Acts 6.7a – ‘The word of God continued to spread’
The Evangelism & Church Growth Initiative Newsletter
Reading though these stories, as I compiled this edition of Witness6.7, I was particularly struck by four strands that run through the stories:
The first is of God’s grace breaking through in exciting new ways reaching those who have often either been neglected or ignored by the church, or those who have found the church irrelevant. The season of Epiphany is when we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. It should be an annual reminder that we need to keep asking ourselves ‘Who, for me, are the Gentiles?” “Who are the people who are different from me, and have a different worldview from me?” These stories of work with the unengaged are stories about reaching out to people who enjoy clubbing and partying (Australia); the legalistic and the cattle rustlers, famed for their brutality (Madagascar); the black sheep of society and those into heavy metal music (England); the lonely and the broken (Canada); those with strongly secular views (Australia and New Zealand).
Having worked out who the Gentiles or the unengaged are, the next question to be prayerfully addressed is how can we be involved in God’s initiative to reach them. This leads to the second common strand. In each case the person writing the story has needed to venture outside of their comfort zone. They have needed to empathise with the people they are trying to reach and see things from their perspective and change their lifestyle to be vulnerable; to be open and available to these unengaged people.
The third strand isn’t spelt out so clearly, but I think that there is a real sense of taking risks for the gospel. How will other Christians feel about me trying to understand and reach out to these people? Will our church feel comfortable with people who are different? Won’t it mean that our church will need to change? Although the stories shared all show that the initiatives have born some fruit, we have no guarantee that this will be true. We need to take risks for the gospel; it is faithfully following Jesus that is important, not what we actually feel that we have achieved for him.
The fourth strand is another aspect of God’s grace. Those writing all share the sense of learning more about themselves, God and God’s purposes through their work. The sense in which God breaks down the ‘us’ and ‘them’, so that we all become part of ‘us’, and are enriching each other. So, as we move out of Epiphany and towards Lent, who are the Gentiles, the unengaged that God wants you to share with?
Stuart Buchanan, Mission Department, ACO
“I’ve never really read the bible. It doesn’t have any relevance to real life now.” Emma is 23 and works as a beauty therapist. She spends her weekends dancing at clubs and going to parties. For more than a year I met with her regularly in a local café. I began our times together by asking her what she thought of Christians, the church and the bible; I spent a lot of time listening to her views. She saw little point to organised religion. She had experienced Christians looking down on her and her family for not believing. She saw the churches views on gay people and sex before marriage as strange and outdated. Internally I would often feel shock and surprise at her ideas, so very different from my own, but I tried hard to listen and understand. After a while, as trust and friendship grew, I was able to share about my own life and the difference that following Jesus has made.
Our small team of young adults ran a regular gathering at a local café. Over time we have invited along many people in their twenties. We bring people together to build relationships and share in discussion about the Christian faith. We accept that everyone who comes has their own ideas about life, we listen with respect and we try to share about Christianity in a way that makes sense to these unchurched. Emma started coming along. She enjoyed getting to know the group of 15 or so regulars and felt welcomed and comfortable in our community. She has learned to appreciate Christianity and we continue to pray that she will decide to become a follower of Jesus.
Emma is like a lot of men and women in their twenties in Canberra, Australia. It’s a bit of a surprise because we have a Bible in our own language and tons of churches, but in our city of 350,000 people there are whole communities and networks of people who have no meaningful connection to Christianity.
Our secular school system produces a large majority who are sceptical of any sort of religion. The media focuses on the church’s failures, but rarely its successes. Overall, Australians have a prevailing attitude that is logical, rational and scientific. This leaves little room for belief in God. Around 70% of Australians aged under 30 are unengaged with the Christian Church. Less than 10% have a regular connection with a Christian community. These unengaged young people of Canberra and of many cities in the first world bear similarities to unreached people groups. They have a distinct culture and values that are completely different to Christians. They don’t see any need for Christians or churches, they generally believe that people should just do what they feel is right to do as long as they don’t hurt others. They would generally say that science has the answers that modern people need and that science has disproved much that Christianity teaches. They live from day to day without any reference to Christian thought or practice.
In my work reaching out to young adults in Canberra we had to find new, more effective, models for our ministry. Traditional western evangelism often assumes that people know a lot about Christianity already and that they understand Christian language and culture. In my work I find myself drawing on the practice of Christians that are working across cultures and going to new people groups. Those called by God to work in a new culture or people group go on a journey leaving their own culture and setting down roots in a new place. The work is challenging as they begin ministry by meeting and building relationships with very different people. We have gone on a similar journey; needing to leave the familiarity and comfort of spending time with Christians and church programs. We have taken lots of time, to meet and build strong relationships with unengaged people in the community.
