“Evangelism is joining a conversation the Holy Spirit is already having,” says my friend, the theologian Darrell Johnson.
His quote has changed the way I approach evangelism even after I’ve served nine years as National Director of Alpha Canada. It democratizes evangelism again. It lifts what can sometimes feel like a burden or pressure to share our faith. Instead, it helps us recapture the joy that comes from participating. It has been life-changing and life-giving.
My team and I engage frequently with senior church leaders across the country so we can continuously learn how to improve our support and service to the Canadian Church in the area of evangelism. What we consistently hear about is the common challenge of sharing faith and mobilizing Christians in Canada to invite people to discover a relationship with Jesus.
Many Christians see evangelism as uncomfortable, unnatural, or for select experts. A 2017 Angus Reid Study conducted in partnership with Faith In Canada 150 showed only 29 per cent of religiously-committed people in Canada view evangelism positively. This is reflective of the culture we live in, one that is postmodern, post-Christian and post-social.
In a postmodern world, truth claims – and therefore the Gospel – have become privatized and removed from the public square. Post-Christian people believe they have “tasted and seen that the Lord is bad.” And despite the promise of connection through technology and urbanization, people feel lonelier and more isolated than ever. Another Angus Reid study in partnership with Cardus reports that more than six in 10 Canadians feel lonely and long for more time with friends or family. In a world where truth is relative, Christianity is ostracized, and social isolation is becoming an epidemic, sharing faith is increasingly complex and challenging.
We’ve just released a new free resource for church small groups – The Life Shared Small Group Series (www.lifesharedseries.com). It’s a three-part video series that facilitates conversations about how we can each play a part in seeing lives transformed around us, and what it means to share our faith. It features stories about people who’ve shared their faith with somebody in their lives. As well, Jon Tyson, lead pastor at the Church of the City of New York, Danielle Strickland, author, speaker and social justice advocate, and Jay Pathak, lead pastor at Mile High Vineyard, discuss the concepts and practical applications of invitation, hospitality and prayer. Some churches are using this resource in the lead-up to a moment of invitation ahead of Christmas, Easter or an Alpha course.
We know that 80 per cent of guests attend Alpha because of a personal invitation from someone they know. If evangelism so often starts and continues in relationship, Alpha has to be understood as more than a video series that answers questions. Rather, it is a space cultivated for guests to encounter Jesus through the love of the Church.
Invitation to Alpha is not simply an invitation to hear about God, but an invitation to encounter Him in the community of His church – to experience His love, welcome and presence, while hearing His gracious good news.
Our hope for a culture that is asking, “where do I belong?” is that the Church will be the answer.