Invites, Incorporates: Invites, displays hospitality and works toward inclusion of newcomers and members into active participation in congregational life with an emphasis on relationship formation.
Vital Congregations invite and welcome others to “come and see” how we follow Jesus and to help make disciples of all nations.
Many Episcopalians are fearful of the “E” word: Evangelism. But being an evangelist, in the broadest sense, is nothing more than inviting and welcoming people to explore Christian community. It is inviting people to put God first and live the Way of Jesus. For Episcopalians that means inviting and welcoming others to experience following Jesus in our Episcopal tradition. Such evangelism is necessary if we are truly to serve others as the heart and hands of Jesus in the world. Vital congregations share an ability — and a joy — in genuinely inviting and welcoming others to explore being part of our Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
In vital congregations, members are excited about their mission and ministries as followers of Jesus. They want to tell others and invite them to experience the transforming life found in that mission and ministries. And the invitation can come in various forms. Vital congregations are active in their communities — they are visible and known, and that makes it easier for people to want to know more about all the congregation is and does. It makes it easier to provide materials with a simple message about the mission and vision. For example, a business card with the “elevator speech” about what the congregation is all about. Meeting people at a local event where the congregation is present, or even sponsoring an activity, is an opportunity to hand someone that card, or brochure, with a genuine smile, and something as simple as “We hope you visit sometime.” That’s an invitation.
In the 21st century, evangelism also comes in the digital form. Vital congregations have very nice websites with clear messages that are designed and maintained primarily for those who are not members of the congregation. Sure, the information on the website helps keep members up-to-date on the life of the congregation, but in vital congregations the website — especially the front (home) page of the website — is focused on evangelism. The church’s mission and vision are clear, and there is an explicit invitation to come and experience that mission and vision. The message tells a story about the congregation (often with video) and is open and inviting.
The same goes for the use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The Church is about gathering Christian community for personal, in person, relationships, but social media can be an evangelism tool. And vital congregations use social media to help share their message and invite others with a genuinely welcoming message. Social media, along with a website, and being present in the community all work together to attract others to “come and see.”
Vital congregations have a lot to share with others. There really is no shortage of things to “show and tell” about how the congregation lives the mission of the church. But part of what helps a congregation become vital, and stay vital, is evangelism (inviting and welcoming others). And there are great resources to help congregations do this.
Invite, Welcome, and Connect is a transformational ministry that equips and empowers clergy and lay leaders to cultivate intentional practices of evangelism, hospitality, and connectedness rooted in the Gospel imperative to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
There is also the Evangelism Matters Episcopal Evangelism Conference is for those seeking to share, learn, and grow the Church’s capacity and passion for evangelism.
Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe is a new book which looks very promising for Inquirers’ classes. Take a journey through The Book of Common Prayer, the Christian life, and basic beliefs of our faith, guided by two Episcopal priests – Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe. Walk through the liturgical year, the sacraments of the church, habits of daily prayer, and the teachings of Anglican Christianity. See how our prayer shapes our belief and our lives and how our beliefs lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
Walk in Love is the companion book to a new FREE curriculum from Forward Movement called Practicing Our Faith. Click here to view a sample of Practicing Our Faith.
The book Radical Welcome, by the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, is at once a theological, inspirational, and practical guide for congregations that want to move beyond diversity and inclusion to present a vision for the church of the future: one where the transforming gifts, voices and power of marginalized cultures and groups bring new life to the mainline church.
It is also a good idea to check out what church plants/missions are doing as they are on the ‘cutting edge’ of evangelism. And, yes, there are some church plants/missions in the Episcopal Church.
While the story often told is one of decline for mainline denominations, there are pockets of growth and vitality. We are called to be evangelists by Jesus through his Great Commission. Vital congregations live into the call by inviting and welcoming others to “come and see” how we follow Jesus and form more disciples for mission in the world.
Here is a neat little article: “The Data Shows: Invite and They Will Come”