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Church Growth and Evangelism in the Anglican Catholic Church

Church Growth and Evangelism in the Anglican Catholic Church

The Rev'd Canon Stephen C. Scarlett

Introduction. Archbishop Haverland has commissioned us to begin an American initiative to promote the growth of our churches and the planting of new churches. The intent is for this complement our mission efforts in other countries.

The issue to be addressed. Some Anglican Catholic churches are growing and some have built churches. But a large, perhaps majority number of our parishes exist in a steady or declining state. The typical congregation is faithful but older. There is a struggle to replace those who die or move and an even greater struggle to begin Sunday schools and other programs aimed at youth.

Before we can look for answers, we need to reflect upon the cause of our current condition. One contributing factor is the non-evangelical nature of the Anglo Catholic tradition as we have received it in the ACC. This is not a characteristic of Anglo Catholicism per se. For example, one can read the book, Glorious Battle, by John Sheldon Reed to see the very evangelical nature of many post Oxford Movement Anglo Catholics.

What is meant by the word evangelical? The Affirmation of St. Louis calls us to an "evangelical witness." This refers to a concern for the salvation and welfare of the world outside of our parish walls. More particularly, it refers to a concern for conversion of hearts to faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to instruct believers in the faith–to "make disciples."

One reason we have not been evangelically oriented is that evangelism was not the primary cause for which the ACC was founded in events of 1977-78 in St. Louis and Denver. The primary concern at our inception was to maintain the Faith that had been abandoned by the Episcopal Church. There was great and necessary concern to define and guard the parameters of Orthodoxy.

Many of the founding clergy of the ACC had, for many years, fought the battle against both low church attacks on the fullness of the faith and heretical attacks on the essentials of the faith. They held on to and bequeathed to us a church, but it was not their vocation and gift to shift gears and evangelize in the new world the ACC faced.

Most of the clergy who gathered for the events of St. Louis and Denver (1977-1978) were raised in the 1940's-1970's, which was a vastly different religious world that we now face. It was a world in which mainline denominations were strong and people identified with them. It was a world in which many were raised in a church. It was a world in which a man could go to seminary for three years and then expect to find a job in the church upon graduation. The ACC has in many ways continued to train men for ministry in the church that was.

In the years immediately following the 1978 consecrations, two others things undermined evangelism. First, the response to the Continuing Church was less than anticipated. There was expectation that thousands would join in a wave of enthusiasm over the new, orthodox Anglican alternative. Instead, thousands stayed put or stayed home. Also, many who came brought conflict. The raging battle of their former church became the defining feature of their new parish.

Second, there were internal divisions and fights among the Anglicans at the beginning and in subsequent chapters of the history. Those who were present know that sometimes issues of principle were at stake. However, the prospective converts did know this. In the Acts of the Apostle we are constantly told how the unity of the church was foundation for its growth. Evangelism is always undermined by disunifying conflict. It instills a contentious attitude in those parishes that are involved in the conflict. All parish energy is sapped by the conflict so that there is no energy left for ministry. The very issue itself, whatever it is, tends to instill a more inward focus.

The net effect of the things outlined above is that, while ACC parishes are typically confident about the faith they hold, the are also typically uncertain about how to share this faith in their community.

Towards an evangelical Anglo Catholicism. We must begin by putting all past disappointments and conflicts behind us. Few who would be members of our parishes care about our old battles. Even fewer care about how it was done in St. Swithins in 1955. As Archbishop Cahoon once said, "We don't have time to waste answering questions that no one is asking."

The good news is that we are also freed from these things. Because we have made our break with heresy and are clear about our theological positions, we do not have to be stuck fighting or rehashing old battles. We can present our faith to the world around us in positive terms, in terms of what it is in its fullness. This will take a conscious change. Some of our clergy and people more comfortable fighting the old battles than doing the work of an evangelist.

Meanwhile, the world around us has moved on in at least some positive ways. The 60's-70's reaction against tradition has become a return to tradition in the 21st century. There are young people out there who will embrace the whole faith if it is presented to them in an evangelical way. One of the delightful ironies I have witnessed is watching a college age convert to Anglicanism bringing his evangelical church parents to the liturgy. The traditional Christian is now the rebel against the established church of the nondenominational seeker and the established religion of secularism.

The ACC is positioned to welcome converts looking for a return to tradition. However, people will not come simply because we are there. And if they do come they will not stay in a church that is content to be a museum dedicated to the preservation of period Anglicanism. We must realize that change is necessary–perhaps a revolution.

Essential aspects of parish evangelism. The following comments are not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of what to do. But the following points are central and may at least begin the discussion.

1. From maintenance to mission. The first change that must take place is a transformation from concern about church maintenance to concern about the mission of the church. Being satisfied that we rightly performed the liturgy, balanced the budget and paid all the bills for one more year is not good enough. We must want to make new disciples.

