...Then maybe it's time to start Rethinking Evangelism!
There's an old joke that, while it names Lutherans, I suspect could be applied to most "mainline" Protestants and Roman Catholics: Q: What do you get when you cross a Lutheran with a Seventh Day Adventist? A: Someone who goes door-to-door but has no idea what to say!
There's something both funny and just a little bit painful about that joke precisely because it's true. Lutherans...and Presbyterians and Methodists and Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, as well...often are incredibly uncomfortable when we talk about evangelism largely because we assume that evangelism refers to just the sort of encounter portrayed in this picture. A kind of fire-and-brimstone approach to sharing the "love" of God as a threat. You know,God loves you so much that God wants to spend eternity with you...but if you don't believe this, then God will send you to hell. (Something eminent theologian Karl Barth once called "the gospel at gunpoint").
But that's not really what evangelism is about. The word itself comes from a Greek word meaning "good news," which we often translate "gospel." So evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than sharing the good news of just how much God loves us and the world.
I suspect there are at least two reasons for our difficulty:
1) There are so few examples of how to share our faith in a kind and loving way - and so many bad examples of threatening people with hell - that our imagination about evangelism is rather limited.
2) We've had no practice in talking about our faith. Like most adults, we typically shy away from things we're not good at and so the idea of talking about our faith - especially in a culture that discourages it - is rather intimidating.
Which is why I'm so excited about a conference being held at Luther Seminary this July called "Rethinking Evangelism." Running July 22-24, the conference will gather a number of great speakers representing a number of different places and perspectives - rural and urban; the Midwest and the Coasts; conservative and liberal; clergy and lay; and a variety of ethnicities, denominations, and more - to help us re-imagine what evangelism can be.
But even more important than the speakers, I'd suggest, is the format of the conference. Because after hearing each speaker make a presentation, participants are immediately put into conversation with each other, pushed to think both creatively and concretely about what this would like in their own lives and congregations, and encouraged to come up with "action plans" for when they return home.
So check out the registration page and consider coming. Indeed, consider bringing a team from your congregation, as we've learned that these kinds of conferences are way more likely to produce change when a team of persons, rather than just one representative, comes from a congregation and brings the excitement of what they learned back home.
Evangelism doesn't have to be scary, or intimidating, or threatening. It actually can be rewarding and fun and faith building. Come to Rethinking Evangelism to discover how.