The emperor has no clothes
One of the first things we did after getting Connect09 up and running, was some qualitative research. That is, we talked to real people. Christian people. Regular Anglicans "on the ground" in the churches and suburbs right across our city.
Well, when I say "we", I mean a researcher - an expert at drawing out individuals and groups, and collating their thoughts, ideas and concerns, without allowing his own views and opinions to influence the findings! Not possible? Well, that is another debate. Suffice to say as a professional researcher with some 30+ years of commercial experience, I think our guy did as good a job as anyone could have.
But there is an extra reason why I have super-confidence in the validity of this research: our researcher was not-yet-Christian. That is to say, he had no axe to grind on matters of theology or church politics, and could approach matters of great complexity - like evangelism - by simply listening to people talk about "spreading the word' or "sharing their faith with friends'. Let me share one example with you, and you can make up your own mind.
After talking to 60 people from congregations across the diocese about topics like being a Christian, the current state of the church (local and worldwide), growth impediments/opportunities, and evangelistic activity, our researcher observed, "Enthusiasm for [evangelism] seems to be highest with the young and with recent converts and declines with age". Ouch!
No wonder my friend who came to know Jesus just three years ago (in her mid-30s), and can't stop telling everyone she knows about him, gets so frustrated that people in her church seem so disinterested in telling anyone at all. Perhaps her more mature Christian brethren are suffering "declined enthusiasm' now? As I said - ouch! Because if I am honest, I have to own up to being not quite so enthusiastic as I once was.
The researcher also noted that while all the ministers and congregation members he talked to clearly saw it was "their job to spread the word", only a few were actively involved in any kind of evangelistic activity (by their own admission). Some said they "had been as uni students".
Houston ... we have a problem!
We know telling unbelievers about Jesus is our job, but - ministers and congregation members alike - we admit that we aren't actually doing it much, if at all.
Well, there you have it - the emperor is wearing no clothes. I am thankful to God that those consulted were honest enough to say what we all know to be true of ourselves. And whilst it may be some relief to know I am not Robinson Crusoe, the most important thing is " what are we going to do about it? I think that the first step might be our prayers; and the next, making genuine connections.
What do you think?
Andrew Nixon is the Executive Director of Connect 09 and a minister with many years of parish-based ministry.