We must begin to ask questions like, What is our mission and ministry in this community? How will we go about the business of asking people to come? How will we go about welcoming them when they do? What is our program for teaching the faith to newcomers? When will we have our Bible Studies? Who will teach them? What other programs do we want to offer?

We must believe that a growing ministry can take place in our churches–that God can do remarkable things among us. Much of our ministry is undermined by an unspoken attitude that says, "This is all we can be." The beginning of evangelism among us is faith that God has called us to do something and boldness to do it new challenging ways.

2. All genuine efforts at evangelism begin with prayer. Without a serious church-wide commitment to pray about God's will for the parish and for parish growth, all efforts will be wasted. We are saved by grace and not by works. Each parish that wants to change should identify a core group of members that is willing to address the issue. The newly formed "Missions Committee" should begin with a study of Acts 1 and 2. The early church began in the upper room praying for the Holy Spirit to come. The first thing the Christians did was to pray and wait. The first thing a parish should do is pray and wait.

At St. Matthews in the mid 1990's, we set aside Tuesday nights for prayer and discussion about evangelism. We had evening prayer with special intercessions for the growth of our parish. We asked people to fast habitually as they prayed. After prayer, we discussed things we might do. Some hair-brained and almost heretical ideas were surfaced and rejected, but a sense of common calling came out of the prayer and discussion over time. The beginning of evangelism is to begin to ask and pray about the question.

The essential question we discussed was: Since people will not understand the liturgy coming in off the streets, how can we open other doors of entry? We ended up doing various things. The Alpha Course, dinners with seasonal themes, periodic evensong and dinners and an inquirer's classes. Each parish can discern, by prayer and discussion, what things might work in its particular setting.

3. Evangelism must be rooted in personal invitation. The key to any evangelistic endeavor is invitation. You must invite people to come to your church. All church studies make it clear that in excess of 80% of all new church members joined because someone invited them. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME TALKING ABOUT ADS. Go ahead and put an advertisement in the paper and in the Yellow Pages. Put it in and forget about it. It will get you an occasional visitor. That is it.

In terms bang for the buck, web sites are much more effective than traditional newspaper advertisements. Young people routinely shop for and find things on the internet. If you become serious about evangelism, you will also become serious about developing a first class, missions oriented website.

However, the fact remains, YOU MUST INVITE PEOPLE TO COME TO YOUR CHURCH. You encounter God at your church. Why wouldn't someone you know also find God there? (If you don't encounter God at your church, the first step is to remedy that.) Once church members become willing and prayerful about inviting people, God will provide opportunities.

4. Develop non liturgical doors of entry. As you invite, you must remember that the liturgy is not meant to convert those who do not believe. Hence, it is better to invite people to things that are more accessible as a way of introduction to the parish. When people do come to the liturgy, there should be notice given of the next inquirer's class. It should be made clear that no one is expected to understand the liturgy on their first visit, but it should also be clear that the church offers a pathway to understanding–that we want visitors to know what we know.

5. You membership is your first mission field. The whole apparatus of the church must be oriented towards spiritual growth. The life of prayer, centered on the daily offices and the Bible lectionary, must be promoted and practiced by the clergy and leading lay people. Promote the prayer book as a rule of life, not as a quaint historical artifact. Let parish discussion center on a common dialogue about the lectionary and spiritual growth–and not about church politics.

Many people who consider themselves to be traditional or catholic are still in need of greater conversion of the heart. Many people in our churches know the outward form of our religion but not its power to change lives. Aim at internal transformation first.

For many parishes, the first step in evangelism is to look at what is going on in the parish. What is our church all about? What are we inviting people to join? How would a neutral observer assess what we are doing? Is our church the kind of church that someone can join so as to grow in faith? Or is our church majoring in the minor things? Self-assessment leading to change will the necessary starting point for evangelism in many places

6. There must be emphasis on the Bible. The Bible must be the main source of the churches teaching and preaching, and both must be aimed at conversion of the heart. Personal Bible reading and study must be emphasized. All evangelism is Bible centered; what was worthy in the English Reformation was its biblical emphasis. One of the greatest problems with modern Christians is that they learn their patterns of thinking from the newspaper and pop-psychology and not the Bible.

7. The ministry of the church must be based on the spiritual gifts of the members. We have used the book, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, by Peter Wagner. It was recommended by Brother John Charles. It contains a spiritual gifts inventory that enables each member to discover his gifts. A gift-based ministry follows simple logic. By finding out what gifts God has placed in a certain church, we can find out what ministry God is calling that church to carry out.

For example, at St. Matthew's in the 1990's, our evangelism committee took the inventory. We discovered that no one had the gift for evangelism.–at least not in the sense of calling crowds of people to come to Jesus. But we discovered that many had gifts for hospitality and teaching. This has been the focus of our evangelism. A church can only know what God is calling it to do by knowing what kinds of gifts he has placed in it.

