I had the privilege of speaking at General Synod at the Church of England last week in response to the (very good) paper on evangelism. I thought I had five minutes but actually only had three minutes, so here’s the full whack of what I had hoped to say. Your thoughts? To get the ambiance, you have to picture me trying desperately to look nonchalant as I lurk behind a lectern waiting for my turn to speak to a huge chamber full of very awesome people. Nervous? Moi?
I work on Messy Church, so I have the privilege of hearing daily reports of evangelism through local churches.
This weekend in Wales I heard of a Messy Church running for the first time: 90 new people arrived. The church decided they couldn’t do it again because there were too many people!
I applaud the fact that the Evangelism Task Group has dedicated space to evangelism specifically among young people. I want to shout aloud this statement that most people come to faith as children or young people. I’m thrilled by the dream of a church that is a place of home and nurture. But I don’t think this paper hits the nail quite on the head. I would suggest things have moved on and can move further.
I’m convinced the local church is the best place to do evangelism and to nurture all believers through continuing hospitable evangelism.
Recent research points clearly to the uncomfortable yet delightful truth that if we really want our children and young people to stick with faith and church, the best place for this to happen is in a church of all ages together. I’ll say that again, despite the shortness of time, because it is absolutely vital. If we really want our children and young people to stick with faith and church, the best place for this to happen is in a church of all ages together.
The traditional approach is to send children and young people out of the church into age-segregated groups. If we are doing this because we genuinely believe that is the best place for them to encounter God, that’s fine. If they’re meeting at other times in the week in segregated groups, that’s great. However, if we’re sending them out of their church because their presence means I can’t have everything how I want it, that’s not OK. Recent research – Talking Jesus, Sticky Faith, We are Family, Joanna Collicutt’s article in the Church Times – all point towards that uncomfortable yet delightful truth that our children and young people have a better chance of becoming and staying Christian if they belong to a cross-generational church. Let’s help our churches – their churches – do evangelism by becoming real families, not ones which amputate some of our own limbs week by week.
I know family work is not a sexy ministry. As a Church, we usually don’t value family workers as much as other ministers. BUT as a Church we need to recognise that families – not just children or youth in isolation – are absolutely key. The phenomenal growth of Messy Church (where families worship together) from 0 to over 3000 in less than 13 years gives us a clue.
I would suggest Synod ensure:
• that no one is selected for lay leadership or ordination who is not happy to learn to work and worship with families, children and young people
• that all training for parish ministry includes a hefty component of training for work with families, children and young people
• that more emphasis is given in Synod’s recommendations here to the importance of a liturgy that includes all people, not just adults
• that we give families the encouragement, inspiration and resources to be church at home, not just in a church building
• and that our evangelism is based on hospitality – we expect not only to give generously to our ‘guests’, but to receive from them until our cups run over
A few weeks ago I went to one of our activity tables hosted by two boys aged 9 and 11. I was welcomed, given a sieve and a handful of grapes and a clear, unembarrassed, succinct account of the Last Supper and how Jesus shared wine with his disciples before he went to die. We broke open the grapes to squeeze out the juice and talked about how much is broken in the Good Friday story.
Children just need space to be great evangelists themselves.