By Peter Corney.
There is a third world community development saying that goes something like this – “To feed a starving person is a moral obligation but if you teach him to fish as well you do an even better thing” – you create the possibility of self help and indigenous sustainable development.
If we apply this as a metaphor to evangelism and mission in the local congregation or Christian organization the implications are as follows. While it is a good thing to point congregations and their leaders to specific and excellent evangelism programs like “Alpha”, “C.E” and “Introducing God” etc., it is an even better, more lasting and more contextualized thing to provide a frame work – ideas and tools – for a congregation and its leaders to develop their own evangelism and mission initiatives. They may well employ some of these programs or adapt them. They may also develop their own. But most importantly they will be far more likely to create a more comprehensive, locally relevant and sustainable approach if they develop their own strategy by starting with some basic questions, principles and research tools – a strategic frame work.
Most of the off the shelf models are built around one particular strategy, e.g.: “Alpha” and “Introducing God” are attractional models, which is fine, but will only reach certain people. To reach other kinds of people we will need outreach models that work on their territory like the work place or the local pub or club.
There are models that work through small or large group evangelism and others that encourage individual person to person faith sharing. Therefore the danger of being too directed by specific models is that it can restrict your strategy.
Then there are the questions about wider mission responsibilities – are we tackling overseas mission adequately? Are social justice issues on our agenda? Are we involved in local community needs – are we a caring and compassionate community?
The following questions and principles can form the basis for a strategic framework for planning contextualized and sustainable evangelism and mission in the local congregation:
1. The leader must start first with him/her self. What are your attitudes to evangelism and mission? Do you have a passion, a deep concern in your heart? Are you personally involved in evangelism and mission? What experience have you had of personal or public evangelism? Do you need to become more informed? When was the last time you read a serious book on the subject? Check your library shelves – what’s there on the subject? What is your theology of evangelism and mission? Does your theology lead you to a deep commitment to it? You are going to lead this process if you are not deeply committed or up to speed it will not go far!
2. Recognize the key areas that you will need to explore to develop a comprehensive strategy:
- Encouraging and training members in “personal evangelism” and faith sharing and raising consciousness about its importance in their everyday lives.
- Developing “attractional” evangelism through special events, guest-seeker services, and programs like “Alpha” on a regular basis.
- Developing “relational service groups” for pre- evangelism like play groups or “12 Step” Recovery groups, etc.
- Developing “Outreach” activities that work on the unchurched person’s territory like pubs, clubs, the work place etc.
- Developing “Compassion-reach”. Meeting local community needs. Ask the local community leaders “How can we serve you?” Create a caring community.
- Develop specialist contact groups like camping, business groups, a walking club, etc.
- Research your community for unreached people groups like new settlers, ethnic groups, etc. Ask your selves “Is the demography of our area changing do we need to start an Asian congregation or an ESL class?
- Developing an awareness of and addressing some social justice issues.
- Developing a responsible Overseas Missions program of education and support.
- Developing the % of the budget given to evangelism and mission beyond the congregation to a significant level.
These areas will lead you into a comprehensive approach that is not limited by off the shelf programs. Of course you will notbe able to develop all these areas at once.
3. Remember that developing a healthy evangelism and mission approach in a congregation is complex. It is the product of many other factors being present – teaching, example by the leader, feedback to thecongregation through testimonies and stories reporting effective evangelism.
4. Analyze where the congregation is at in their attitudes, concerns, theology, practice, skills and training. Identify what needs to change and design a process and program. If their concern and attitudes are poor then it will take some time to change them. You will have to change their focus outward first through teaching, education, training and personal involvement.
You have to create a new culture.
5. You will need to develop an outreach vision, a strategy and a plan for evangelism and mission.
6. This will involve new structures and organizations that create the means for people to become involved and express the new concerns that will emerge. You will also have to choose and /or develop methods that suite your area.