Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An Anglican Revival?

I’m not actually completely comfortable writing this piece, but I think it’s something I need to do, so here goes nothing. First some background: Last fall my husband and I joined a small mission church – it was actually the only orthodox Anglican church within driving distance, about 30 minutes from home. (Despite that, I really do think we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.) The congregation started up about 2 years ago, and had an average of 20-25 or so each Sunday. Then two of our founding families moved away (one to Georgia and one to Singapore!). So now we’re down to 10-12 a Sunday. We meet in the library of a school, and until we lost half the congregation we were contemplating trying to secure a space of our own. That’s on the back burner now because we want to be good stewards with the money in our building fund and not go into debt. The philosopher is on the vestry and teaching Sunday school this summer – on the Anglican Formularies, no less, and I’m on the altar guild. Somehow, after less than a year, we have become one of the “core families.”

We are having a Vision Summit in two weeks, hoping to outline some plans for the coming years in terms of outreach, ministry and growth. I’ve always been a part of established churches and I have no clue what I can offer in this situation. Our rector wants to focus on the nearby areas for outreach, which makes sense. But that means, since we don’t live nearby, that the old “invite your neighbor to church” plan wouldn’t really work. Folks in our area, unless highly motivated like we were to find an orthodox Anglican church, probably wouldn’t be willing to travel half an hour on Sunday morning. And here’s where the discomfort for me comes in… we’re really homebodies. We live out in the country with no real neighbors to speak of anyway. I work in a state-run institution of higher education (not much religious discussion there!) and my husband works in a 3-man cabinet shop. I just don’t know what to do.

Yes, I know – that sounds really wimpy and weak and pathetic. But I promise, I’m not trying to be whiny. I am really searching for suggestions on how to turn my limits to an advantage. But sometimes, I suppose, one gets too close to the problem and can’t see the solution. And that’s where I am now. I trust that God has great plans for our church – we are in an area with two declining Episcopal churches, yet most of our congregation members were not Episcopalians before they found us. So that means we’re not made up of disaffected TECers plotting the overthrow of 815, but we’re a group of people attracted to Anglicanism for a myriad of reasons. That being said, I think we can really be a safe, Biblically based, Christ-centered haven for folks who feel it necessary to leave TEC. (This area of the world still has its head in the sand regarding the “Anglican Crisis,” so I wonder what will happen here after Lambeth and GAFCON, and more importantly after the 2009 General Convention?) Regardless, we want to be a place for anyone seeking a liturgically-based Christianity, not just those who’ve never heard of TEC or those trying to escape it.

So, my friends, do you have any suggestions for us and our church? I know some of you have recent experience with church planting, and I know some of you have a deep passion for evangelism. And I know some of you know others who might have really good ideas and advice. So I’m trying to cast a wide net, and see what I can catch. Thank you!


J said...

I would suggest looking into some sort of study of outreach. Our church is in the middle of a two-year series of "classes" that are aimed at helping churches evangelize and reach out to non-Christians.

It's bizarre to gather with other churches and see that we (and your church) really don't have an idea of how to reach out in general, much less to non-Christians.

People who are more inventive and have thought about it more than me, have lots of ways to do simple outreach. I would suggest looking for some resources like that to get your creative juices flowing.

One of the really shocking little stats the class mentioned was that only 3 of 20 churches grow in size each year, and only 1 in twenty grow by reaching people who don't know Christ already. Those other 2 are growing because Christians are changing churches.

It's not just you or your church that has troubles with this.

Matthew said...

The only success I have ever had evangelizing has been to invite my friends to church with me. Generally if they are churched, I ask semi-publicly and offer to visit their church as well.

The point of asking churched friends first is to let it be known that this is something I do, not something just for the heathen. I'm also not trying to steal sheep, as the parsons say. That way when I ask my heathen friends, they are comfortable with the idea that I'm not going to put the high pressure on.

For all that, I'm still a rotten evangelist.

I also wish I had your husband's job. Making furniture is so very much more satisfying than what I do.

The Underground Pewster said...

j and matthew make good points. I would add that you have to reach out and expand your circle of friends as well. When your friends see the happiness you have with your church, they may want to give it a try. In addition, traditional liturgical worship is very foreign to many, and puts some people off. This requires of you to be prepared to explain why we do the things we do. I suggest inviting people to your Bible study or Adult and child Sunday school and leave the formal service as an option at first.