Last Christmas a member of Granton Parish Church, where I was minister until recently, sent all of his neighbours in his tower block a Christmas card. He included his phone number and a message offering to pray for them. A few of those neighbours responded and he now has a nascent home group on the go.
Another member was walking down the street when a four-year-old, out walking with her dad, struck up a conversation. It turns out they were new to the area with the father being a lay pastor from overseas and looking to connect with local people. He was so happy someone spoke to them that they decided to come along to the local church.
Neither the person in the tower block nor the person walking on the street would consider themselves evangelists, yet that is exactly what they were doing – sharing their faith.
Our Kirk Session had, over previous years, made a deliberate effort to grow the congregation’s confidence in talking about Jesus. We wanted it to become second nature and normative for people. After the sermon each week, the congregation were given a question related to the topic to discuss with the people around them for three minutes. These were to help put the message into practice. Another service segment was called ‘Change One Thing’, where each person was challenged to spend a little time considering what difference the message would make to them.
Over the summer months, a segment called ‘On the Couch’ interviewed different people each week on the practical differences faith made to their lives. Two nurses spoke about the difference faith made to their work, two widows about the difference faith made to losing their husbands and a couple of parents on the difference faith made to raising kids. One of the most moving occasions was when someone spoke about the difference their faith made to living with their spouse who has dementia. In any given service we tried to get as many people to talk about their faith as possible.
Our rationale was this – to help build confidence in speaking about faith, people first had to learn in a safe environment before they would have the assurance to do it outside. By doing this week in and week out, talking about faith stopped being something special that only the ‘stormtroopers for God’ did and became a normal part of church life. Over time this encouraged more reticent people. While some people are natural pioneers, most are not and need to see others in action before they feel confident enough.
One person out walking her dog got speaking to people who were cataloguing flora before a brownfield site was redeveloped. Being immersed in a culture that encouraged her to talk about God meant she then spoke to those cataloguing the flora about God’s creation.
On reflection, it was through making the everyday worship life of the congregation intentionally missional that helped to give people the confidence and the tools to be missional in their everyday lives. No single program was responsible, rather an ongoing, repetitive emphasis over years on getting as many people talking about their faith.
Anyone reading may wonder, where do I start? What can I do to get people talking about their faith? Simply give them the opportunity. The most profound faith stories will not come from the minister but from the people. One person hearing another talk about their faith will have a huge impact. Over time that will change the culture but we need to be persistent and intentional.