One of the recurrent themes here recently has been about how we evangelise. In response to one comment from my friend Servus Fidelis I wrote:
The central problem we encounter here is twofold and hard to overcome. Most people know precisely nothing about the Church, but they ‘read somewhere’ that it has done ‘nasty stuff’ and is ‘bigoted’. They then hear some loud voice in the public square sounding just that way and their prejudice is confirmed. So before the hearer can offer any opinion, she or he is put off by these things. It is getting over that where the problem lies – at least for us.
To which he responded:
I don’t think it is truly a problem. If they listened they will either become more set against the Christ and the Church or they will perhaps read the Gospels themselves to see if they can find ways to argue against the teachings or they will soften their hearts and the Holy Spirit will lead them into the Church. We can’t do that . . . all we can do is speak the Truth as best we know it and live according to those Truths the best we know how.
It may be here that there is a difference between the USA and the UK, but I can attach no meaning to the comment ‘if they listened they will become more set …’. My main problem is precisely that people do not listen, and they do not do so in the UK in part at least because there is no forum in which that might happen. People here usually know next to nothing about the Christian faith, and when they do encounter those in the public square claiming the name Christian, it is often in contexts which simply reinforce the general prejudice that Christians are judgmental people intolerant of the views of others who would, if they could, go back to the days when they could use force to get their way, and ban books and thinkers of which they disapprove. What I never hear from non-Christians is what I often read here, that the church is in some way too ‘touchy feely’ and too full of ‘care bear love’. I have never ever heard a non-Christian say that. I’d be interested to hear from anyone else involved in evangelisation whether they have heard that.
The question for me remains one of how we get people to listen, not what they do when they listen. Where I am at the moment much work has been done on this, and disappointing though it may be to the theorists, we have found two things: that most of the people who cross our threshold do so because a friend has come here and has liked what they found. At that point, yes, they can begin to listen and decide whether what they hear attracts them or not – but before that, they knew nothing other than whatever they picked up in a media biased against the Christian faith. The second thing is that personal interaction with them is critical. People need, generally, to feel they are welcome. Now that is different for everyone, and our ‘greeters’ are well-trained on how to respond to different types of people: with the shy and hesitant, we, too, are delicate in our approach, simply registering with them we know they are there and letting them know we’re happy if they stay for coffee or tea, and that we’re there is they want someone to talk to; and with those who are neither shy nor hesitant, we put one of our more extrovert people into action.
Certainly in the UK, we have a job of work to do in even getting people informed about the existence of the Christian Faith. Neither of the great public holidays, Christmas or Easter, any longer perform this purpose. The latter is now presented as an occasion for the consumption of large amounts of chocolate to the accompaniment of rabbits and the celebration of spring; the former an orgy of commercialism with a nice mid-winter holiday. None of this is the direct result of government policy, it is the result of failures by the churches and the education system. The question for me, not least in my new job, is how we can go about doing something to help reverse that – and the local example here seems to me to be doing the job – at least here. It has, I think, lessons for the wider problem.
Go preach the Gospel – well, that’s what we have to do, and no one ever said it would be easy.