|Intro||Ch 1||Ch 2||Ch 3||Ch 4||Ch 5||Ch 6|
|Ch 7||Ch 8||Ch 9||Ch 10||Ch 11||Ch 12|
Chapter 8: Strategies in Evangelism
On the international level, strategies for evangelising cities, provinces or even whole countries emerge through a network of relationships involving leading figures in the world's mission agencies. Working together in partnership, they establish and promote effective ministries on the ground. Most of the missions involved in continental Europe are American, and British agencies desiring to be involved need to become part of that network. I have learnt a lot from the splendid efforts of American agencies who assist each other to maximise the effort.
In the late 1980's, I was invited to lead a number of seminars in Italy for U.S. missionaries, and in particular built an excellent relationship with the fifteen couples involved in church planting in and around the city of Milan (which has an extended population of 8 million). This U.F.M. team with its highly qualified members were greatly interested in the possibility of open air evangelism enabling them to reach much larger numbers of people than they had so far been able to do. One of their number, Dr. Al Nucciarone, had already done a number of open air meetings in downtown Dallas, while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. As a Doctor of Missions, he appreciated the O.A.C. training programme whereby the practical skills of the street preacher can be systematised and transferred to ordinary church members.
Tom Job, one of the missionaries on the team, had been discouraged by the apparently slow results produced by friendship evangelism in Milan - he was a brilliant cartoon artist and recognised the use of the sketchboard as a natural outlet for his skills. In fact during the week of the first seminar in Milan, Tom attracted a very large crowd outside Milan cathedral and made an excellent job of presenting the Gospel to them - his cartoon drawings of Bible story characters were hilarious! The following year, when he was back from furlough in the States, David Jones emerged as a very fine street preacher indeed, and established a regular Friday afternoon ministry near Milan cathedral. He found these meetings were attended on a regular basis by quite a good number of businessmen. (Surmounted by a tall gold effigy of the Queen of Heaven on the dome, the cathedral entrance has an elaborate mosaic of the signs of the zodiac embossed in the floor; it is a great focus for the citizens of Milan as a meeting place. The great bronze doors, bearing reliefs of the Disciples, are said to be the largest in the world.)
Nucciarone became convinced that he was being led to Vienna by the
Holy Spirit following a series of very unusual events - it was a most
unexpected move for an Italian-American. The whole family have had
to learn German, and he is now pastor of Grace International Church
in central Vienna, which is about one third Asian, one third African,
and one third more or less English-speaking European/American. The
lively worship at this delightful fellowship benefits from many
cultures and a lot of good humour, but the fellowship is different to
most others because Al is not only a pastor but very much an
evangelist/pastor. As a result the whole church has a vision to be a
means of the Gospel reaching many citizens of Vienna. Al also
collects "Timothys", and always has one or
young men/women in full time training. He invited me to set up an
annual training seminar in Vienna, which has now been running for 6
years, and is part of the "Reach The City" campaign.
Some 16 years ago, Pastor Rob and Mary Prokop arrived in Vienna from the Greater Grace World Outreach training college in Baltimore "to undertake a ministry of evangelism". Using all kinds of different methods such as questionnaires, mime, one-on-one, street-preaching and personal contacts, they slowly built up a small fellowship. Other church leaders, ignorant of their background, provided little encouragement. An O.A.C. evangelist running a seminar in Vienna for a week was not well advertised and Rob missed the opportunity of taking part - however, he was able to video tape 45 minutes of training material just shortly before evangelist Rob Vollebregt had to leave for the airport to catch his plane home to Ireland! This information greatly assisted Rob's street ministry as he led his church out on the street every Tuesday and Saturday not far from the St. Stephan's cathedral. According to the team, sketchboarding has been, by far, the best evangelistic method for this city. Many of Pastor Rob's team, which is now quite big, help with our annual seminars and it has been a joy to welcome trainees from Greater Grace church planting teams in Russia and the Ukraine. Pastor Rob is clearly an evangelist/ pastor.
It has become very clear to me that where a church-leader is an evangelist/pastor it becomes possible for members of their fellowship to have an active role in effective evangelism.
This is also true of the Roman Catholic church. One of the participating groups in our ministry there is the People's Mission, led by evangelical Catholics: Erwin Slezak, who is Director of Austria's ecological refuse disposal unit, has become a very keen street preacher. Each year he spends a month in Mumbai, India, training his contacts there.
