Christian writer Dallas Willard says there are two questions that every congregation should be able to answer: “What is your plan for discipleship? Does that plan work?” I suspect that many of us could not articulate how our congregations make new disciples. Can you?
The Diocese of New Hampshire has developed one plan, the Evangelism Toolkit, that changes the culture of congregations. By using the Toolkit annually (like we use the Stewardship manual annually), we find ourselves and our churches converted into growing and vital ministries that enjoy inviting non-members inside our doors.
The 2012 General Convention report on the state of the church shows that the Diocese of New Hampshire is one of seven domestic dioceses that showed membership growth between 2006 and 2011. Of the 100 domestic dioceses, only seven show membership growth and New Hampshire is one of them! Clearly we have a plan for making new disciples that works.
The Diocesan Council offers financial grants to congregations seeking to use the Evangelism Toolkits. We shouldn’t shy away from making disciples because we are nervous about the cost! (You can download grant applications from http://evangelism.nhepiscopal.org.) In 2011, six churches received a total of $7,683 to make their Come and See campaigns happen. They report that, together, they saw at least 76 newcomers come through their doors for Sunday worship. Those six churches saw their Average Sunday Attendance rise by a total of 10 between 2010 and 2011.
Of those churches, only Grace-East Concord has so far repeated the Come and See campaign in 2012. The clergy and lay leaders of the other five (Berlin, Derry, Newport, Weare and Woodsville) have yet to submit grant applications for 2012.
The Evangelism Toolkit should be used year after year to realize its potential. Making disciples is not something that we do once or twice to boost our numbers. Inviting new people to discipleship should be the ongoing life of the church and an important incarnation of our diocesan values of welcome, hospitality and inclusion. Can you imagine what would happen if we only did Stewardship Campaigns on an irregular schedule, out of fear for sagging finances? Can you imagine what would happen if we gave up on stewardship pledging after our first try because of resistance? Rather, evangelism and stewardship call Episcopalians to return annually to the basic practices of Christianity of proclaiming and living the Gospel.
This year, both St. Paul’s- and Grace-Concord shared their Come and See campaigns. The Diocesan Council provided grant funds for the bulk of program expenses. Linda Spinella from St. Paul’s said, “From the start of the program through its completion there was a palatable increase in enthusiasm surrounding the Come and See program.” She also shared this photograph of parishioner Anne Edmonds with gift bags for visiting children. Between the two churches, they report at least 62 new people visiting in the first three Sundays of Easter because of invitations their members made. Right now both churches are turning interested visitors into committed members through the use of the Koinonia new member curriculum.
The work of disciple-making should stand alongside our stewardship campaigns as repeated, annual programs for church growth. Our congregations need the growth and our members grow spiritually by making the invitations. If your church needs help making this a part of your common life, commit to the September 22 Evangelism Institute! I look forward to seeing you there!