Fearless Evangelism, Part VII … by Charles LaFond

This is the seventh in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  For links to earlier posts in the series, see below. 

VII.  Can Christians Learn from our Mistakes?

If we look around our congregations and notice the average age, and if we notice the trends in the next generation’s disinclination to join, attend or fund churches as members; then we do this membership growth work or we will die out in 25 years. We could easily become like the Shaker communities –like the one in Canterbury, New Hampshire. We do not do evangelism to grow or even to maintain numbers – we do it for invitation to LIFE ABUNDANT. However there are costs to not doing this work.

The Shaker Village in Canterbury is a place of stunning antique beauty. It is empty of its original worshipers much like our Anglican Cathedrals and some charming churches. They are empty places which tourists visit for their beauty, asking shyly, politely where the people are who built them.

The Shakers made a choice: NO EVANGELISM. They said “We will not change our ways – no outreach. No procreation. No adaptation to the culture around us.” They had lots of money from what they invented, made and sold, so why bother reaching out…they could pay their bills. They stood by their unwillingness to change until the last house in Maine whose web site says this:

“The Community presently consists of eighteen buildings located on 1,800 acres of land… a tree farm, apple orchard, vegetable gardens, commercial herb garden, hay fields, pastures, a flock of sheep, and a variety of livestock.”

The description never mentions people.

There are four Shakers left at Sabbath Day Lake, the last shaker village with shakers in it, preserved by an endowment of $3.7 million. At the turn of the last century there were 60,000.

In 1800 there were 1,233,011 people in New England of whom 60,000 were Shakers or 2% of the then population. In 2010 there were 14,444,865 people in New England. If the Shakers had done nothing but keep their numbers stable to a percentage of population growth – there would be almost 300,000 shakers in New England today. Instead there are four Shakers in New England. Their houses and communities are currently all museums but one.

I recently baptized a little baby named Evangeline. I want there to be an Episcopal Church for her when she grows up and makes her adult life-choices in 25 years. What we do now – in this in-between time as the church molts from one form into another – may determine if there is an Episcopal church in 25 years or simply monuments to an intransigent, extinct church.

This is hard work but this is also great and exciting work. How do we move forward? What do we take home as tools to get this work done and face everything from ambivalence to resistance back in our parishes?

Next:  Forging New Neural Pathways

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.

This is the fifth in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments: Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.