Most of my vocational work in the Episcopal Church has been in Christian Formation and Education. It is still one of my passions. I learned early on that there two important elements: story and relationships. They’re connected.
We have to tell and learn God’s story. We have to tell our own story. We have to listen to the stories of others. If you were to draw these as three circles, it is the intersection of the three circles where we meet and connect with God, ourselves and each other.
Church is about these relationships, I believe.
So, I was excited when many years ago I first read “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” by George G. Hunter III. If you haven’t read it… well…DO IT!
I’m sure I’ll be quoting from this book, and his later ones, as this blog grows, but for this first post here is what I want us to see.
The phenomenal growth of the church in Ireland under Patrick followed this model:
Fellowship: Patrick and his band of followers moved into a community and established relationships. For us today, this would be to bring people into the fellowship of our communities of faith.
Ministry and Conversations: Within this fellowship, and the growing relationships you engage people in conversation (stories), ministry (working together), prayer and worship.
Belief and Invitation to Commitment: In time, they discover what they believe and what the community believes and they are invited to commit through membership and/or sacrament.
The Roman model, on the other hand, which was used in England and is still used by most of us today is:
Presentation: the Christian message, and that of the particular denomination is presented to the newcomer.
Decision: They are asked to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians (and Episcopalians, Methodists…)
Fellowship: IF they have decided positively, then they are invited into fellowship and ministry with the community.
Do you see the difference? Now granted, many of our churches these days are probably a mix of these methods. But are we focusing on relationships enough at the beginning? Are we inviting people into the community by inviting them to participate in various ministries? Do we take newcomers to coffee or lunch to get to know them better? Do we invite them to dinners and work days? Are we meeting them where they are or just expecting them to figure us out?
Trying to get involved and be a member of a church is like trying to jump on a moving train. It’s hard. Most people give up.
How are we extending a hand to those on the platform?