Social action and church growth
The Church has been seeking ways to reach their local communities who overwhelmingly have no connection with the church. With the growth of social action in recent years, there have been many opportunities for Christians to express love and compassion to their neighbours, but how does that relate to evangelism?
We need to recognise evangelism is a process and people are on a spiritual journey. God is doing different things at different stages of their journey and we need to adjust our behaviour accordingly. We therefore need to be sensitive to where the person is, and what God is doing right now.
People sometimes move along their journey quite quickly but to avoid discouragement, we need to be realistic about expectations of an immediate response. Often we are sowing but we expect to reap. Sometimes we reap where others have sown. However, almost everyone who makes a commitment to Jesus has a story to tell of people and events in their lives bringing them closer and closer to the point of commitment.
If we understand something of the journey a person must take in order to discover God, then we know that helping someone take one more step towards God is successful evangelism just as much as helping them over the ‘final line’. "We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow." 1 Cor 3v 6-7 The Message.
The Engel Scale and Gray Matrix and versions help people to understand this journey.
Let's take one of the versions of the Engel Scale. A person’s journey is classified as various stages from having ‘No God framework’ to ‘Repentance and faith’ to ‘leading others’:
-12 No God framework
-11 Experience of emptiness
-10 God framework
-9 Vague awareness and belief in God
-8 Wondering if God can be known
-7 Aware of Jesus
-6 Interested in Jesus
-5 Experience of Christian love
-4 Aware of the basic facts of the gospel
-3 Aware of personal need
-2 Grasp the implications of the gospel
-1 Challenged to respond personally
0 Repentance and faith
+1 Holy Spirit and baptism Transforming
+2 Functioning member of local Church
+3 Continuing growth in character, lifestyle and service
+4 Part of Team Leadership
Throughout the journey, a person has an experience followed by an intellectual step followed by the corresponding personal or emotional step.
The Alpha course has been a strategic tool in evangelism but where is its place in the process? Probably for people in Stages -8 ‘Wondering if God can be known ‘ to -6 ‘Interested in Jesus’.
But what about the first part of the journey?
In my 2014 National Church and Social Action Survey and my subsequent report Social Action and Church Growth, the exciting news is that social action is helping the Church connect to local communities and has resulted in Church growth.
Social action seems to enable connection to people who are not at a place where they would be interested in Alpha or equivalent courses. It gives the Church the ability to connect to people in Stages -12 to say -8 on the above scale i.e. being able to reach people who have no God framework or just a vague awareness and belief in 'God'.
Let's take a look at some of the relevant free text answers to 'Encouragements' in the survey:
“Parents from the toddler group are turning to us in times of need, and some beginning to attend church.”
“Increasing numbers attending weekly Café Church.”
“Increased attendance at church-based community events.”
“Increased trust and recognition of the church. Relationships built. People attending.”
“Increase in footfall to various events.”
“Realising that we have around 70 young people attending our midweek clubs.”
“Seeing a number of people come along to church and make commitments.”
“More visitors to events laid on by the church as well as more attendance in the services.”
“Seeing people on the margins come through Alpha and begin to integrate into church.”
“Seeing a guest at last winter's night shelter come to faith in Christ, secure his own flat and obtain full-time employment!”
“Work in schools and RE, has brought a big increase in young people being involved in social care activities organised through the Church.”
“We have seen people added to our church because of the ministries that we are involved with. “
“It draws many people into the Church, as well as encouraging and tending to many of our homeless friends who can integrate into a Church as a result. It was great to hear that three new people joined the Visiting Scheme last week and Mr JW has recently become a Christian and is attending the bible study group."
“To see people find Jesus as their saviour and change. Seeing people released from the burden of debt, anxiety through prayer and action, receive gifts of shopping to feed them and alleviate financial pressure. See people come through mums and tots to alpha groups, become Christians and start coming to church.”
“Our projects have grown. A large number of people have become Christians from the Asylum/Refugee Project.”
“The numbers of people accessing the events, groups and resources has constantly increased.”
“People have joined the church. We have a fantastic relationship with our community.”
“Seeing a few folks come to faith as well as people who didn't attend a church start coming along! Be good to see more but it will happen...”
“Effectiveness of these ministries in drawing people to Christ.”
“People coming into the church, being saved and lives changing for the good.”
From these quotes, we can see that social action is having a profound on effect on individuals and ultimately on Church growth.
The keys to seeing growth from social action reported by respondents to my survey are:
building a long-term relationship with people
spending time with individuals
regular prayer for the initiative
volunteers are welcoming
inviting people to other events
This isn't rocket science and I hope you are encouraged.
However somewhere in there, we need to be able to tell them the gospel.. are your people being equipped by an evangelist to do this?
Next time (see this article) I'll be identifying some useful tools which may help you do this...
"He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ." Ephesians 4 12-13 The Message
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