Growing up in suburban New Jersey, my house always seemed to have people coming in and out. I served as the “coat check girl” for my parents’ annual Christmas Brunch, when the neighborhood of forty-five houses plus “alumni” made their way to our house on the Sunday closest to Christmas. Then there were dinner parties. And the “orphan” Thanksgiving, to which we welcomed anyone who wasn’t going home to family for the holiday weekend.
Becoming an evangelist
Fast forward a few more years, and I was the self-appointed “greeter” at middle school and eventually high school youth group. Poised at the bottom of the long stairwell, I’m sure it felt as though I was pouncing on each and every person who descended into the youth group basement. I was ready with a greeting and a hug. I wanted everyone who came to youth group to have as great of an experience as I did. Little did I know that this little act was my first pursuit into being an evangelist.
This youth ministry participant turned into a youth ministry professional, went to seminary and became a pastor. Those same skills made their way into my ministry and how I encounter those in my congregation, long-term members and first-time visitors alike. Knowing their name, their stories, and connecting them to others in the congregation were important, simple, and concrete ways that I could make sure that people felt connected to each other.
As visitors found us and new members joined the church, I heard more and more from long-time members that they didn’t know some of the newer faces in the pews next to them. And the more I spoke with people the more I came to realize: welcoming new people into the fold and talking to them to learn their stories were not things that came naturally to everyone. Why wouldn’t people want to get to know the new people at their church?
Growing up as a child of the 80’s, I remember hearing about the scandals of televangelists like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Knowing about those headlines and hearing that Billy Graham was also a televangelist, I lumped him in with the others. Visiting the Billy Graham Library for the first time, I realized how mistaken I was. Rev. Billy Graham was an evangelist in the truest sense of the word: having preached to over 215 million people in 185 countries, he helped people know Jesus Christ. While Rev. Graham and I approach ministry from different angles, walking through the Library did help me understand that we both valued relationships and the importance of knowing one another’s stories. If meeting people, welcoming them into the church building, and learning about them and what they find important helped make the church grow, then I could also call myself an evangelist! Evangelism, as a means of growing a church body through “zeal” or passion for the congregation, continued to form the foundation of my ministry.
Hearing again and again from the congregation that they wanted the church to grow, I would ask them how often they talked about our mission and ministry, as well as inviting them to things. I heard things like,
- “I don’t want to impose.”
- “They already have a church home.”
- “I don’t like to talk about it.”
Are you already doing these things?
Responses like these led me in the direction of my next academic pursuit: help congregants learn how to “do evangelism” in a way that made it less intimidating and, as this series indicates, “non-creepy”. After a handful of years of research, study, and conversation, I give you my “Cliff’s Notes” response to people who tell me that they don’t “do evangelism”:
- Have you ever invited anyone to your house?
- When they accept the invitation and arrive, do you welcome them?
- Do you provide them with hospitality while they are at your house, including offering them something to drink, showing them where the restroom is, and ensuring they have their needs being met?
- Do you nurture the relationship while you are together?
If the person can answer “yes” to those four questions, then my next ones are these:
If you can do that at home, why can’t you do that at church?
Isn’t your church like another home for you?
After all, your church family is there…
When I presented my conclusions, these four questions, and the underlying concepts as Evangelism: Four Christian Practices for the 21st Century to my reading team, they insisted that I include the words “as Care” to my title. Instead, it now reads: Evangelism as Care: Four Christian Practices in the 21st Century. Because, as they note, the underlying current in the paper had them all concluding that what is the most important is how we care for one another.
In the “me first” world many live in today, finding a place where people know they are cared for, accepted, and loved as they are is of utmost importance.
Apply the same actions of care for friends, which you’ve done throughout your life, to your church family as well! You’ll be amazed at how that care shares the Gospel.