This is not easy; we have so much less in common with unengaged people. Their attitudes and ways of living can be confronting and uncomfortable; a real sacrifice of time and energy is required to build solid friendships. But when we make the time, people begin to truly hear the message of Jesus because they have relationships of respect, trust and openness with Christian people.
The work of reaching every people and language group with the gospel of Christ is vital. Patience, long term effort and resources are required so we can continue to translate the life giving message of Jesus into words and actions that can be understood by those who have never known Him. In our 21st century world crossing into a new culture can be as close as crossing the street.
Judy Douglas, Church Army, Australia
Only 21% of the 21 million people in Madagascar are Christians. The southern part has the most dialects spoken in Madagascar and also the highest concentration of unreached and unengaged peoples. The evangelism office focuses on outreach and planting new churches in the south of Madagascar.
One of these target groups is the Mahafaly in Betioky. As the name suggests, faly literally means forbidden and Mahafaly would mean a place or people of which many things are forbidden. In other words they are deeply rooted in traditional religion and many things are forbidden. We planted a church in Betioky town; a large district inhabited by the Mahafaly and we are working to relate the gospel to their culture; we are using their tradition as a stepping stone to evangelism. Traditionally they fear the wrath of the gods and are ready to sacrifice whenever there has been a fault. Slowly by slowly, we share with them the love of God and explain that the sacrifice of His son, Jesus, was a once and for all sacrifice. We explain that repentance is required and He will forgive us of all our sin without us paying anything else. Currently, word is going round and the church is growing and has started another two new fellowships of new believers in the region.
The other people that we are working with are the cattle raiders, commonly known as the Malaso in the Ankiliarivio region. Most people are afraid of them and would not even want to associate with them, mostly because of their brutality. And so, there is hardly a visitor or a stranger going to their village. Anyone who is a stranger is spotted from a distance and is marked out as an enemy.
In that region friendship evangelism is the approach that we have used. They have been watching us closely to know what we are up to. The moment that they realized that we are not spies nor attackers they then embraced us.
We have now established a new fellowship of new believers in that area. One ringleader stood up recently and owned up and said that he has given it all up to God. That is very interesting because, as he is a ringleader, all the others automatically will follow suit. Now the song is we really need a church here… and it did not stop there but the community actually donated land so that a church can be constructed.
We praise God for the lives that He is changing here.
Rév Victor Osoro, The Evangelism Director- Antananarivo Diocese - Toliara Missionary Area
Mark Broomhead, an Ordained Pioneer Minister in Chesterfield, is starting a new fresh expression of church for those who feel like the 'black sheep' of society. He outlines his hopes for the new community and its church, The Gates.
I am in the last year of my training at St John's College on the mixed mode course. The first part of my curacy was spent at Clay Cross and Danesmoor where I was involved in planting Sanctum, a community based rock-oriented congregation.
I have been involved in the ‘heavy metal’ music scene since my teens and have played in several bands so it has been very much part of who I am for many years. That interest has developed in all sorts of ways, one of which has seen me helping to lead the welfare provision at the annual Bloodstock festival.
It's one of the main ‘heavy metal’ music festivals, probably the more specialist end of the market with Viking metal, satanic metal, pirate metal and all kinds of things. We offer a Christian presence in that sort of arena.
Sanctum offered an alternative way of being church and it continues to develop in its own way. The Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, was very supportive as I moved on to Chesterfield in order to set up a new community called The Order of the Black Sheep. I chose the name, or the name chose me, because a black sheep was for many years seen as the worthless sheep of the flock, the one that couldn't produce any wool that was worth anything.
In medieval times it was even seen by some as a sign of the satanic. I really pray that The Order of the Black Sheep will be a home for the marginalised, for members of the alternative community who feel a little bit like the black sheep in society – and the church. Our motto will be along the lines of 'better a black sheep than a goat'.
The church will be known as The Gates. Gates are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible, including '... I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it' (Matthew 16.18) and 'Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in' (Psalm 24.9). We want to build church in what is traditionally seen as the devil's territory and to allow the King of Glory to come in to that community and do what he wants to do.
The 'alternative' subculture is a difficult one to describe but it has grown from the 1950s and 60s Teddy Boys through Mods, Rockers, Hippies and people who generally feel themselves to be on the edge of society and don't fit in with the 'in' crowd. These days there are all kinds of& ifferent expressions of it, whether it's Goths, bikers or skaters - all sorts of things.
Our challenge is taking the Gospel to these groups; sharing Jesus with those who have a sometimes well founded mistrust of the Church and Christian culture. We're not planning to 'dress up' the Gospel for this culture because it is perfect and relevant to all as it is. I want it to be a place where the community can meet, a centre where it can be safe and talk through things, where the Church can be reached, where we can be accessible, where we can allow a space for worship and a space to meet with God in various other ways and for us to be of service to that community.
