By Andrew Symes, for AAC
Growing up in England and attending evangelical churches and student Christian unions, I learned that ‘witness’ and ‘friendship evangelism’ were more or less interchangeable. We were encouraged to share our testimony: we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ which we can describe in terms of the benefits in the present; we can tell the story of how we began this relationship; we can explain how the new life and eternal security is possible through the death and resurrection of our Saviour. My story, my present experience, the Bible’s theology – these together tie the personal to the universal; ‘my truth and reality’ to what is true and real and therefore urgent for everyone. An individual confirming the testimony of other individuals, creating a family bond with them and thereby being the church.
Now of course one could point out the flaws of this approach, not least the ecclesiology. But there is no denying the powerful advantages of the simple evangelical faith for bringing others to Christ and growing the church. As part of our task as disciples is to ‘witness’, we pray for those with whom we come into contact who do not share our faith; we look for opportunities to “give a reason for the hope in us”. Some of us are better than others, and are successful evangelists at the local church level. The development of courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored mean that it does not all depend on us: we can invite friends to hear the Gospel and discuss it in a group. Our evangelism in this way leads to church growth, as the church I attend has found. The congregation has been encouraged and trained in evangelism, and are sharing faith with their friends and neighbours informally. After a Parish “mission week” in late January, more than a dozen previously with no faith and a number of “fringe” people are now attending a Christianity Explored course.