And now for the Good News…
We’ve all heard stories of Japanese soldiers hiding on small islands in the Pacific Ocean, totally oblivious to the fact that World War 2 ended in 1945, and still prepared to fight people who are no longer enemies. Is that a picture of some evangelicals in Methodism today? Fighting battles that are no longer real against an enemy who has become an ally – if we would only notice!
We are living in a time of incredible change. There is an openness to evangelism in Methodism that was unimaginable ten years ago. The ‘Our Calling’ process and the unremitting decline in membership of the Methodist Church have both highlighted the desperate need for a recovered confidence in evangelism. Sometimes the motive for this is a selfish concern that Methodism should survive, sometimes it is a selfless reaching out for the Kingdom of God which is much bigger than concerns about church. Either way, people are trying to discover ways of helping men, women and children to become disciples of Jesus Christ within the fellowship of the church, and surely we can all applaud that!
What are the signs that this is happening?
An incredible increase in the numbers of District Evangelism Enablers. In 2000 there were just seven paid evangelism enablers around the Connexion; this September there will be 18 and by September 2005, there could be as many as 26 Districts employing enablers.
One of the first visible signs of joint working to emerge from the Anglican/Methodist Covenant will be the appointment to Springboard’s successor of a full-time Methodist team member, funded by the Connexion and helping the Methodist and Anglican Churches to develop new ways of being church.
These two developments mean that about 1/3 million pounds per annum of new Connexional funding has gone directly into resourcing evangelism. As a Yorkshireman, I always look at the balance sheet when I’m trying to assess priorities!
At local church and circuit level more and more people are beginning new worship services to try to meet the spiritual needs of those who will not come to traditional churches (a connexional survey identified 45 new ones between 2000 and 2002 – there are undoubtedly many more).
What does this mean?
It certainly does not mean we can afford to be complacent about the evangelistic task. 85% of under-20’s have never had any real contact with church and know little or nothing about the Christian faith. Many of our traditional evangelistic approaches rely on previous Christian experience or knowledge – we have to learn how to do evangelism in communities where neither is present.
It does mean, however, that we can afford to be more ambitious in talking about evangelism and proposing outreach projects in our churches and circuits. Some of us have become used to skirting delicately around the subject of evangelism and haven’t noticed that it’s now okay to mention it in polite Methodist company! Don’t assume that circuit, district and connexional funds are not available – ask and you may be pleasantly surprised. Don’t be afraid to dream dreams of doing church in new ways – more and more people are doing it. Like Elijah, you may be amazed to discover how many others are dreaming similarly.
It also means that we need to be careful not to make assumptions about people whom we do not regard as ‘card carrying evangelicals’. They may not agree with us on every aspect of doctrine, but they may be willing to partner with us in sharing the Good News of Jesus with those who haven’t yet heard it. There’s a danger that evangelical pride will mean that we are closed to these opportunities and those who might have heard of Jesus do not.
The Rev Graham Horsley is the member of the Connexional Team responsible for Evangelism and Church Planting.
Headline, Autumn 2004 p.8.