One of Al Nucciarone's great achievements has been to draw in partners from other missions with complementary skills. He regards two of these as essential to the effective evangelisation of continental Europe. One is the O.A.C. open air evangelism training programme, the other C. James Kennedy's "Evangelism Explosion" programme. Al seems to know all these people personally, and it's always a terrific help when Bob Maistros leads the seminars in personal evangelism during our annual week's training programme. Bob, I understand, drafts the E.E. training manuals. O.A.C.'s contribution is to provide staff with many years' experience in street ministry to be role models for the ministry of the evangelist, as well as providing a professional "umbrella" under which local churches can work together comfortably. 11 churches co-operated in Vienna in the summer of 2000 and the number is growing year by year. It was thrilling to see Hartmut Freischlad, an Elder from the Church of Baden, near Vienna, preaching on the street for the very first time - his tall bearded figure and considerable eloquence absolutely captivated a crowd of pensioners out for a stroll in the afternoon sun - they were obviously terrifically impressed with his message.
Having completed a year on the Staff Training programme ("Snowball: run by Europe Now - see Chapter 10) Stefan and Judith Hoefler will commence a full time ministry of street and schools work in Vienna as O.A.C. Staff Evangelists. Their objective will be to mobilise and equip teams all over Austria. Over the last five years or so, Church leaders have become aware of the very large numbers of people who stop and listen to the preaching of the Gospel, giving local evangelical churches the opportunity to make contact.
The Greater Grace church grows largely through street evangelism, and Pastor Rob has become a most important trainer for their mission to establish churches in the region. For Rob, Sketchboard Season opens April 1st and ends in the fall. He and his teams can be found sketchboarding up to four times a week in Vienna alone, plus once a week in nearby cities like Bratislava, Slovakia, and Salzburg, Austria. In Vienna, he and his people will be out two days a week through most of the year, and in July and August every evening in teams. Through these street meetings, many remarkable people have become converts to the faith and joined the fellowship, including a young man who has become one of Austria's leading medical researchers on the nervous system, a top representative of Siemens Electrical (one of Germany's largest firms), several people from show business (including an actress and two top models) and refugees from Africa and eastern Europe. Others join because they long to be part of a church which is actually involved in significant ministry in the city. Most church members are involved in the church's various ministries in one way or another, which greatly deepens the quality of the fellowship they enjoy. It's good fun to meet up in Rosenberger's, a market cafe near the Stephansplatz, after the evening meetings - everyone shares the encouragement of conversations they have had and we have a prayer time for all those contacted.
Towards the end of one such evening, when we had witnessed the Holy Spirit touching people's lives with great power through the preaching, the gathering at Rosenberger's were very moved: just before we were all about to go home, a young man stood up to share how at the first meeting he had been very interested in the message. During the second, he had decided to receive Christ as his Saviour. By the end of the third meeting, he already felt he was part of our team. Mary Prokop led three women to the Lord that evening, too. Sometimes evangelism is like that.
One of Rob's key sketchboarders, a Serbian guestworker with the super name of Dragan, came to Christ 8 years ago watching the sketchboard in front of a Viennese ice cream parlour. Ever since, he has been sketchboarding throughout Europe and America and has even pioneered a street preaching ministry in Ghana and Mali where he has been a number of times now. It was very moving to receive a postcard from his group of trainees this year with a short progress report on their work.
Altogether eleven local churches were represented at the O.A.C. Vienna training seminar this year, and it has become necessary to set up an additional training week for Eastern Europeans in Bratislava, Slovakia. Tracy Lesan and his wife Brenda have lived in Bratislava for a number of years now, and have the vision to take the Gospel through open air evangelism on to the huge Communist-built housing estates, where between 150,000 and 200,000 people live in single communities in areas around the city. It is much cheaper and easier for Eastern Europeans to come to another Eastern European country - for many of them visas are required for entry into Austria, and these are difficult and expensive to obtain. While Pastor Al led a team into Poland again, each evening Pastor Rob and his wife Mary brought their Country & Western band the 35 miles over the border to assist with ministry to the very large crowds in the main square - one of the items which really attracted people this year was the dancing and colourful banners so expertly presented by Erica Bebb from our home church. Music and dance are great bridge-builders for the preacher.
We have recruited and provided full time training for two Slovak ladies, Elena and Katarina, who have science degrees: they have a vision to establish a Christian education programme in the public school system in their country, and to train many others themselves. An important part of the O.A.C. strategy is to train trainers. They also have a super ministry to youngsters in summer camps which are run by a number of church groups in Eastern Europe, and present a fine opportunity for evangelism and discipleship training.
