For many years now, I’ve thought of my calling as both a missionary and evangelist. The more I’m told by denominational gurus and conference leaders to bring new people; “nones”, “the unchurched”, and “unbelievers” or “millennials” into church I’ve begun to see my role to re-evangelize the baptized. Those who write books, study missions, and enjoy telling preachers how to do their jobs love to use the language of sociology to describe those who’ve learned to live pretty well without the church. Every demographic group has a unique name and a specific methodology for targeting their spiritual needs.
Along the way, we’ve forgotten the one demographic group sitting right in front of us: church goers. In more ways than one, they too have figured out how to exist without the church making onerous demands on their lives. That’s why their children and grandchildren aren’t coming to church. It explains the slow death of so many congregations. We stopped evangelizing ourselves in a quixotic quest to evangelize the world through building teams, service projects, and selling things. Here me, I’m not arguing those things are bad. They are good. The money raised helps people at home and abroad. It’s simply this: you don’t need to be the body of Christ to do most of the work we do. Any secular community service organization could do what we do. We must be different.
How are churches different from other civic groups? What makes us the church? What defines a church project as a church project? I believe it is the baptized, the believers, those who sit in the pews. You will more often than not find the same people in the same projects, year after year. However, if they’re only going through the motions, again, what’s the difference? If we neglect the souls of the baptized, for a project and programmatic driven ministry (while constantly seeking the newest sociological subset of disaffected middle class adults), we will destroy our already fragile churches.
1) We have forgotten that we are created to live holy lives. In the midst of the ordinary, a blandness the church often trumpet in endless sermon series on finances and family relationships, we forget God isn’t calling us to cope. The Bible isn’t a handbook on how to survive a recession in early 21st century America. God has created us to live holy lives; not be judgmental bigots. This means we see the world through the eyes of Jesus Christ. Holiness begins with Jesus, not with last year’s planning calendar. Holy living frees us from the inertia of secular sameness. You cannot be trapped in the past if you are living Holy in the present with Christ. Do we want to live Holy lives? Holy living means you start to grasp this fact: you realize the work you do and the life you lead is part of something bigger than yourself. I’m talking big on a cosmic scale. That makes the church different.
2) We need to proclaim the personal love of God. People don’t hear it enough, “I love you.” We’re big on telling people, “God died for you because he loved you.” How about this for a change; drop the guilt and the death, tell people that God loves them. The dynamic of an entire conversation changes when you’re told, “you are loved” or “I love you”. A no strings attached, guilt free statement of love is the best thing in the world to hear. Do we remind people enough that God loves them? I love you and God loves you. Would that sentence change the hearts of those in our pews?
3) Worship with an eye toward 1st century simplicity in preaching, language, and music. Most people in North America read at a 7th or 8th grade level. The gospel was told in story form. The music was simple expressions of praise. Complex, overly technical forms of worship inhibits relationship building and our ability to hear Jesus’ message of love. Simple liturgies, stories that connect, and music that spoke to the stories helped make worship holy. We should be able to do these things.
These are three simple ideas for evangelizing the baptized. I hope they help start a conversation.