I hear it all the time – the word evangelism is “scary” or “tainted” or even “not our thing”. And yet, when I talk to some of the long-term members at the congregation I serve, they will tell me that they came to Calvary because someone invited them. And when I say, “But that’s evangelism”, they kind of pause, and you can see the wheels turning. Yes, being invited to church by a friend, co-worker, or neighbor is evangelism, and the Mainline Churches have been doing it forever.
Why did we allow the word to be highjacked by images of shouting, Bible-toting maniacs on street corners? How is it that we only seem to be able to envision Billy Graham or some highly paid TV preacher as the purveyors of a message of invitation? And why do we think that the word is a negative idea? After all, all it means is “telling the Good News” – what is so scary about that?
I can’t go into the whole history here, but I will just say that there are more ways to tell the Good News than the way it is stereotyped. I have developed a way that I like to use to teach how to do it, and for only $100, I will tell you about it, and for no extra charge, send you my book “10 Easy Steps to Put Rear Ends in the Pews”. No – just kidding – you can use it to think about your own way to share the Gospel.
What I ask people to do is think of their favorite restaurant, and then tell me about it in such a way that will make me want to go. For example (and smile while you say it), “I was just thinking about when I went to eat at Han Dynasty the other day. Their food is so excellent that I drive 30 miles to get it. The staff is so nice, and I especially like the dumplings in hot oil and the Hot Sauce Style. We should go there sometime!”
Now – take out the restaurant name and the food, and insert your church name and something you love about it (and smile while you say it). “I was just thinking about going to church at Calvary UCC in Reading. I love the people, and the pastor really challenges me with his sermons. We should go there sometime!” Easy, isn’t it? Yes – I know that it is hard for us to get excited about church sometimes. We worry about decreasing numbers, and we think about the amount of money we spend on our old buildings. But the way we usually talk about church growth is not helpful at all! For example:
There was an article in our local paper about a church that hosted a car show, and part of a quote from a member was “Hopefully, we’ll get some new members out of it.” Or, when money is tight, people say, “we need to get more people so we can pay our bills!” These are not ways to share God’s love – they are ways to look desperate.
Our task is to help people have better lives with God in the midst of it. We need to share our faith and talk about what God has done in our lives, not what the other must do to be saved. We don’t know what people, individually, need. We do know that being a part of a faith community makes our lives better, and it could possibly do the same for others.
So, don’t be afraid to share your faith, and don’t be afraid to invite friends to church. Even if they say no, there might come a time when they need the love a community of faith can offer. And if that happens, we will be there. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).