Monday, 7 November 2016
Talking Jesus and the natural grammar of evangelism
It is really fascinating just how reluctant we Christians tend to be in talking about Jesus to our friends and workmates. I've been asking people what stops them, and there is a general feeling that people might feel put off, might not like you anymore, or it might make future conversations and socialising awkward if they think you might be about to pounce on them again.
Of course, we've all experienced the kind of evangelism - whether from a Christian or a telesales person - that feels like a 'hard sell', and puts our backs up rather than attracting us.
But we've also all 'evangelised' to our friends about things that excite us, that we've found out about and enjoyed, and that we think they would enjoy to. There is a 'natural grammar' of evangelism in our day to day lives.
We don't feel embarrassed saying, or hearing, sentences like:
'I went to that new coffee shop last week! It was great, really fab cakes. You'd love it!'.
'Have you seen that a new branch of [whatever shop you like] has opened up in town? I went in to have a look and it was BRILLIANT! You should SO go in next time you're in town.'
'You know that garden centre that you pass on the way to the supermarket? Have you ever been in it? I've passed it so many times and never given it another thought. But I couldn't find what I was looking for anywhere else so I gave it a try and that had such a great range! You should try it!'
'Thanks for the compliment! Yes, I'm feeling great - I've been going to that gym down the road for a couple of years now, I love it! Never felt so good. Do you want to join me one day?'
We naturally evangelise about new things we've discovered that we love and think others would love. And what we say tends to go something like:
That is, we tend to say: 'I've found a new thing! I loved it/had this experience. I think you'd love it/would you like to come with me?'
(Sorry those initials don't make a catchy acronym, but I'm not changing them just so they do!)
It seems to me that one of the difficulties we have in the Church of England is that so many of our churchgoers have been attending for so long that it isn't NEW to us anymore. The most natural evangelists in my experience are children and new churchgoers. Most of the people who have joined my church in recent years have been invited by a friend who is themselves new to church.
The natural way to evangelise is to share new discoveries, and one reason that it can feel 'creepy' to share our faith normally is because sharing 'old news' is not part of our social grammar.
So my suggestion is that part of the reason that church planting, fresh expressions and so on work is precisely because they are new! Doing something even slightly differently gives people a natural reason to share their faith with others. This chimes with Bob Jackson's research, in which he found a strong correlation between churches that were growing and churches that had made a change - any change! - in the last five years.
What could you do differently in order to give your congregation something new to share with their friends and family?