Church of the Good Shepherd, Saint John, NB
We discovered that our “Minimum Factor” at that time was “Need-Oriented Evangelism,” with a score of 19. The Minimum Factor is the lowest-scoring characteristic of eight on the NCD Church Survey. “19” is a relatively low score, and the overall Survey score was 36, near the bottom 15% of Canadian churches Surveyed. As a quiet, almost introverted Anglican Parish, this score did not surprise us. As one wag joked, “If someone volunteered that they would like to come to church with us, we might just reply, ‘I’m not sure you’d like it!’”
Our vestry (governance board) had committed itself to a minimum five-year journey in renewal and retooling our life and ministry under the guidance of NCD evaluations, so as difficult as we would find this, we tackled the need to improve our evangelism!
Our vestry members and other parish leaders met and brainstormed about the challenge, and came up with a series of workshops, programs and events to help us become more “evangelistic” – something that we were very uncomfortable with!
Two important NCD resources helped us with this task.
The first was the congregational Colour Profile that NCD compiled for us as a result of many people filling in the test in the basic NCD Resource, “Color Your World with Natural Church Development.” We know a lot of parishes ignore this step in learning about NCD and themselves, but we found it very important. What we discovered about ourselves is that collectively we are a “Green-Blue” parish, with a very low score in the Red category. This means we’re stronger in fellowship (green) and faith (blue) than we are in service (red). No wonder we were uncomfortable about evangelism! It is a very “Red” dimension of a church’s life. Under-standing our strengths and weaknesses not only gave us permission to be honest about who we are as a congregation, it also helped us to design ways of “growing” into being more evangelistic by starting with things that made us more comfortable.
For example, we instituted “Cookie Sundays” – three or four a year. People were asked to bake cookies and bring them to church – our parish is very good at that. On a given Sunday, volunteers organized the cookies into bags of four, with a note of prayer and invitation to join us for worship some Sunday. Near the end of the service, these bags were brought into church and dedicated with prayer. Each person present was asked to name, in their hearts, someone who had not attended worship that Sunday who would be blessed to receive the cookies. Each parishioner was then commissioned to take at least one bag of cookies, to give to that very person – a family member, workmate, friend or neighbour – and tell them we prayed for them on Sunday. There was a great deal of fun about this project. We were becoming evangelists! Stories were shared and visitors started appearing at worship over the next few Sundays. We continue to hold these “cookie Sundays” two or three times a year.
The other thing that helped us respond to our low score in the area of Need-Oriented Evangelism was a careful look at our scores in the particular questions that were used to compute our score in that Characteristic. There we found several patterns emerging that helped us to design events and programs targeting our areas of weakness or discomfort.
One thing we learned – and we did not like to admit this about ourselves, being quite chummy as a parish together – is that we are a cold church to visitors. As one person said: “I found this church very unfriendly 20 years ago when I started attending, but I don’t feel that way now. So, should it take newcomers twenty years to feel welcome?” They had no answer for the question. Many talked about the strangers at church – even in front of them! – but no one other than the Rector spoke to them directly! Even our “greeters” just functionally presented them with bulletins. Those who persisted in returning found it hard to meet other worshippers or integrate into any of our small groups.
So we designed a Sunday afternoon workshop on becoming a more inviting church. We had a couple of new parishioners speak about what it was like to come to our parish and become one of the family. Our Youth Group presented two excellent and humorous “before and after” skits about a church welcoming visitors. One of our most extroverted Sunday morning welcomers gave tips on speaking to people you don’t know and making them feel part of the worshipping family. And we did some practice role-playing. In small groups, people gave the more introverted ones permission to just quietly befriend a new pew-mate, and encouraged the more extroverted to see their jovial friendliness as a gift to be used in ministry on Sunday mornings.
The “Cookie Sundays” were so successful that we looked for other ways to give something away for Christ. Our highest score in the “Needs Oriented Evangelism” category was on the question about helping others – we are a generous church in outreach.
What else could we do out of that “comfort zone?” We learned that many of the local store clerks have to provide their own pens for their work, so we saw this as an opportunity. The parish purchased 800 quality pens with our logo and contact information on them for free distribution. People were commissioned to take as many pens as they wanted, but they could only keep one! The rest they were to give to others as opportunity arose, with a simple word about one way they expressed their faith in God was to share in the life of our parish.
We also sought to add an element of sharing our faith to other outreach projects. For instance, Christmas cards with spiritual messages and an invitation were included in our Christmas hampers.
Our people are very shy about talking about our faith, and we knew we needed to address this challenge head-on. We learned about a British program, “Not Ashamed” (whose resources are still available for order on the Internet); people could wear a decorative silver pin, a button, or a rubber wristband complete with a cartoon-talk balloon with a cross in it. We ordered a number of these. If their meaning provoked a query, parishioners were coached to talk about how the symbol was a sign that they are not ashamed of their faith in Christ. These proved to be surprisingly popular, with stories being shared each week about the conversations started and simple testimonies shared. It was a good starting place for us!
Related to that, our parish adopted the “Back to Church Sunday” program originally out of the UK. People were encouraged to pray for someone they would eventually invite to worship with them. We have done this now for three years, welcoming special visitors on the appointed Sundays.
Many of us admitted difficulty in talking about our faith with others. At the same time, our Vestry noted a large number of families who were affiliated with our parish but not attending. Our leaders agreed to visit these folks, each team of two taking several households. The households were contacted ahead of time, and asked if they would host our visitors and do them the favour of giving them an opportunity to practice talking about their faith, as part of their leadership training in our church. (This also had the bonus of assuring these inactive folks that we were not coming to ask them for money!)
We also offered an autumn video small-group discussion program using Bill Hybel’s book and videos, “Just Walk Across the Room.” This topic on friendship evangelism, quite intimidating for us, proved so successful that we took the extra step and used Hybel’s book and course, “Becoming Contagious Christians” for our daily readings, Sunday sermons and Lenten small group video-discussions.
In May 2011 we conducted our second NCD Survey. We were encouraged to see that our score in “Need-Oriented Evangelism” had risen by 14 points. We breathed a sigh of relief in learning that our new lowest score – and focus for the next year – was “Passionate Spirituality.” In spite of the change of focus, special events and programming, our Needs Oriented Evangelism score grew again, by another 12 points, when we conducted our third Survey in May of 2012.
But more importantly, the presence of new worshipers, the friendlier spirit, and the bolder witness of many of our usually quiet parishioners convinces us that NCD, properly employed with planning and follow-up and not just used as a snapshot by itself, really does work as a stimulus for church growth in both health and numbers!
Chris McMullen is the Rector & Priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Saint John, NB