A professional ministry on such a wide scale has the potential to reach a whole country in one generation. These sort of developments are not planned, they are an outcome of a work of the Holy Spirit. This strategy could not possibly have emerged from a committee meeting in an upper room at mission headquarters, it has emerged as the Lord's people have worked together over a period of years, building and developing relationships and trust, and walking through the doors that God has opened.
Many doors have opened over those six years, presenting opportunities to mobilise, train and equip evangelists in all the surrounding countries. The team in Vienna now feel we should establish "The Vienna school of Evangelism" to provide full time training for students with a call to full time ministry. The courses on offer will be to degree standard, and will provide the theoretical and skills training to bring students up to Staff Evangelist status. America's foremost missionary training college will assist with some staff and students and also with programme development. A fund of $2 million is being prayed in.
To summarise, progress to date
In Central Europe, based on a group of churches in Vienna, and led by three of the world's leading missions agencies, a strategy has been put into operation to mobilise and equip local Christians in teams to undertake the ministry of preaching the Gospel in public in towns and cities, to the very large crowds of local people gathering there at different times in the week. Although they may exhibit an apparent commitment to materialistic and even anti-Christian values, nevertheless experience shows that most ordinary people do want to hear about Jesus and a very high percentage suffer spiritual hunger. In Eastern Europe, where Christianity has been actively discouraged and even punished over a period of very many years, the emergence of the new democracies brings an enthusiasm to go back to "our old national values". In Western Europe, spiritual hunger shows itself in the confused emergence of "New Age" ideas and occult practice. (In Milan, for instance, the telephone directory contains twice as many practising witches as medical Doctors.)
In many small evangelical fellowships there are men and women, some with considerable academic achievements, who are willing and able to undertake the professional training necessary to establish effective ministries in local schools. More often than not, these schools welcome high quality Christian teaching input for their Religious Education programme or are happy for a Bible Club to be run after school hours.
By these means a coherent strategy has emerged under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to present Christ on such a wide scale as to EMBRACE THE WHOLE OF THE POTENTIAL HARVEST.
Churches led by pastor/managers will be unable to play an active part in such a strategy because their world is much too small. Their focus will be solely on recruitment to their fellowship, as they perceive this to be the only sure way to win people for Christ. Those active in the church will be encouraged to play a part in the friendship evangelism programme which can only impact the lives of very few people. Such churches subscribe to my friend Canon Paul Berg's assessment that publicly proclaiming Christ to all and sundry is of no practical benefit to such a fellowship. Gospel preaching is in fact an alien ministry to them unless they are in their own pulpits. A more extreme view held by many of them - and repeated to me on a number of occasions - is that it is highly irresponsible to preach the Gospel to the lost who may well respond and find themselves in a worse situation than if they had never heard the message, i.e. if there is no human follow-up or encouragement, the newly saved soul will just wither and die. Hence their adherence to "canning-factory" techniques. Fortunately experience has shown that the active work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to faith in Christ can also be relied upon to provide the means of growth. Romans 8:38-39. It is astounding to find people with such wildly unscriptural opinions in responsible positions of leadership.
Churches led by evangelist/pastors will actively pursue strategies of evangelism which effectively engage with all the people groups in their communities. School children, old people, mothers, singles, young teenagers, young couples, factory workers and shop keepers, the unemployed, Universities and colleges ... the list goes on. The scale of the operation will embrace the potential harvest. Personal evangelism will be encouraged but the central thrust will be for everyone to have an opportunity to respond to the claims of Christ. Leadership will face up to the challenges of mobilising part time and full time workers in all these areas of opportunity - providing proper training, equipment and even funding for those ministries to succeed. Most of the work will be done out of sight of the fellowship as a whole and will usually involve a busy week's programme of activities, but steps will be taken to ensure that the whole fellowship feels part of the outreach by means of prayer, teaching, and testimonies of those taking part. The result is that each member of the fellowship becomes a part of the great vision to build God's Kingdom in the local community and beyond. Pastor Al and Pastor Rob already have evangelistic input not only in and around Vienna but in a number of surrounding countries. They are the role models for evangelist/pastors there too.
