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Evangelism is not a matter of converting someone to a different belief, it is a matter of welcoming those who are isolated and in need of a community We explore how effective evangelism is based on communicating directly and honestly what our religious community means to us. We'll generate practical ideas that can be put to immediate use in congregations. Peter Morales is senior minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) Executive Committee and a member of the Latino UU Networking Association steering committee. Don Southworth is the intern minister in San Mateo, CA, and serves on the Starr King School Ministry Board of Directors.
Evangelism is about reaching out. However, before we can reach out we have to reach in and reach down. Before we can be an inviting church that attracts and keeps visitors, we have to know who we are, what we stand for, what we have to offer. It arises from the deepest place of our sense of what is sacred, of what it means to live religiously.
Evangelism is not a membership program, a set of activities or even a set of skills. Evangelism has very little to do with deciding to grow. At its core, evangelism is the natural outgrowth of our sense of religious community. That is why deciding to grow, ironically, has little to do with growth. This is why churches that do grow often have no particular membership program. What growing churches do have is a sense of their mission and an enthusiasm that is palpable and contagious.
Evangelism is the natural result of a deep belief that we Unitarian Universalists have something important and precious to offer. Evangelism is founded on the beliefs that people have a need for religious community, for deep relationships, for spiritual exploration, for social involvement. None of this, in a liberal church, has anything to do with conversion. In a non-credal faith like ours, evangelism cannot be founded on convincing someone that we have the truth and the way.
However, in a profound sense, evangelism for Unitarian Universalists has everything to do with salvation. A religious community is a place that can save us from the crushing banality of consumerism, instrumental relationships, superficiality, alienation and isolation. Our communities are a place where we can connect with our true selves, with each other, with our communities, with our sense of the sacred.
Evangelism is, then, a religious orientation based on an eagerness to share something precious, to share our good news. Evangelism goes to the core of a church's culture and identity. A church without energy and enthusiasm cannot become evangelistic by doing some public relations, a bit of advertising, doing a better job greeting visitors and adding programs. All of these can help.
The beginning of a transition to a culture of evangelism, a culture of reaching out and sharing, is for our members to touch again the source of their connection to their faith. When each of us can answer why we are Unitarian Universalists and why being a member of our church and what we love about our congregation, then we are on the way to being evangelists. We can't help it. Good news wants and needs to be shared. And we can't share our good news until we know what it is.
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Last updated on Friday, February 24, 2012.
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