Priority: Evangelism and Proclamation

From the Spring 2014 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian: Staff Q&A with Emily Cherry

In the Interactive Survey at Annual Council, participants ranked evangelism toward the bottom of the list. How do you explain that?

I actually think that the low ranking of Evangelism and Proclamation on the list of priorities is not entirely representative of the situation here in Virginia. And that’s become evangelism can’t be achieved in a bubble. Evangelism works in conjunction with and support of our other priorities.

In other words, we can be evangelists when it comes to matters of multicultural ministries, or young adult formation.

Another piece of the puzzle, though, is that Evangelism and Proclamation isn’t as visible and tangible a concept as some of the other priority areas. We can see Mission and Outreach in action. We can think of concrete examples of Strengthening Our Congregations. But evangelism is different: It’s a way of approaching how we “do” church, and that can be a tricky concept to grasp.

Some folks in the Church seem to be uncomfortable with the concept of evangelism. Why do you think that is?

Lots of us seem to equate evangelism with pushy conversion, which can be repellent. So I think the problem is one of perception and definition. How do we define evangelism, and how do we think others perceive it? We’re really comfortable about putting our arms around most of these other priorities for mission and ministry – but there’s a certain nervousness when it comes to embracing evangelism. That’s why I like to think of Evangelism and Proclamation in terms of communications.

Good evangelism means effective communication. It means telling our story in a compelling way. It means joining in conversations with the local community. And yes, it can also mean getting involved in social media, and marketing, and public relations. But that’s just one aspect of this communications-focused approach to evangelism. If we focus on sharing our stories – in articles, in the way we interact with others, in the way we live our lives – then we’re being effective evangelists.

How can we successfully recast and revision evangelism in the Diocese of Virginia?

I think the first step is to look at the ministry we’re already doing in terms of its evangelism potential, and then make it intentional. In many instances, the key to evangelism is not planning new programs or doing new things. Instead, it’s taking a close look at how we already interact and engage with others, and then considering how those encounters can be opportunities for evangelism.

For example, maybe your church already hosts a food pantry, providing food and nourishment to those in need. How do we turn that outreach into evangelism? We join in conversation with the food pantry clients. We invite them to worship. We spread the news of the food pantry’s success to the local media outlets. We talk to other congregations to explore partnership and growth opportunities.

I think that bringing intentionality to the discussion in all of our ministries is the key to making evangelism work in the 21st century.

How do you see our approach to Evangelism and Proclamation growing and evolving in the years to come? What’s on the horizon?

I see us looking at evangelism through a new lens. We all know that the role of church in society has shifted immensely. Folks seem busier, attention spans seem shorter, and the church doesn’t always make its way onto the priority list. If we look at evangelism as an opportunity to meet people where they are, though, then we’re no longer fighting an uphill battle. That means stepping out of our comfort zones to engage in work and ministry that reach people in new ways. And that’s a scary concept. But I think it’s definitely one worth exploring.