What do the dioceses of Tennessee, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic have in common with New Hampshire? They are all growing! Between 2007 and 2008, only seven dioceses had growth rates above 1% and ours was among them. (The others were Colombia, Litoral Ecuador and the Navajoland Area Mission.) Although the 2009 diocesan figures are not yet complete, the Diocese of New Hampshire has again grown in active membership from 14,501 to 14,787: a rate of two percent!
In the last issue of the New Hampshire Episcopal News, the two-page spread “Evangelism is Outreach, Outreach is Evangelism” gave witness to the ways our congregations are enthusiastically reaching out to incorporate new people into their lives. We heard from Betsy Hess and the Rev. John McCausland about innovative techniques to connect people outside our walls with the people within them.
As Christians, we use the word “incorporate” intentionally. The “corpus” that we incorporate people into is the Body of Christ itself (1 Cor. 12:12). Paul also used a botanical metaphor of grafting wild olive shoots onto cultivated trees (Romans 11:17). This incorporation and ingrafting always begins in Baptism (1 Cor. 12:13). In the last issue, Betsy Hess rightly said that evangelism “is not rocket science.” In fact, the work is far more organic, personal and living.
The Rev. John McCausland’s and Canon Charles LaFond’s work on the Come and See initiative help us as individual Christians feel comfortable inviting friends to Sunday worship. After Holy Cross’s success with the program in Easter Season, Canon LaFond and the Evangelism Commission will review it and prepare it for use in every church in the diocese. Soon, the online Evangelism Toolkit will provide all of the Come and See resources for download and adaptation in your context.
The work of incorporation goes beyond invitation and to formation and sustained ministry. Grace Church in East Concord has prepared a Discovery Class, a twelve-week introduction to Christian faith and the Episcopal Church. The class begins in the basics, taking into account that only 36% of New Hampshire and Vermont residents agree that “religion is very important in their lives.” The class concludes with a look at Spiritual Gifts and connecting new members’ gifts into ministries lived in congregations. Also, after review, the class materials will become available online Toolkit for every congregation to use.
The Evangelism Commission has worked hard to create these two resources and to expand them into a Toolkit for our whole diocese. In their work, the Commission has defined evangelism as “actively inviting non-members to membership in the Body of Christ and to commit with us to work, pray and give for the spread of the Kingdom of God,” based on 1 Corinthians and our Catechism (p. 856). Energized by the Holy Spirit and equipped with the Evangelism Toolkit, our churches will remain in the good company of growing places like Tennessee and Colombia, found all over the global Body of Christ.