New forms of church needed in a new missionary era

New and different forms of church are the almost certain outcomeof work that Methodism is to do to bring Jesus Christ tocommunities that have become removed from traditional church lifein Britain.

Many people who come to faith through the ministry ofevangelists will not readily join a traditional church. Such peopleare likely to have little basic Christian knowledge, andlong-established methods of "calling people back" to join anexisting congregation are likely to have little impact on them. Asa result, a new model of evangelist is required to deal with a "newmissionary era", recommends a report welcomed by the MethodistCouncil last weekend.

The Church has almost no chance of influencing certain groupswho have little contact with many churches, such as the under 40sand people from other faith communities, concludes the report."It

is increasingly important that we identify, train and supportthe ministry of those with cross-cultural evangelism gifts toestablish new congregations in these communities. These newchurches will bear little resemblance to traditional Methodistchurches."

The report, penned by the Methodist Secretary for Evangelism andChurch Planting, the Rev Graham Horsley, says evangelism - or'making more followers of Jesus Christ' - is not aboutconfrontation with a stranger, but takes place in "a deepeningpersonal relationship with one or more Christians".

More evangelists are needed to work closely with existingchurches as well as helping to establish new ones. Their role willinclude "personal faith-sharing", "building mission-mindedcongregations" and "developing specific evangelistic programmes"such as the successful 'Alpha' courses.

The report stresses that evangelism is one of the most urgentpriorities facing the Church. It accepts that many churches andindividuals "have neither the confidence nor the skills to engagein this process. In its recent history, the Methodist Church hasbeen very effective at demonstrating the love of Christ inpractical ways, but much less effective at explaining the source ofthat love".

"To put it bluntly, the survival of the Methodist Church restson our ability to persuade people to become followers of JesusChrist," argues the report.

Evangelists need to be both active themselves as well asencouraging others: "Training others to do what one does not dooneself or being a 'lone ranger' with no interest in encouragingothers to share in the evangelistic calling of the whole churchshould be discouraged." The role of the evangelist needs to beformally recognised, supported and held accountable by theMethodist Church, says the report, which will be considered by theMethodist Conference in July.

If accepted, work will be undertaken to bring the role formallyinto the Standing Orders of the Church. Methodist districts andcircuits are encouraged to recognise and commission individuals -who may be ministers or lay workers - as evangelists using aprescribed commissioning service. In particular, districts thathave not yet appointed a District Evangelism Enabler are asked tomake such an appointment an urgent priority. Less than half of alldistricts have such an appointment, while only just over one in tencircuits have appointed a lay worker to evangelistic work.

An evangelist's work will be reviewed every three years and acentral register of evangelists will be established. Discernment ofsomeone's vocation as an evangelist will take place through theChurch's one-year foundation training scheme. Suitable candidateswill then go forward for specific training as lay evangelists aspart of a programme being piloted by the Church in the nextyear.