission by practicing the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39), to love their neighbors as themselves?

This General Convention resolution may just help to make this happen.