Eric Hoey, the denomination’s director of Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry, began by addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Presbyterians’ aversion to the term evangelism.
“Presbyterians don’t like the word!” he said.
Hoey then recounted, “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me asking to change the word ― from the Greek evangel for ‘good news.’ It carries a lot of baggage.
Hoey then posed a question: “Why is evangelism one of the most feared but needed topics in our denomination?”
“We’ve forgotten our history,” was the loudest response, offered by the Rev. Ralph Garlin Clingan. Invited to the microphone so that all could hear, the retired New Jersey pastor’s impromptu, but insightful, “History 101” presentation recounted the successful denominational efforts, including those by Billy Sunday ― a former Chicago Cubs baseball player ― whose Bible-thumping tent shows during the 1930s became the model for many that followed and were evoked in many Hollywood films.
Hoey, who has been on the PC(USA) national staff for five years, provided a multimedia presentation of his 21st century goals for Evangelism and Church Growth ― to help every church, in partnership with middle governing bodies, pursue their full redemptive potential:
* ignite a passion for Jesus;
* inspire the church to be the church; and
* equip leaders to accomplish these stated goals.
Key to achieving success, Hoey said, is the understanding that opportunities for evangelism are not some amorphous entity out beyond the horizon ― they can be a near as your church’s parking lot, the stair railings leading into your building or a cluster of strangers seated amongst you.
Such was the case in one Atlanta congregation presented in a video vignette. When several non-Americans who were obviously also non-Presbyterians began receiving what some members felt was an undue amount of attention from the pastoral staff, one church member complained: “But they’re not Christians!”
No sooner had the words left his mouth then it dawned on him that was the whole point of evangelism.
Further information and tools for the local congregation can be found and downloaded from the Evangelism and Church Growth website.
Jim Nedelka is a Presbyterian elder and broadcast journalist in New York City. He is covering the Evangelism and Church Growth Conference at Big Tent for PNS.