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01 September 2009

E is for Evangelism

E is for Evangelism

After mercy, influence and life discipleship, Hazel Southam explores how evangelism fits into the Alliance's Square Mile initiative, helping churches reach out to their local communities...

Picture the scene: Billy Graham is delivering a rousing message to a packed Wembley Stadium. He asks those who want to give their life to Christ to come forward. People stream down the aisles.

That's evangelism right? Well, while big stadium evangelism with a famous name is as relevant today as it ever was, it is far from the full story. Around the country individuals and churches are finding varied and creative ways to impart the Gospel. And most of the time this doesn't require a stadium.

"There's still a role for the evangelist who has a specific and unique gift in helping people come to faith," says Krish Kandiah, the Alliance's executive director for Churches in Mission. "But in general today evangelism is more localised and contextual."

"We hold our breath when we open the prayer box, because we never know what to expect"

Mayor John Wilkinson officially opens the prayer box in ErithPeople have, he says, been encouraged by courses like Alpha to see that the local church can reach out to the local community and expect to see people come to faith. "I think that there are some positive changes in our approach to evangelism thanks to Alpha and Christianity Explored. We now see evangelism as a process rather than a crisis. It's not collaring someone on their doorstep, it's relational," says Krish. "And we are seeing a lot of creativity."

Mick Harvey certainly thinks creatively. He's part of a team in Erith, in outer London, which has placed a prayer box in the local Morrisons supermarket. So in Erith, while you're picking up your shopping, you can drop off a note asking for prayer.

"We hold our breath when we open the prayer box," says Mick, "because we never know what to expect." Relationship problems, illness and hospital visits are all frequent requests. But the prayers of immigrants looking for homes and work also often feature, reflecting the realities of today's world. The scheme has been going nearly a decade, and in that time the nine-strong church team has prayed about thousands of requests.

"We get a few who want us to pray for superficial things like winning the Lottery," says Mick, "but on the whole it's obvious that people feel that prayer works. There's a latent belief out there. And for us to pray for people is a great witness."

Introducing people to Jesus

Steven Anderson is also using prayer as a means of evangelism. Co-founder of the Healing Rooms Scotland, Steven has a small "prayer shop" in Glasgow where people can drop in and receive prayer. "Our aim here is to make the healing, liberating, saving power of God accessible to everyone in Scotland," he says. "It's very much about healing being a key means of introducing people to Jesus. Healing rooms should be places that anyone can get to and feel comfortable walking in. We have them in church buildings, shops, community centres and market places."

Volunteers reach out in the Healing RoomsSteven's convinced that simply setting up Healing Rooms has had a profound effect. "We've seen lots of healings - physical, emotional, spiritual and mental," he says, "and also a significant number of people come to faith. It's raised the faith level in a lot of places and opened up new channels for outreach: we have a healing room operating in a prison now and teams going into psychic fairs, where we see God really moving.

"People from outside the Church have reacted really positively. So many people are very open to being prayed for. A number of folks comment to us that this is the sort of thing the Church should be doing."

Working together is another thing the Church should be doing. Just ask the group of 35 churches in Hampshire that teamed up with evangelist J John to run Just 10, a series of talks based on the Ten Commandments, at Winchester Cathedral earlier this year.

So big was the appeal of this event that the 2,000-seat cathedral wasn't big enough. In the end, the cathedral was the hub and coverage of the event was beamed to eight other churches in the area, including county towns and New Forest villages. Some 23,000 people attended and 783 people made professions of faith. Now local churches are running follow-up courses for everyone who made a decision, offering help with everything from anger management to parenting to Christian basics.

"Some people thought that this was an old-fashioned style of evangelism," says event organiser Karin Ling. "But the response figures show that 'proclamative' evangelism is still possible. I personally think that having one human being sharing the message of Christ through speech is so powerful. At the cathedral there was an atmosphere of spine-tingling awe with people singing the praises of God and hearing the Gospel message."

"There was an atmosphere of spine-tingling awe with people singing the praises of God"

The whole project has, she says, "consolidated church relations" in the area, with churches being more willing to work together in some instances and in others renewing old relationships. "There were many times when we felt this was daunting," says Karin. "It was bigger than our capabilities; we couldn't have done it in our own strength. We literally had to pray about everything because it was so huge."

Feeling overwhelmed is just one of the reasons why churches don't have the courage to evangelise, says Krish Kandiah. "All kinds of good stuff is happening, even in this multi-cultural society where the Church has begun to lose confidence that the Bible is true and evangelism is a dirty word for a lot of people.

"We are nervous about seeming intolerant or Bible-bashing," he says. "Our tendency is to be afraid and retreat into the ghetto. We mustn't do that. We need to go with bold humility. God knows that the world needs to know, and we should be bold about that, but we need to be humble and recognise that we need to learn too."

  • The Alliance is urging churches to put Square Mile into practice this September, using resources designed for individuals, small groups, whole congregations and communities. For details, visit: eauk.org/squaremile

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