It is only through the leadership of such men that the Christian church can face up to the greatest challenge in history: that is, the evangelisation of the colossal neighbourhoods comprising gigantic municipal condominium developments in which the majority of Europeans live today. In many of these places hundreds of thousands of people live isolated lives. In the West, many of these huge estates are unreachable by door to door visiting due to various entry security systems - yet evangelistic agencies and missionary societies continue to rely on this form of ministry to make contacts. In Eastern Europe the desolation is appalling; unemployment is very high, often the lifts have not worked for years, and the social problems arising from poor living conditions crumbling into decay result in wide scale vandalism, crime, drug abuse - for the old in particular, life becomes a living hell.
In the Ukraine recently I spent a week in one of these condominiums, constructed on such a vast scale around the city of Kiev that it is very difficult to find your way in what appears to be a rabbit-warren of tunnels. An extremely dangerous society for Westerners, it was quite an intimidating prospect walking up dark passages and stairways under surveillance from creaking doors opening and closing behind me. The likelihood of mugging and robbery has made it now so dangerous that it has become necessary for missions to construct their homes in secure compounds in the countryside outside the city. No church or group of churches, no mission agency or Society, has ever come up with a strategy that addresses the opportunity such neighbourhoods present - yet if the Christian Church is to succeed in its mission, this challenge must be met, forthwith.
God is already at work. Richard Witt lives in a huge apartment block outside a town in Poland; he was a machine tool operator in a factory but was unpopular with the management because of his Christian stand. More or less living by faith, he and his wife courageously set out to establish a church in their neighbourhood and after 8 years have now gathered a small fellowship around them. Without any opportunity for transfer growth in such a situation, these delightful people have steadily and faithfully - mainly through personal evangelism - won all their converts themselves. Further growth is limited by many factors, one being the size of their apartment in which the group meets. Richard has never had the benefit of a theological training, but has received some encouragement in recent years from having fellowship with the few Baptist and Brethren church Elders in neighbouring towns. Richard believes that further growth can really only take place through local open air evangelistic crusades. He would love one day to have Sir Cliff Richard and his guitar available for a few days to get the whole community together! Pastor Al is in touch with Richard, and doing his best to encourage and help him and a number of others in similar situations in Poland.
own experience is that open air meetings in these places, held in the
evenings after school, do regularly attract good crowds of young
people and usually quite a number of parents as well. I well
remember one Sunday evening in the Petrszelke estate in Bratislava,
going about tea time with a small group and a sketchboard, and
setting up unannounced
near the supermarket in a small square with trees and grassy areas.
It was a lovely afternoon and soon the kids gathered around as Phill
Willer put on one of his hilarious children's programmes involving a
lot of participation by the children themselves. Phill is so good at
this that one often feels that not speaking the language doesn't make
a lot of difference! Until you come to the Bible story ... when
excellent instantaneous translation is required. (Of course this is
true in all countries - our translators often catch the vision for
doing the work themselves when they realise what fun it can be.) On
this particular occasion I was taking the photographs, and being
ready to deal with any officials who might turn up and ask what we
In the crowd was a man who wanted to talk: he turned out to be a Canadian alcoholic who had recently returned to his ethnic home in Slovakia. He asked why on earth we had come to such a God-forsaken place, and was clearly very depressed. He saw no hope for any of those living on the estate, deprived, destitute and without the means of getting out and going somewhere else. Loneliness is a major problem and the suicide rate is frighteningly high - in fact, this year the statistics included five 13-year-old girls. Oddly, such living conditions seem to have an isolating effect, whereas you would imagine that people would have many opportunities for developing a community spirit.
1998 we planned to do a children's meeting every evening on that
estate at 6 p.m. The first meeting drew a crowd of about 30, with
parents standing round the back, happy to watch their children enjoy
the song, puppet show, quiz, and Bible story. Arriving at the car
park the next day at about 5.40 p.m. we were met by a group of
enthusiastic helpers already waiting to greet us and carry our
equipment to the site - where we found even more children waiting
expectantly as word had got round. It was a wonderful week! We left
Tracy Lesan with a group of 34 (mainly children plus a handful of
adults) whom he was able to meet every week for 2-3 months in the
local school gym for Bible study. Following a similar children's
programme in 1999 Brenda had her first contacts willing to come to
her apartment to have coffee and chat with her about Jesus. There
was still no help at all from local churches - which underlines the
need to train and mobilise people like Elena and Katarina.
