Saturday, November 14, 2009

Welcoming Newcomers and Sharing the Gospel

We've had a couple of encouraging events back to back at our church this weekend.

Welcoming Newcomers
Friday night we had a 'New Member Orientation' evening. This is something we used to do a few years ago but have recently revived. Everyone who has been added to our parish list over the past year is invited. Of course, not everyone comes,, but we still had ten newcomers out last night which was very gratifying. Also about eight 'resource people' were there from the parish family to build community with the newcomers and help them feel welcome.

We were seated around three tables in the basement (where our little 'parish hall' is located). We began by introducing ourselves to the other people at our tables, answering questions like 'What's my name? Where do I live? With who? For how long? What brought me to St. Margaret's and how long have I been coming?' Following this, I gave a short history of our parish (we are a young congregation, dating back only to September 1980, and our building was built in 1996), with a powerpoint presentation showing photographs from our history.

We then had a break for coffee and delicious desserts prepared by a couple of our 'resource people' - who had themselves been newcomers at our previous New Member Orientation back in May.

In the second half of the evening we explained the structure and ministries of our church. We introduced people to our vestry and churchwardens and the committees that help make our life possible. We talked about the many opportunities for people to use their gifts in the life of our congregation and in our outreach to the wider community. Some of our resource people talked about Bible study groups and other ministries they were involved in, and invited our new members to consider participating in them.

It was a very relaxed evening with an emphasis on building relationships. A couple of people brought small children with them so there was a certain amount of background noise as the children played. This just served to underline the relaxed and informal character of the evening, and our congregation's desire to be a child-friendly church.

The evaluation forms were quite positive and a lot of our newcomers expressed interest in attending our next 'Christian Basics' course.

Sharing the Gospel
Today (Saturday) we held a workshop from 9.30 - 4.30 called 'Sharing Your Faith Without Losing Your Friends'. This title, and much of the content, was shamelessly stolen from the Rev. Harold Percy, rector of Trinity Church, Streetsville, in the Diocese of Toronto. Harold's book 'Good News People' was a great resource for this workshop. The idea of the workshop was to raise people's level of confidence in their ability to talk be effective witnesses for the Christian faith with their friends, famly, and work colleagues. Ten people attended, and I was the presenter.

The first two sessions were mainly in lecture format. The first, 'Pros and Cons', looked at two signs of the coin: why would we want to share the gospel with others, and what are some of the things that nake it difficult to do so in our culture? The second, 'Good News to Share', looked at the content of the Gospel under three headings - 'Resurrection', 'Reign', and 'Reconciliation', and also at our 'Response' of Faith, Baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The third session, 'Where Do I begin?' was more interactive; we thought about our 'circles of influence' under the three headings of family, friends, and work (or school) colleagues. We listed as many people as we could think of in those three categories. We then underlined the names of any who, as far as we know, are not followers of Jesus, and we put an asterisk beside the names of any with whom we had regular significant conversation. These are the people we are most likely to be able to influence for the Gospel. We then split into twos, shared the names on our lists and prayed for those people.

After lunch we thought about 'Sharing Our Stories'. We were each invited to think about our faith story in three chapters. Depending on our background, it might take the form of (1) Early Christian influences on my life, (2) How I owned the Faith for myself, and (3) The difference Jesus is making to my life today. Alternatively, it might take the form of (1) My life before I became a Christian, (2) How I became a Christian, and (3) The difference Jesus is making to my life today. Participants spent some time thinking about their faith story and then separated into twos, shared their stories with each other, and responded by identifying what good news they heard in their partners' stories. This was one of the best received and most enjoyable sessions of the workshop.

The next session, 'Five Elements of the Conversation', talked about the ongoing evangelising conversation and its different elements of (1) bridging, (2) diagnosis, (3) asking permission, (4) making your case, and (5) closure. Then we looked at 'ten helpful hints' on various aspects of witness, including a few minutes discussing what to do when people raised difficult questions. The final session, 'How to lead a friend to Christ', helped us know what to do if a friend responds to our invitation positively and wants to commit their life to Christ.

Again, the evaluation forms were very positive and it was a really enjoyable day overall. We were blessed to have participants of all ages including a teenager, a young couple with a little baby, and several seniors. The diverse membership of the group made the sharing times very rich, as did people's willingness to take risks and share their stories, not only in their 'twosomes' but also with the group as a whole.

At St. Margaret's we are trying to be more effective in mission and outreach in our personal lives and in our life as a congregation. These two events were encouraging signs that our efforts are not in vain. God is at work leading us out in mission!

(Cross-posted at To See and to Follow)

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