As a fresh expression we maintain that this project will be Church rather than a gateway to 'real' Church but we are keen for members to explore and take their place at the table of the wider church family as part of their discipleship.
More information can be found at http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/stories/thegates and
Over the years the big houses surrounding the historic Stone Church in Uptown Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada had been chopped up into rooming houses (separate bed-sit apartments). About ten years ago a group of us began to meet and pray and strategize as to how to reach out to the unreached people group in these rooming houses.
We began by simply inviting people to dinner. We held monthly dinner and delivered invitations to each house. We set the date for the Friday each month, when people were particularly short of money, before the welfare cheques came out. We had a good response and started to make good friends with our neighbours. We soon started a Friday night drop in for each of the other weeks in the month, with light snacks and card and board games. Our friendships deepened. We renovated a downstairs kitchen into a laundry room and invited neighbours to wash their clothes at the Stone Washed Laundry. As folks did their laundry together, the relationships grew more personal yet.
While we now knew our neighbours and they seemed to like us, very few found their way into our church services and study groups. We decided that it was necessary to plant a new church designed to serve the spiritual needs of this group. 12 of us began Up Town Church. Slowly people came to our informal café style worship. The service developed as a highly interactive time. A weekly Bible study grew out of this. We began to take an annual vacation together on Deer Island. Through all of this the Lord created a marvellous thing. We describe ourselves (at our best) as : “an honest accepting community of broken people, who are experiencing the Father’s love, finding wholeness in Christ, and performing acts of kindness in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Most of the original 12 have moved on to do other things as this church has grown. We have had quite a number of baptisms, which I am told is virtually unheard of in such church plants in North America!
We began as an ‘us’ trying to reach a ‘them’ but the dividing wall has been removed and now there is only an ‘us’ as we deal with our individual and corporate brokenness and continue to reach out in kindness to our fellows
Reed Fleming www.reedfleming.com
Three things have just come together in my head: I have an empty half-column to fill in this newsletter; this morning I re-read Mark 4 on the train into work; I can recall an excellent talk on the parable of the sower, presented by Bishop Patrick Yu to Anglican Witness:ECGI core group two years ago.
We are so used to our human mission strategies, and our carefully worked out use of our limited resources, that when the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable (verse 10) we can almost expect to hear Jesus explain that the meaning of the parable is that we shouldn’t sow the precious seed on the path, or the rocky places, nor near the thorns but save it all for use on the good soil. But this isn’t what he does. He compares the evangelists work with the sower. Like the sower we are expected to sow the seed everywhere, and like the sower, we know that not all of the seed will produce a harvest.
Instead of saying that the seed should only be used where the ground is fertile, Jesus goes on to speak of the parable of the lamp. Rather than putting the lamp under a bowl, or a bed, it should be put on a stand, where it can be seen.
Jesus is the one who wants his followers to share his light and this involves trying to sow the seed on the paths and rocks and amongst the thorns. For us it is a reminder that we need to be trying to reach the unreached and unengaged, and not just sowing seed where the soil is good.
Stuart Buchanan, Mission Department, ACO
The core group meets from 5 – 7 March 2013, at St Andrew’s House in London. Once again this will be set within the context of mission within a specific context, as the group will be meeting with representatives from the Church of England on 4 March and are then hosted by different parishes from 7 – 10 March. This is the first meeting since the group received a new mandate from ACC15 and an opportunity to look carefully at plans for the next three years.
Please pray for the group as they meet and particularly for the convenor, Bishop Patrick Yu, as he guides and enables the group.
Tim Scheuer headed up a team consisting of Phil and Monika Clark, Sister Jan Felton, Youth Intern Heidi Bremer, John Nivoi from Fiji, and our four Gap interns. Each morning we gathered to pray, open the Bible, and be trained in CPM principles. Then we headed out to engage in some good old-fashioned door-knocking, meeting people we would not otherwise get to know, who in all likelihood would never go to church. We introduced ourselves as Christians, based in Avondale, and explained that we were finding out about the community we live in, and especially about people’s spiritual beliefs. Some people quickly ended the conversation at this point, so we offered to pray a blessing of peace on their home – and most people readily agreed.
Many people were more than happy to explain their own spiritual beliefs to us, and when asked “if you could know God personally, would you be interested?” most agreed. At this stage we opened our Bibles and using four verses from Romans, lead them through a simple Gospel presentation. A number of people, to our surprise, were willing to do this – and most days we were able to lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ.
Each day concluded with a team debrief, when we shared stories and experiences – and along with the angels in heaven we celebrated as we heard of lost people finding Jesus! We also acknowledged disappointments and failures – but overall the whole experience was an incredibly positive one – and resulted in some serious myth-busting. (See the next story)
During the two week period, more than ten people made decisions to follow Jesus, a number of others made fresh commitments, and many healthy contacts were made.
