My busy schedule has prevented me from being able to write regularly on here lately, and I have missed doing it! I am currently up in Buckhannon, WV for the Annual Conference of the West Virginia United Methodist Church. For those who don’t know what this is, this is the yearly meeting of the clergy and lay representatives of the United Methodist Church in West Virginia. Each year, we gather for worship, business, and teaching. This year, the big pieces of business are voting for delegates to go to Jurisdictional Conference and General Conference, which are larger bodies of the United Methodist Church and have the authority to pass resolutions, elect bishops, and do other legislative work of the church. But most of that is not super interesting. What I want to share with you is some of the teaching that is going on.
We have been focusing on evangelism within our own congregation and on the level of the church at large. We have been hearing and giving the same message over and over again, and we have heard about the state of the church repeatedly: we need to bring more people in to the church, we need to evangelize and invite people to worship; our denomination is in decline, there are more and more people who do not affiliate with mainline denominations (or any church), etc. These things are not news. I think we know the problems, and we simply say that the solution is to attract more people to the church. We just need to evangelize! The problem is, we stink at evangelism! We either reserve that work for the pastors because they are the “experts”, or we think handing out water bottles to folks in our community or extending one invitation to a neighbor to come to church is all we need to do.
Yesterday, we had a speaker, Rev. Doug Anderson, who called this type of evangelism “elementary school” evangelism. Sure, it is a step in the right direction, but it is only a first step. Yesterday he said that we need to learn to grow up in our faith and in our evangelism. We need to move beyond elementary school. We need to learn to articulate the way that God is working to one another in our own congregation if we ever want to be able to focus outward. He said, “Until we start to do that, there’s no way we can significantly share with people outside of the church…. The mission is always, always, always out. You can’t transform the world if aren’t focused out.”
We need to begin to think together about ways to move beyond the elementary school level of evangelism to engage our community in an increasingly significant and faithful way.
I have been doing some thinking about all of these things in relation to The Well, but I will share a bit more about that later today or tomorrow.
If you are interested in seeing what is going on here at Annual Conference, there is a livestream available here.