I have been so blessed over the past ten days by people I have met who are engaged in grassroots evangelism in their local communities. For the most part these are not clergy, but lay people, many of whom are licensed evangelists working on behalf of their parishes on the margins of church life.
I think of Margaret, an elderly woman I met who likes to walk around the town, sit down on park benches and wait to see who will come up to her. She is very good at striking up conversations with total strangers, and often asks people if she can pray with them. Sometimes she will take bus journeys to other towns and ask the Lord to guide her to the people who need her. She also takes part in an annual mission with a national organization in which a team will visit a certain part of the country and do intentional evangelism. Margaret is especially fond of door-knocking! I suspect that the fact that she looks like everyone’s favourite grandmother is a help to her here! Her whole face lights up with joy when she talks about her ministry, and she has wonderful stories to tell of the way God has led her to just the right person at the right time when the right word needed to be spoken into that person’s life-situation.
I think of a group of Christians who are running an outreach project called ‘Church of the Car Boot Sale‘. Every Sunday in a field in their area there is a ‘car boot sale’ (North American readers: we’re talking about car trunks here!); cars come from miles around and from 7.30 a.m. to noon people sell their unwanted treasures from their car boots. A group of local Christians have set up a stall where they provide really good coffee and tea and an opportunity for a friendly conversation. Relationship are built, and from time to time the gospel is shared and prayer is offered. This is an inter-church project too, with Christians from several different denominations working together.
I met several people who were running Messy Church programs for families with small children for whom ordinary church is difficult, but I also met a couple of folks who are running ‘Messy Church for Senior Citizens’ – and I thought ‘Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?!’ After all, Messy Church often begins with crafts or other activities, and then leads naturally into singing, Bible stories and prayer, followed by a meal. Why not try it with seniors too?
I visited one local church which has recently established ‘Sunday morning rolling worship’. In a listening process involving the local community they had discovered that one thing that was keeping some people away from Sunday morning worship was that ‘you have to get there at a certain time and then stay ’til the end’, which some (especially parents with small kids) found a bit problematic. So now they have ‘rolling worship‘ from 9.30 to noon on Sundays; it is divided into half hour segments (eg. a short Prayer Book communion, a sermon, a family service), with a fifteen minute coffee break in between each segment; people arrive when they want to and leave when they want to. It was been very well received and average attendance on Sunday has gone up from about 100 to about 120 since it was introduced.
I met a young woman from an Anglo-Catholic parish who lost a child a couple of years ago. She has begun to train as an evangelist and is assisting in the moms and tots and family outreach ministries of her church. She is sure that her way of doing outreach and evangelism will involve doing ministry with families on the fringes of the life of the church, showing by her words and her life that the Christian faith has something relevant to say to people who are struggling with the daily issues of family life.
I met people who live in small rural villages who are intentional about ‘gossiping the gospel’, looking for opportunities to speak a word for Christ in their daily conversations with friend and neighbours. In small villages everybody knows everybody else, and if people decide to respond to the gospel and commit their lives to Christ there are lots of opportunities to mentor them as they take their first steps in Christian discipleship. Often this can be better done by a lay person, with whom a new Christian can more easily relate, than an ordained priest whose daily life bears so little resemblance to the norm.
I met several people who are either already running ‘café churches’ in local coffee shops or are thinking of it in the near future (for more information about café churches, look here). In fact, I heard that the head of the Costa coffee chain is very keen on this and wants to encourage all his coffee shops to have café churches in them at some point over the weekend. What a wonderful opportunity to go outside the doors of the church and worship God in a place where so many people congregate!
I am so thankful for the opportunity to have met these amazing Christian people who love Christ and want to share him with others. Over and over again they have reminded me that Christianity is not about church politics, it’s not about who is or is not validly ordained, it is not dependent on sophisticated structures and programs. It is about ordinary people who have been captivated by the Spirit of Christ and want to find ways to share the joy they have discovered with other people. This is the kind of thing that gives me hope for the future of the Church – not necessarily the Anglican Church or any other denomination, but the worldwide community of followers of Jesus.
‘That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria… Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word’ (Acts 8:1, 4). These scattered Christians were not professionals; they were ordinary men and women who had been transformed by the Spirit into followers of Jesus. The people I met in the last ten days are following their example of going from place to place proclaiming the word. Thanks be to God!