What We’re Learning from our Listening: Rethinking Evangelism

#MyKindaChurch is a project (in partnership with Decolonize Lutheranism) where we’re asking people from all walks of life what they want the church to be. This is a listening project. We really want to know what folks out there—especially the folks who look at our beloved church from the outside—wish that it was. Every week, we’re sharing reflections on what we’re learning; check out Elle Dowd’s reflection from last week

We’re hearing that people want authentic, safe communities. They want opportunities to serve, to grow, and to celebrate. They want to find purpose.

That people outside of the church dream these dreams for it means that such dreams are possible. In fact, I know for certain—and many of our submitters seem to sense—that many of these dreams are coming true in congregations all around the world every day.

But something is getting in the way for a lot of these folks. We’re hearing about being “bored silly.” About “being made to feel out of place.” About “the burden of pretending to believe things I don’t.”

One major roadblock we’re hearing about? Evangelism. Jason put it pretty clearly in his submission: he wants to be able to participate in the life of a congregation “and not be proselytized.”

Now pause. Raise your hand if you love Jesus.

Me too. Evangelism means “good news-ing,” and I firmly believe that a church that doesn’t share the good news of Jesus Christ is no church at all. Let’s just get that out there.

But what I’m learning from my listening is that evangelism—or perhaps more accurately, perceptions of evangelism—are getting in the way of people experiencing what the church has to offer.

Now to be fair, I think the whole evangelism barrel has gotten its reputation from a few bad apples. Most of us aren’t pushing people into pools and calling it baptism, or standing on the street declaring damnation to the passerby.

But when lots of folks think about evangelism, that’s what they think about. They think about loaded questions (“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior?”) judgemental lectures, manipulative conversations.

None of this smells like good news to me. It’s not what I’m about. It’s probably not what you’re about either.

All the same, the burden of proof is on us Christians here. It’s (still) a free country, praise the Lord, and no one has to listen to us. If we want folks to know that we’re bearing good fruit, we’d better prove it.

So where do we go from here? How can we be church for folks who associate preaching with judgment, who are sick of faking it to fit in, who don’t show up at all for fear of being manipulated?

I’m taking my cue from one anonymous poster, who wrote that they want a church that is “curious rather than judgmental, interested in growth and learning over evangelism/converting others, [and] emphasizes relationships over rightness.”  

If folks are afraid of being judged, maybe we should start by welcoming them without exception or qualification. If folks are afraid of having to fake it, maybe we should start by being authentic, even with our own questions and doubts. And if folks are afraid of being talked at, maybe we should listen.

And listen. And listen.

And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if, in the space of real relationship, the good news flows both ways. The Holy Spirit is crazy like that.
Thank you, dear community, for joining the #MyKindaChurch team in this holy practice of listening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *