Dear Episcopal Evangelist:
This past week a slideshow presentation from 2018 (revised in 2021) was circulating on Twitter like a Wi-Fi password at a Forma conference. In this slideshow, the author shared his thoughts on strategies for church growth. From what I could tell anecdotally the slideshow was gaining traction in both positive and negative responses. Some folks found it insightful, thought-provoking, and often on target. Other folks found it redundant, behind-the-times, and condescending. To be completely honest, I found a lot of it relevant—maybe it doesn’t tell the full story, but I also don’t think it is completely off the mark. Especially when it comes to the idea of offering “belonging” as essential to the Christian mission.
“The only God called ‘not good’ in the initial act of creation was a human being alone.” – Kendall Vanderslice
If you would like to download a shareable image of this quote, please click here.
If we didn’t know it before COVID-19, surely we know it now. People—me, you, your neighbor, your boss, my trash collector—want to be wanted. People want to be invited, known, seen, welcomed. People want to belong.
Where I live and worship, in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, people generally do not show up to their local Episcopal church because they are already Episcopalians. They show up because they are looking for a community of faith where 1) they will be welcomed, known, and included as they are (by God, by those in the pews, and those behind the altar); 2) folks seem to be following Jesus’s inclusive, liberating, and life-giving way of love beyond the doors of the church building; and 3) their questions won’t lead to alienation, but into deeper community and faith.
I wonder, when people do show up to the Episcopal churches in your area, what is it they are looking for?
Like almost anyone in leadership, I can get caught up in discussions about the virtues or drawbacks of folk music, traditional choirs, robes, blue jeans at the altar, candles indoors, wild church outdoors, youth programs, un-programs, strategic plans, etc., etc. I have opinions and preferences based on what speaks to me, what moves me most—and yes, I do think in certain contexts we should be more creative in how we incarnate our liturgies as part of our evangelism efforts—but if my motivation behind leading any style of worship or ministry is not true love—love of God and love of others—then all my efforts are about as inviting as a leaf blower at 6 a.m. on a Saturday.
This month’s newsletter is all about invitation and belonging. As we prepare to celebrate and remember our faith mentors and ancestors on the feasts of All Souls and All Saints, and as we move toward the holiday season—Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas—a season which can be ripe with both belonging and loneliness, I think there is no better time to take an honest look at how we, as a church, invite others to belong.
What if our ministries, from the way our greeters open the doors to our buildings (or our Facebook livestream chats) to how our vestries conduct their meetings, to how our choirs rehearse, was rooted first in belonging—knowing and being known, loving and being loved, by God and each other—and then to the business of church work? What might change?
Following Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s lead, in his recent word to the church, we think one of the greatest ways we can begin to create transformational belonging is by following the model Jesus set by gathering in small intentional communities, also known as small groups. This is where we can cultivate belonging by sharing joys and hardships, studying Scripture together as we wrestle with what it is saying or not saying, where we pray for each other and for the needs of the world, and where we can find comfort and encouragement as we seek to cross boundaries and love like Jesus loves. And it is in these communities where we can find the nourishment and encouragement we need to grow, centering on Jesus Christ; practicing the selfless, self-giving way of the cross; reclaiming our Christian identity as a Spirit-driven, countercultural, underground movement; and living and bearing bold witness to the vision and values of Jesus.
If you are ready to dive deeper into the work of belonging, check out the featured resources below—and let us know how it is going! We would love to share your stories and learnings with the wider Episcopal Evangelism community.
With much gratitude,
Staff officer for evangelism
P.S. Here is a link for those who want to see the slideshow.
SMALL GROUPS – Belonging and Formation Together
Oct. 20, 12 p.m. Eastern
Presiding Bishop Curry recently shared a word with the church that included some encouragement around creating intentional small gathered communities that seek Jesus and his way of love together. If you want to learn more about this work and hear from some great mentors who have been leading this kind of ministry for several years, join us for our next “Evangelism Huddle – Let’s Talk!” at 12 p.m. ET Oct. 20.
Introducing “My Way of Love for Small Groups: A Companion Resource for the My Way of Love Spiritual Life Inventory”
“My Way of Love for Small Groups” is intended for participants who wish to receive some guidance about ways to grow spiritually, deepening our love of God and neighbor.
Participating in “My Way of Love for Small Groups” is a great community builder, and especially appropriate for smaller congregations. We believe you’ll find it to be a great process for a vestry study, undergirding confirmation classes, or informing a teaching series in youth group, or as part of a standard Bible study or prayer group. Additionally, you could use it as a generator, breathing new life to a stressed-out committee or offering some spiritual hospitality to your church or school staff.
To watch the introductory video, download the guide, and learn more, visit
My Way of Love – For Individuals and Small Gathered Communities or YouTube.
Check it out: A church that looks and acts like Jesus
Find new graphics and printables on how to live according to a “rule of life” and how to form small gathered communities, both inspired by Bishop Curry’s word to the church.
Save the Date
Evangelism Huddles: 3rd Wednesday of each month, 12 p.m. ET
November: Evangelism and Memory Keeping with Older Members
Evangelist Leader Training: Jan. 9-Feb. 19
If you are looking to dive deeper into what it means to lead an evangelism ministry, or if you are looking for a way to meet the requirements for an Evangelism Leader License, check out the next course on evangelism from Bexley-Seabury’s Pathways for Lifelong Learning program. Find more info here.
Want to offer this course to your diocese? Contact Julie Lytle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embracing Evangelism – A 6-week evangelism training series – you can lead this series online or in person. (And watch for some new additions to this program coming this fall.)
A Year in the Life – A series that explores the gifts and challenges of ministry during COVID-19. Look for videos and blogposts that share a variety of perspectives.
Evangelism Matters – All episodes and Coffee Hour recordings from Evangelism Matters: The Discipline of Hope, An Episcopal Evangelism Audioconference are available for anyone to listen to and watch. The resources now include a Reflection Guide for Groups and Individuals. Use this guide to bring Evangelism Matters 21 to your group or congregation.
This was originally shared in The Episcopal Church’s October Evangelism Newsletter. We invite you to subscribe to The Episcopal Church’s monthly newsletter to receive prayers, resources, news about upcoming events, and more. View past issues of the newsletter and join the mailing list here.