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Moving toward ‘Intentional Authentic Evangelism’

Ongoing series focuses on 7 Marks of Vital Congregations and sharing God’s love

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Some churches evangelize by holding community events. (Photo by Stewart Truelsen)

LOUISVILLE — Could fear or busyness be holding you back from reaching out to the community and being a deep listener?

Both of those real-life challenges were raised during a recent online discussion about “Intentional Authentic Evangelism” and what obstacles stand in the way of accomplishing it.

The 90-minute discussion, attended by 34 people, was facilitated by Alicia Demartra-Pressley, Associate for Missional Equipping in the Office of Theology & Worship, a ministry area of Theology, Formation & Evangelism. It’s part of an ongoing series of conversations focused on the 7 Marks of Vital Congregations. Participation is free and open to ministry leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other faiths.

Early on in last week’s discussion called “Matthew 25 Continued Conversations: Vital Congregations,” participants were asked to give their own definitions of Intentional Authentic Evangelism. The answers included:

  • Something that is part of your mission and your focus and your church’s life, from the congregation to leadership. Spreading the word.
  • Always being in the Word. Also, being motivated by the Matthew 25 message and not being afraid to say so.
  • Encouraging people to talk about how faith has been life-changing for them and listening for times when you can share how the gospel has been good news for yourself.
  • Always sharing the gospel, using words only when necessary.
  • Deep listening that includes focusing on the person and listening for what they need.
  • Being willing to invite people in and have church, even if it doesn’t translate into money or donations or butts in the pews. In other words, being welcoming and doing the work of Christ without strings attached.

Demartra-Pressley stressed that there was no right or wrong answer but also offered the following definition at various times during the discussion: “Intentional Authentic Evangelism means sharing God’s love with others in a real and sincere way. Churches should reach out to others with respect and show them how God’s love can change their lives. It’s about building real connections and relationships, not just telling people about God.”

When asked what gets in the way of doing that, participants noted the fact that families and church staffs are sometimes stretched thin, and that elements of fear and discomfort may be present.

“Sometimes, we’re reticent to share our faith on a personal level with other people because we don’t want to be thought of as proselytizing,” said the Rev. John Allen Bankson, pastor of the Union Presbyterian Church in Fort Madison, Iowa. But “if our faith does mean something … if it has made a difference in our lives, then we’re going to want to share it with other people.”

With prompting from the host, participants noted several ways in which their churches are reaching out to their communities through events. Examples included providing a summer lunch program for children and paying a good wage to the person overseeing the program, doing a Bible school for 150 kids, creating a welcoming environment for a newcomer who divulged a personal struggle, providing outreach to widows and widowers, supporting a local food bank, giving out water at a park, hosting a family fun day, and bringing together a cluster of churches so their members could interact, share food and sing favorite hymns.

The group also discussed the pros and cons of knocking on doors. The Rev. Sam Foskey, covenant pastor of the PC(USA) churches in Pinckneyville, Illinois and Murphysboro, Illinois, said he’s been open to doing that in his area because “we’ve got to meet people somewhere, so I just did it. Most people were pretty gracious.”

Another participant noted that sometimes people want to talk about how angry they are at the church. The group explored the “what ifs” of having a place where people could feel free to come and express themselves without being judged.

Intentional authentic evangelism is a form of sharing God’s love, said Alicia Demartra-Pressley, Associate for Missional Equipping in the Office of Theology & Worship. (Photo by Cindy Corell)

Sharon Curry, vice moderator of the Synod of the Sun, noted that 20 years ago listening posts were utilized and might be something that should be brought back. The posts were clearly marked and located in places such as parks and college campuses. Today, they would be a time to “put down your cell phone, put down your social media … go sit and look a real person right in the eye and know that you’re only there to listen,” said Curry, who is also a regional ministry associate for Grace Presbytery.

Foskey recalled knocking on doors 30 years ago as a seminary student and discovering that some people would talk to him for up to 45 minutes because they needed someone to listen to them. “I think sometimes we’re the scared ones,” he said. “Scared to share. Scared to be vulnerable.”

Summing up some of the conversation, Demartra-Pressley said, “There’s a lot of need out there. I heard about hunger. I heard about human contact. … I heard a lot of people just needing someone to see them, hear them and be with them.” That’s a reminder, she said, that authentic evangelism is basically just “sharing God’s love.”

Curry noted that she recently went out on a limb by giving a ride to someone new, who turned out to be an amazing person. “I think we need to overcome our own personal fears about reaching out and open ourselves to where the Spirit’s leading (us),” she said.

Demartra-Pressley encouraged the group to find ways to continue talking about the subject with those they minister to as well as people who don’t attend church. “I think that there’s plenty of learning to do,” she said.

To register for future conversations, go here. To learn more about the Vital Congregations Initiative, contact

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