I am absolutely convinced, after many years of leading and taking part in such meetings, that they offer the only practical solution to identifying the contacts likely to join a local fellowship. These meetings can take a number of different forms and one such is the arrival of a "Country & Western" band singing Christian songs, even in English, as most record sales of pop songs are in the English language. It has also been excellent when we secure the assistance of a member of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians, who can offer really professional Christian "magic" shows in which the illusions themselves form illustrations teaching aspects of the Christian message. Christian puppet shows draw big crowds - surprisingly not just children, but people of all ages - and create a happy atmosphere. All these items, however, need to have their message crystallised by the clear preaching of the Gospel, usually with the focus of a sketch board, for the Message of new life to be clearly put across, and the opportunity given for a decision to be made or at least for further discussion to take place.
In Birkenhead (near Liverpool) the new Elim Church Centre was created out of the remains of an old hospital and provides extensive accommodation for all kinds of activities - for young people, sheltered housing for the elderly, the Church Centre itself, meeting rooms for clubs, and even a Medical Centre. In this way the church has usefully become a tool for the local social services which form the basis for its evangelistic activities. It has become a model for inner city churches.
Dr. Nic Harding went from Bristol with a church planting team to establish a ministry to the poor in the centre of Liverpool. Each night, teams go out to minister to the down-and-outs and hopefully to rescue prostitutes, drug addicts, youngsters sleeping rough, etc. This very successful ministry has seen miracles of grace and attracts participation from young Christians wanting to play an active part in this kind of work in the future. Nic has also developed a large Sunday School in which the children are collected by bus from all kinds of poor areas of the neighbourhood, and have a brilliant programme of Christian teaching and activities under very strict rules of behaviour (highly necessary in that area). Nic's church is well on the way to becoming one of the largest in Liverpool.
Little of the huge resources available to the successful churches in the "sending" countries are set aside to establish or support ministries in these largest population centres of the modern world.
Men and women are not being raised up by the churches for ministry in such situations and the few people God has raised up - such as Pastor Witt and his wife - remain unsupported and abandoned. Neither theological colleges, seminaries, nor missionary training colleges offer programmes likely to impart the practical skills necessary to succeed in this kind of outreach. People are trained to be vicars at home or pastors abroad, but with no idea how to go about acquiring the congregation to pastor. The potential harvest is on a scale wildly exceeding anything faced by the Christian Church to date. This is particularly true in Asia, with huge concentrations of very poor people and massive unemployment. For example, O.A.C. teams with specially equipped mobile film units will arrive in an Indian village and show the "Jesus" film over two or three nights - in the open air - and several thousand people will meet Jesus for the very first time. The follow-up programme with Bible studies involves around 8,000 to 10,000 enquirers on most occasions. (Sometimes it is the very first time that villagers will ever have seen a film.)
In England today it has become increasingly clear that the continued survival of very small local parish fellowships (Anglican and non-conformist) is unlikely on any scale. Local home groups for fellowship and Bible study, prayer and mutual support, meeting during the week are clearly the way forward in most cases. The continued expenditure on now largely unused ecclesiastical buildings is insupportable. The large and successful eclectic fellowships (such as Christ Church and Pip 'n' Jay in Bristol and All Souls and Holy Trinity Brompton in London) where the local home groups can meet together for worship is undoubtedly the way forward for the Christian Church. The smaller numbers of full time ministers need about a year's full time training to equip them for the mobile ministry, which is now so much more effective in presenting Christ to the different groups in society.
"Church-based" but not "church-centred" is undoubtedly the strategy for the future
In the course of our day to day ministry in the Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset areas, I occasionally meet up with small ecumenical clergy groups trying to minister in really difficult housing estates with huge social problems. Having a very successful school assembly programme in many such areas, I have long desired to draw the clergy into our work so that they would be in a position to attract church membership through the substantial goodwill we generate. Last year (1999) a clergy group invited me to one of their meetings on an impoverished estate, to discuss our involvement in an open air meeting they were proposing to have that summer. These lovely people meet regularly and pray for each other in a very committed way. As I entered the house at the appointed time, the others had already arrived and were sitting round the room in a little semi-detached Council house in a street of similar homes, not far from the badly vandalised neighbourhood Centre and the adjacent tower blocks. The delightful Catholic priest had inherited a successful on-going work - his predecessor having been a charismatic believer with a fine preaching and teaching ministry who had won many converts to faith in Christ. The Anglican churches on the estate were led by two young couples recently graduated from the local Anglican college, finding little success in making the contacts they needed to build a ministry there. The Baptist minister had recently closed his building because it had suffered yet another serious arson attack. The Methodist church was run by two middle-aged lady Deaconesses who were good at counselling, encouragement and generally taking the love of Christ into very needy family situations. There were also one or two lay workers present, one of whom had been called into part-time ministry as a result of a conference she had attended at Lee Abbey in Devon. There was a lovely atmosphere in the room and I recognised an overwhelming desire to serve the local people, whom they all obviously loved very much. I felt I wanted to do all I could to help these fellow missionaries.