A gift-based ministry stands opposite of clericalism. If the task does not require a priest, find a gifted layman. The priest should encourage the ministries of others. The priest who micro-manages every aspect of the church hinders its growth.

8. Women should be also encouraged to exercise their gifts. We are clear that there are no women bishops, priests and deacons, but the Bible is clear that women have gifts that aid the body's growth, which include pastoral and teaching gifts. Ministry by women to women is especially important. Whether we like it or not, the fact in our culture is that the mother more often that not determines where the family goes to church.

9. Emphasize what is legitimately catholic. What is catholic is what has been believed everywhere always and by all. However, many churches hold as essential and catholic certain practices that were unknown in the church before the early to mid twentieth century. What is genuinely catholic will speak to people in a genuinely universal way. But the strange invention of 1952 that has become the litmus test of a catholic is a given parish will not speak to anyone but those already there. Consider getting rid of it.

This is sacred and controversial ground, but it must be tread upon in our discussion about mission. For example, I have seen parishes insist that their way of doing the liturgy is the most "catholic" way. But the only sure thing that could be said is this "catholic" liturgy is done that particular way NOWHERE ELSE IN ALL THE WORLD. When the most peculiar thing becomes the most catholic, we are worlds away from St. Vincent of Lerin–and from mission.

10. Get rid of programs that don't work. Do not continue with a particular program, schedule or event merely because "We have always done it this way." With regard to non-essentials, be willing to turn things upside down to promote healthy change–like Jesus did. It is very helpful for a church to have an annual or semi-annual leadership meeting to review what the church is doing.

11. Build the ministry of the church around the committed and willing and do not encourage or cater to the complainers. Find people in the parish who want to see evangelism and growth and who are willing to work, pray and give for it. Build the ministry around them. Put them in positions of leadership. Discourage those whose primary ministry seems to be that of criticism or ensuring no new thing is ever done. Do not cater to them nor put them in important positions. It is not good for them or the church.

12. Realize that evangelism in an Anglican context takes patience and perseverance. Our model will not be the doubling of a church every year. The commitment to pray for growth must be seen as a long term commitment. The conversation about evangelism must be ongoing. The horizon of answered prayer may be years. You will ask God to lead you in evangelism. God will ask you if you are serious by testing your perseverance.

13. We must put a significant emphasis on education. Our late Archbishop Stevens said that, in his experience, "a parish never rises above the educational level of its clergy." Clergy who have read for orders or have been educated in unaccredited Anglican houses of study should consider going back to school to pursue a master's level theological degree. The opportunities in each area differ, but most parts of the country have seminaries where classes can be taken in the evening and on line. Many of our clergy need more education in the areas of scripture, history and pastoral theology among other things. Many will not be effective in missions in our culture without more training.

In the first generation of the Continuing Church, many were hurried into ministry, with inadequate education, because it was thought that church needed someone "right now." In many places much damage was done. In other places, the lack of education limited the growth of the mission or church. In every case I am aware of, a better result would have been achieved by insisting that the person take the time to get the education. In our situation, the best model may be some program of Anglican Studies leading to ordination as deacon; and then an extended diaconate of several years while the man finishes an accredited master's degree. This policy is, of course, way beyond the concern of the missions committee. But we are kidding ourselves if we ignore the connection between clergy education and the potential of our parishes.

Lay education should also be stressed. There are educational opportunities for lay people in various seminaries. We should aim for active lay ministries.

Towards a method of implementation. I hope for input from others to greatly refine the comments made above and to expand the discussion into other areas with the goal of having a sort of how to book for the ACC.

It is probably necessary to have some regular gathering to focus on these things. However, the new form must not be the grab bag of ideas that characterized the old evangelism congresses. Rather, the new form must be presented by those who know what needs to be done and how to do it. Any new church-wide gathering would be preceded by a gathering of clergy and laity who would work out the form of training in advance. Or, it may be that the new form will be worked out in particular churches that are willing to do new things or in newly planted churches.

Some clergy may be hostile to the initiative for a while. That is okay. Nobody should be forced to do anything. However, by emphasis, this hostility should decrease and eventually disappear in ten to twenty years. The churches that are not interested may not be around that long anyway.

Concluding thoughts. The necessary revolution is not primarily about the faith or the liturgy. The revolution we need must deal with attitudes and habits of behavior that surround our practice of the faith and our worship. We must cease being content to be what we are for ourselves and realize that Christ has brought us into being to be the light of the world. The call to evangelism is a call to walk away from the mirror and to begin to look out the window at the world around us.

The Rev'd Canon Stephen C. Scarlett is the rector of St. Matthew's Church and School in Newport Beach, California

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