Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Faith Works 10-8-05
Jeff Gill

Someone’s Doing Evangelism: Is It You?

"Unbinding the Gospel" is Martha Grace "Gay" Reese’s book that I told you about last week, which will be published by Chalice Press next year (
This is the result of years of study under a grant from the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis. They are nationally the No. 1 foundation for working with the health of American religious institutions and their leadership, so a proposal to examine evangelism in congregations got a warm reception.
When Gay wanted to look at how mainline/oldline Protestant churches did evangelism, specifically to the unchurched, she took seven faith groups (Methodist, Presby, Lutheran (ELCA), etc.). She then crunched their data to find the one concrete indicator that might point her to churches to look at closely. She decided to use five adult baptisms per year over three years, or fifteen over those three years total, as the benchmark. Starting with 30,000 congregations that were non-Southern and non-ethnic, she and her team "drilled down" through the various record keeping methods to find churches that met the "five adult baptisms a year for three years" criteria.
They found less than 150. That’s the bad news.
The good news is almost as surprising. When Gay and the gang analyzed the age of congregations who were doing effective outreach to the unchurched, we all expected the results to be skewed to new church starts. Makes sense, right?
But the median age of the church (not of the members, but since the congregation’s founding) that had those adult baptisms was 96. Not five, or ten (or one!), but 96. Since many Protestant churches in areas like Licking County are 100 and 200 years old, that’s an encouraging dispatch from the front lines. You DON’T have to be a new church start to reach the unchurched with the Gospel.
So what do you have to do? Well, Gay has seven criteria laid out neatly, but you’ll have to get the book to read the tidy version. Let me mush together some of the priorities as I’ve heard her describe them from her site visits and extended interviews with pastors and leaders of these churches.
BOOM: what difference does it make to be a Christian? 150 points off if you need a few moments to answer. Churches and leaders who are reaching the unchurched have an answer, right now. There are different ways to express an answer, but you better have one.
Another image Gay uses: Bandwidth. Churches that do evangelism see everything as evangelism, and they can explain how it’s evangelism, from selecting lighting for the nursery to how to train greeters to teachers for ministry. Narrow bandwidth is seeing just a few things you do as evangelistic.
And relationships are key – how the congregation builds relationships between believers and God, between each other, and with their mission community.
That’s just three points, and the others are pretty important (keeping focus, removing barriers, starting at the right point, support for pastors). Gay wraps up her talks by saying "Evangelism in the mainline context is impossible; it can only happen with miracles." Prayer is the open secret of evangelism, and the key to the door that matters.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher in central Ohio; reactions to these two stories can be sent to
Notes From My Knapsack 10-9-05
Jeff Gill

Mushrooms and Pumpkins

John Aristotle Phillips was an undergrad C student in physics at Princeton in the mid-1970’s. Sure, he had Freeman Dyson of the Manhattan Project as his advisor, but he was more interested in his pizza delivery business aborning than quantum mechanics.
Then he had a major project due that needed to make a big splash to overshadow his otherwise lackluster acdemic record, so he decided to design an atomic bomb using public record documents.
When John finished his design, Professor Dyson widened his eyes and was vague about whether it would work or not, but the project passed . . . and the government classified it shortly afterwards, which sounds like the Nuclear Housekeeping Seal of Disapproval to me.
Oh, and after some publicity got out about what he’d done, he kept getting late night phone calls from Pakistanis.
I’ve never forgotten that last fact, and how the otherwise ebullient Phillips was unnerved by the interest from a small, poor, hungry country for the design of a superior killing machine. His book, "Mushroom", came out in 1978 and reviewing it was my first paying piece of writing for print. The book is, sadly, out of print, but the reality remains: an average physics major can, with a little diligence and desperation, design an atomic bomb.
Getting the fissile material requires desperation of a different sort, but fellows with guns or box-cutters have proven remarkable adaptable in the last 25 years.
Speaking this Thursday night at Denison’s Swasey Chapel is Sen. Sam Nunn. With the still serving Sen. Richard Lugar (a graduate of DU), they worked hard at creating a program to secure Russian nuclear materials, an effort that is shamefully underfunded and generally unsupported. Since starting in 1991, the program is only half done.
8:00 pm on Oct. 13 you can hear Sen. Nunn, introduced by his friend and colleague Sen. Lugar, talking about this state of affairs and his movie . . . yes, and it stars another former senator, Fred Thompson of "Law & Order" and Watergate fame . . . a movie made by Nunn’s "Nuclear Threat Initiative" organization called "Last Best Chance." It will be shown repeatedly on HBO from Oct. 17, and the more people who watch it, the more public pressure that can be brought to bear on Congress and the Bush administration to secure ourselves from the threat of nuclear terrorism.
If you can get some of the Soviet surplus stuff in your homebuilt bomb, a nuclear reaction may be almost as easy as ordering a mushroom pizza. Let’s make sure we’re not making it that simple. And don’t even ask about dirty bombs. Come hear the senators, watch the movie, and let’s get this nailed down; a Princeton kid showed us the problem in 1978, and I’m thinking we should have it solved by now.
If you want a scare of a more transitory sort, head down to Devine Farms just east of Rt. 37 and US 40, right there on the National Road west of Hebron. The Lakewood Drama and Fine Arts club is running concessions for the weekends through Oct. 30, and they’re getting ready to put on "Meet Me in St. Louis" Nov. 18 & 19 (and I love their new logo with the knight’s helmets in a comic smile and dramatic frown).
Ralph and Charla have the barrel train rolling, plus plenty of other activities especially for small children, and the prices for both pumpkins and other stuff is great – the Little Guy goes for the armband every time, and runs amuck.
And after the children are put to a sound sleep after running around at Devine Farms, you can write a letter to your Congressfolk and tell them the only mushrooms you want to see are on your pizza.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have news or notes to pass along in this space, send them to