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Transforming Evangelism (Transformations…

Transforming Evangelism (Transformations Series)

by David Gortner

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In the past twenty years, many Christian congregations in the United States have been coping with a significant economic challenge. After years of slowly declining membership and participation, increasing personnel costs and property expenses are forcing congregations to consider how they can afford to keep their doors open. Some have cut staff; many have deferred maintenance. Those that can have been relying more and more on proceeds from endowments and investments in order to balance the books.

Some congregations are so desperate now that they have begun talking more openly about a once taboo topic: evangelism. For many Christians, the idea of talking to others about becoming Christian has been considered ill-mannered. Some worried about being pushy, trying to make people believe certain things; others worried that some would assume their efforts were just part of an elaborate scheme to raise money for the church. Financial realities, though, are pushing such niceties to the side.

As a result, there are a growing number of books that aim to help congregations and pastors think about evangelism, often in particular contexts. "Transforming Evangelism," by David Gortner, is part of a series of books for the Episcopal Church at the outset of the 21st Century. While it often speaks directly to a specific Episcopal audience, its lessons are more general.

Overall, the book does what most similar books do: it lays out the problem; it admits the deeper need for evangelism to be part of faith (not just in order to pay the bills); it offers examples of some of the approaches certain congregations have used in their own evangelism efforts; and it lays out some specific tools for evangelism in practice. This is both the strength and the weakness of the book. Certainly it offers a straightforward approach to introducing evangelism into the words and actions of Christian congregations; however, despite the promise of the "Transforming" title, there is little new here.

Dorothy Butler Bass, along with others, have documented such innovative work in congregations across the United States more extensively than Gortner does here, in books such as "Christianity for the Rest of Us." Worse, Gortner's key examples have a certain "otherness" to them, speaking of environments -- a Native American reservation -- that are very different from the situations faced by most congregations, allowing them to be easily dismissed as "something you could try if you were in that situation -- but we're not."

To be sure, the specific ideas that Gortner suggests for congregations to consider as they incorporate the practices of evangelism into their communal life are solid. Taken together, they offer a vision for how such evangelism can transform the spiritual life of a congregation by helping members to grow in their own faith, to change how they behave toward each other and towards visitors and potential visitors, and to adjust some of the key activities of a congregation. I wonder, though, if the ideas are not as helpful as they might be: most are a little general that it would several additional decisions to implement them, and a few are rather daunting. (The 1:4 ratio is helpful for starting successful programs or events -- each person on the planning committee is committed to bringing four others with them to the planned program or event -- but I can't help but wonder how quickly that would encourage people to NEVER serve on a planning committee.)

So, if one has little experience in the genre of "how-to" books on church evangelism, Gortner offers a well-presented introduction. However, there is nothing particularly new or noteworthy here beyond what others have already written (and lamented) about the challenge facing most congregations long out of practice in inviting people to explore a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. ( )
  ALincolnNut | Mar 16, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0898695856, Paperback)

How can Episcopalians reclaim evangelism primarily as an enriching spiritual practice? How soon will we recognize that our traditional hands-off approach has led to a crisis of evangelism with our own children? How can we learn to practice evangelism in an multicultural and multifaith society ? and to what purpose? What styles and practices of spirituality do most to enrich our sense of evangelical calling?
These are some of the questions David Gortner asks in this book on evangelism for clergy and congregational discussion. He delivers both good and bad news about Episcopalians and evangelism, and provides models and spiritual practices to feed the growing hunger in our churches for good news.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:35 -0400)

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