Durham Diocese is about to embark on a four day mission event, with 20 of the bishops of the Northern Province ascending to our county to lead, inspire and assist with all sorts of evangelistic events. Each parish was asked to put on an event, and almost all have responded, with events ranging from the modest (a coffee morning, a school assembly) to the inventive and even bizarre!
In Durham Deanery we have a huge range of events going on, from 'What the Actress said to the Bishop' (hosted by Shincliffe church - where they have a local actress in conversation with a bussed in bishop!) to a night of stand up comedy by two of the north east's finest comedy revs, Kate Bruce and John Sinclair. From two 'crafternoons' - one in my own church, one the other side of the Deanery - to a pet blessing service. (The brave vicar who agreed to host the pet blessing service that a brainstorming session generated said 'but I'm scared of animals!' but the visiting bishop seems pretty clear what to do!). From attending Durham Park Run to a debate on science and religion in the university.
All these things should be great, but they rely on two things to really work on their own terms:
Firstly, people need to invite people who aren't already churchgoers to attend them! This should be obvious....but its amazing how many churchgoers have signed up for tickets to events and seem taken aback, and on occasion even offended, when reminded that the point is really for them to get tickets for themselves AND A FRIEND!
And secondly, we need to actually talk about Jesus at these events. Not just leave that to the visiting bishop or ordinand, but be prepared to talk about our own faith and why we find Jesus interesting, inspiring, puzzling, intriguing, captivating, attractive ....(insert your own word here). We don't need to preach - in fact, I and many others have been at pains to reassure people that they can invite their friends to these events without any fear that they will suddenly be pounced on with a crashing gear change of the conversation from friendly chat to overt conversion mode! But we do need to get more confident at naming Jesus easily and confidently in our conversations.
Most of us find that this does not come easily. 'Church' seems much easier to say than 'Jesus'. But all the research is that most people who do not come to church find Jesus a much more attractive proposition than church!
The most common reason I've identified when I've asked my congregation members what holds them back from talking about their faith with their family and friends is the fear that people will be offended.
People ARE offended if you try to force them to share your beliefs, or imply that they are inferior for not believing or behaving in the same way as they imagine Christians do. But people are NOT offended by you happening to mention that you have a faith in Jesus, and leaving it to them to ask more if they wish. In fact, people tend to be fascinated if once they realise that they can ask you about your faith without you being offended or pushy.
Our Deanery Co-ordinator for the Talking Jesus event found this out at work a few months ago, when her boss asked her if she'd had a good weekend. She found herself answering honestly that it had been very busy with the preparations for a diocesan event called Talking Jesus that she'd got herself involved in organising. He was fascinated, and she reported that she had had the longest conversation she'd ever had about faith at work as a result!
So....come to the events! Invite people to the events! And talk about the events. Maybe just telling people that there's a Talking Jesus diocesan event happening is a good way to mention the name Jesus in a non-threatening way? And maybe practice to yourself, at home, in the shower, in the car, how you might answer a follow up question about what Jesus means to you?