Reproduced from ‘TOGETHER’ PUBLISHED BY Church Army ;New Zealand
“New Zealand is a very hard ground for evangelists.”
I frequently ask church leaders about recent converts, and receive a response of embarrassed silence more often than not. But our experience knocking on doors, with no previous contact, has been quite different. Many people are not only interested, they are desperate to hear the good news of Jesus.
“Nobody takes the Bible seriously, so we need a different starting point.”
One of the keys for us has been to open the Bible as soon as we can, and invite people to read it for themselves. Rarely, if ever, have people suggested that the Bible is irrelevant.
“Effective evangelism can only take place after a long period of building friendships.”
But the reality is that even when friendships have been built, we are ill-equipped and unprepared to share the Gospel. In any case, we have learnt that door-knocking can be relational, as many people have commented on how we listen to their opinions, and are genuinely interested in them.
“We have to invest time ‘earning the right to witness’ before we can share Jesus.”
But Jesus repeatedly modelled just the opposite, engaging total strangers in deeply personal and spiritual conversations. We have found time and time again that God has already prepared hearts and minds, so that by the time we meet people they are more than ready to respond.
“Door-knocking is outdated and ineffective.”
I would probably have agreed two weeks ago, but we have seen numerous people respond positively, who would otherwise have had little or no opportunity to hear and respond to the Good News. If anyone knows a better way of meeting these folk, please let me know.
“The streets are hostile and dangerous.”
We haven’t had any serious abuse, let alone felt threatened.
“Evangelism is for experts only.”
I think all our team members have been involved in someone coming to faith, many for the first time. The whole point is that the process is simple enough for new Christians to immediately be able to share their faith with friends.
“People are not willing to commit to anything.”
One of the things we ask is that people commit to meeting with a trainer every week, so they can learn how to tell their story, share the Gospel, and learn more from the Bible. As a consequence we already have a number of groups established, and new believers are keen to invite friends, and become trainers themselves.
“Faith is considered to be a private matter.”
Absolute nonsense. By far the majority of people are willing to tell us what they believe, even when they know we are Christians and they aren’t! We have found many people to be spiritually hungry, and keen to engage with us.
“Don’t mention sin.”
People out there do know the concept of sin, and the majority are aware of their own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. By avoiding the issue, we are denying them the opportunity to experience the freedom from sin which only a relationship with Christ can bring. (On the other hand, many Christians need to understand the depth and absolute nature of the forgiveness which God extends to us, and stop harking back to past sins and failures. We are not “sinners saved by grace,” but “saints who sometimes sin.”)
We need to thoroughly reconsider our approach to evangelism, and for me, that includes repenting of taking on wrong opinions and attitudes uncritically, because they have relieved me of the responsibility of telling people about Jesus. The Great Commission still applies!
Reproduced from ‘TOGETHER’ PUBLISHED BY Church Army New Zealand Website: www.ca-nz.org
The Evangelism and Church Growth Initiative now has 450 registered participants based in at least forty different countries. We also have over 575 friends in our facebook group. The majority of the facebook friends are not registered, so we are confident that we are in touch with between 750 and 850 different participants around the Anglican Communion; 750 - 850 people with different stories to tell from being involved in evangelism and church growth within their different contexts; 750 - 850 participants that we can learn from and share with.
The Initiative is you, the participants, so we encourage you to use the Initiative as a way of keeping in touch, supporting and encouraging each other. You can:
Participate by registering - if you have not already done so, the online form is available on http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/mission/ecgi — we will inform the core group person responsible for your region about you and make sure you are sent this newsletter six times a year;
Become a facebook friend – once you have joined facebook, go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/anglicanwitness/ the facebook page provides an interactive forum so that you can share stories, prayer requests, resources and questions with each other;
Explore the website – at www.aco.org/ministry/mission/ecgiyou will find back copies of the newsletter, lists of evangelism resources and various resources that others have produced to help with their work;
Encourage others – who are involved in evangelism and church growth to register, join the facebook page and explore the website;
Share your stories – so that we can include these within the newsletter; stories of how God is working through your church or organisation to grow his church; stories to encourage others; stories so that we can learn from your experience. Send stories (300—700 words) and photos to arrive a month before the publication date to firstname.lastname@example.org
Send articles for the April 2013 edition on The Changing Culture of Church by 1 March 2013
Tell us - about resources: books; websites; courses, good practice; prayers, forthcoming events etc that we can include in future newsletters or on the website;
Post – stories, helpful web-links, resources, prayer requests, questions, information etc on the facebook page;
Translate - this newsletter, and other material, into the languages of those who cannot read in English; at this stage we do not have the resources to do this ourselves;
Pray - for the work featured in the newsletters and facebook page and give thanks for God’s faithfulness.
The Mission Department
Anglican Communion Office
St Andrew’s House
16 Tavistock Crescent
London W11 1AP, UK