The conversation began by one of the Methodist ladies saying quite directly "I don't want to see evangelists working in this area. What these people need to see is real commitment from people who really care!"
Obviously acutely embarrassed, one or two of the others sought to remedy the stunning silence which followed this statement by attempting to offer encouragement, saying how much they valued my ministry; apparently the problem had been that the previous year Colin Piper (of the Mueller Foundation in Bristol), a fine Youth Worker now working in Exeter, had taken a small team on to the estate at the invitation of the local churches and had recruited about a hundred youngsters who were really interested in knowing Jesus - in fact a few had made definite commitments. Unfortunately when the campaign was over (I understand it lasted 3 weeks) all the young people had failed to become members of the local churches and the leadership group felt very let down. What they really wanted was for Colin and his team to stay very much longer and build a viable church ministry for them. The message to me was "You would be useful to us if you would work exclusively on this estate for a number of years and do the job for us."
Jim Petersen, who founded the Navigators work in Brazil, won tens of thousands of converts through his University missions work over the last thirty years. He recognised that modern forms of church-centred ministry have no relevance or even meaning for new converts coming from a totally un-churched background. In fact, he found it necessary to construct different ministry patterns altogether in nurturing and discipling, with far more informal worship situations which his converts developed - which bore little or no relation to "church" as most of us more traditionally-minded believers find acceptable. Observing the ministry of exciting Christian leaders, like Stephen Abbott and his Fellowship of the King in Bristol, introduced me to much more fluid worship services in which unexpected happenings (in the form of unplanned contributions by members of the group) are welcomed and encouraged. In this way, the participants are motivated and encouraged to play a much more active role in the life of the fellowship. Led by the Spirit as they are, attending these services is inspiring and exciting. Ian and Caralee Loring in Albania have a similar mind-set and although dealing with new believers all the time, who require much more in preparation and leadership, nevertheless they invariably contrive to sit at the back of the church, leaving services in the hands of the Leadership Team. Pastors in ministry to an un-churched society need experience with pioneer churches in developing relevant forms of church ministry.
My little ecumenical group are all people who are more than willing to dispense with "clerical dignity" in the pursuit of godly effectiveness. They were offered opportunities to work with our local team to gain experience of ministry to youngsters, and acquire some of the practical skills they need to succeed in this sort of work. Maybe one day they will find the time to do the training and no longer be dependent on imported help. Many clergy in these situations are becoming more and more aware of the irrelevance of traditional ministry patterns in the modern world and seem to me to be hanging on in the hope that one day "God will do something if I faithfully keep going somehow".
Archbishop Carey has rightly pointed out in one of his keynote addresses that the Christian Church is one generation away from extinction in every age. Research shows that young people are far less likely to follow the example of their parents in church membership and the number of really committed Christian families has rapidly declined over the last thirty or forty years. The sons and daughters of successful businessmen are much less likely now to commit their lives to church ministry with so many far more effective and exciting Christian alternatives now available - the Church of England in fact must now compete with visionary outfits like YWAM, UFM and Worldteam.
I was preaching in the autumn of 1999 in a small town Baptist church in Minnesota to a couple of hundred rugged-looking farmers and their wives and families, telling some of the exciting stories of the mission field in Europe and Africa. The pastor and his wife signed up for a summer of service with our OAC team in France, MEPA (Mission d'Evangelisation en Pleine Aire) with a view to long term service with us there. I was very surprised to find that this very experienced couple were seeking a way out of church ministry - the sameness of which, Sunday by Sunday, with so little in the way of discernible progress, was most discouraging.
Forty years ago as a member of All Souls, I knew many brilliant young men in their final year or two at Oxbridge who were committing their lives to ministry in the Church of England which they saw as a relevant and ideal basis for a lifetime of winning local communities for Christ. This is no longer the case. Far-reaching and imaginative strategies for training and equipping both existing clergy, and in particular ordinands, must be adopted if the current decline is to be arrested. Theological colleges will need to involve experienced professionals in the front line ministries if their Ministry & Missions courses are to be of practical use in the future.
In the United States, many churches and organisations like OAC run recreation and homework clubs after school, to get the kids off the streets into a Christian environment. It is all part of the vision by evangelistically-minded churches in the larger cities, to win whole communities for Christ.
Without this vision, the church will perish.