Over the weekend I was on my church's retreat. Yes, we're a large church and we have one. We rent a YMCA camp.
We do a lot of workshops there. I taught one on Bellydancing (which I'm a relative newbie at) and making weird stuff out of duct tape (which longtime Chalicesseurs will know I'm pretty good at.)
There was also a discussion group with a church committee, part of which became about
growing the church.*
As a group, we seemed collectively nervous about the idea of evangelism. And I get that, because I am too. I've lived in the South, where people coming up to you and inviting you to go to church is a common thing. At the same time, the discussion made me think about how I evangelize other things in my life that I like and appreciate.
Point of fact, sometime last year, my husband and I discovered a kickass Thai restaurant. If you're in the DC area, you probably want to know that this place is called "Elephant Jumps"** I learned about the place at my old job. The owner was my boss' brother-in-law. TheCSO and I first went just to give them some business, but we were blown away with how good it was. It was the best curry I'd ever had, and I love curry. It was cheap, it was delicious and they had some Thai-American fusion dishes so we could even take our friends who view Thai food as gastronomically adventurous. (The ChaliceDad is one of those people.)
It was, in short, everything we wanted in a Thai restaurant. As new restaurants have a something like 50 percent survival rate in a good economy, it was very important to us that this place survive. Like a church, a restaurant must essentially grow to survive, especially in the DC area where lots of people are always moving away.
I used this example, though with less detail, in the discussion at the retreat. I said that theCSO and I made a concerted effort to spread the word about Elephant Jumps. At the same time, we didn't, and at this point I turned to address the guy sitting next to me, an occaisional Chalicesseur (Hi Tom!), and said "We don't say 'I'd like to tell you about my journey of personal growth that has lead me to a really good restaurant."
Everyone laughed, and I did say it in a funny way, but my fundamental point about evangelism was serious. We get so scared of evangelizing, but we do it all the time.
The thing is, I don't know that the type of evangelism that we're afraid of is the kind of evangelism we should be doing in the first place. Elephant Jumps didn't have a "bring a friend" day and theCSO and I never talked to strangers about it directly. I didn't wear a button that, symbolically or literally, said "Ask me about Elephant JUmps."
The owner of Elephant Jumps told us proudly recently that he's thinking of opening up a larger or second location. And, again, they opened in a terrible economy.
Anyway, here are the elements of the model I'm proposing, let's call it the
"Elephant Jumps model of Evangelising."
1. A kickass product.
We have an amazing interim minister. I've always thought this, but I realized how deeply I believed it when someone on facebook was looking for a DC church to visit. I looked up what the service was about and I found myself responding "My minister is preaching about Canada. I know that doesn't SOUND promising, but every service she gives is good."
I've rarely felt comfortable saying that so confidently. Indeed, the last time I've had a minister who was consistently thoughtful and awesome in the pulpit every single Sunday was when I was in Katy-the-Wise's congregation.
Now, I don't kick ass at my job every single day, though goodness knows I try. I assume even our minister has off days, but even if she should have one, our music director is so tremendous that I still feel confident saying "Come to my church and Sunday morning will rock." I don't say that if it's a lay service because we've had some mediocre lay services in the past. Mine may or my not be among their number.
But anyway, our church manages to have consistently awesome preaching, much like Elephant Jumps does consistently amazing things with tilapia.
I couldn't have evangelized about Elephant Jumps if they didn't have amazing food in the first place.
2. Get the word out to your friends.
This should not be an awkward discussion. IMHO, if it is awkward you're doing it wrong. If you had a fabulous meal at Elephant Jumps and someone were talking about good noodle dishes, you'd bring it up, right? Evangelism for church should work the same way. Saying something like "(My minister/this lady at my church/a religious education class I took) made the most fabulous point about that..." at a relevant point in a conversation about spirituality/life/etc is my favorite way to evangelize to friends. Don't make recruitment your goal. Make modeling how a person can be relgious without being a pain about it your goal. Don't go recruiting, but don't hide how much you like your church and how much it enriches your life.
You can invite people to church, of course, but I only do that when I'm pretty sure there's something the person I'm inviting would be specifically interested in and include a social thing with you afterwards. (E.g. "I know religion and homosexuality is something you're interested in. My church is doing a thing on that this Sunday. If you show up, I'll take you to brunch afterwards" or "Doing anything on Friday? I wrote a mystery story and I'm reading it at my church cabaret. Show up and we can go for dirnks afterwards.")
3. Get the word out in an even wider way. \
My first step in getting the word out about Elephant Jumps wasn't even verbal, though I told lots of people about it in the ensuing week or two and have done so in small doses since. My first shoutout about Elephant Jumps was on on Yelp. As I've mentioned here before, I found my first UU church, Katy-the-Wise's, from their website. My latest bit of online evangelism is to tweet about awesome stuff I hear about in church using a hashtag for my church.
The spiffy thing about this is, I have some friends who do things like that too. We've formed what feels to me like the beginnings of an online religious community as we just tweet stuff that is meaningful to us. I love this because honestly having church be somewhere I can "check in" whenever I'm low on spiritual fuel is more important to me than having it as a place to go Sunday morning.***
More importantly, it sends the message "You think I'm cool enough to follow on Twitter, well, here's something I think is cool enough to write about."
Anyway, that's my plan for evangelizing a church. It's what I'm comfortable with, and honestly, it's what I feel would work for me. If I were looking for a church, I'd check it out online**** and when my friend was jazzed about how great his/her church, was, I'd listen.
It's not going on on street corners, but I really do think it could work.
*there were also discussions about stuff like the Middle East, with guys who would be in a position to know. I personally couldn't deal with that at a retreat because my perception is that I start smelling like a horse within minutes of arrival, but I'm delighted that we have these things. One of the badass things about going to a large church is that we've got members who do all sorts of cool stuff for a living. If my church could figure out a way to use its human capital more efficiently, we would be in great shape to actually do awesome things in this world.
**If you know Northern VA and want to get specific, you know that place "Grevey's" in Meriffield near INOVA Fairfax? Same shopping center.
*** I know you may not agree. I do see the value of brick and morter churches, I just find words and ideas churches as valuable if not more so personally.
****Negative reviews online aren't inherently all that offputting to me. That someone would have a bad experience is going to happen. But positive reviews mean a lot to me. I don't yelp about every restaurant, I yelp about the ones that make the experience memorable.