I travel by bus and subway to my office in downtown Toronto. It takes about 45 minutes. On an early morning commute last week, I read a booklet entitled From Visitor to Disciple. In it, John Bowen, director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, explores how people are helped to take steps from first attending church to becoming active disciples of Jesus.
John calls us to think about how we welcome people who are coming through the doors for the first time and those who are returning after years of “being away.” The questions he calls us to ponder range from practical matters such as signage and parking to spiritual matters such as how we talk about our faith. He takes us inside the liturgy and explores the extent to which people can fully participate. He moves us into the coffee hour and explores how we show genuine hospitality. He raises questions about follow-up. Who does it and in what ways? He challenges us to think about our reputation in our neighbourhood.
“Are you just the weird people who ring those infernal bells on a Sunday morning when normal people are trying to sleep? Or do you make a contribution to the community such that people would really miss you if you were not there?” (p. 14)
This booklet is a must-read for every congregation. And it is a wonderful companion to the Back to Church Sunday initiative, which began in The Church of England and has now spread with great success through many other churches, including our own. This year, Back to Church Sunday is September 26th. The theme is “Come as you are.”
Back to Church Sunday turns evangelism into a simple invitation-“Will you come to church with me on Sunday?” Bishops of several dioceses across the country will be seen in ferry terminals, subway stations and shopping centres handing out invitations this month. If they can do it, so can you.
“Come as you are” is a gracious invitation. The welcome we offer is a sacred obligation. If we are to be the kind of community Christ calls us to be, our commitment to both is absolutely crucial. Ω
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
From Visitor to Disciple is available for $6.65 (includes HST and shipping).
To order by email: [email protected] or write to: Institute of Evangelism, 5 Hoskin Ave., Toronto, ON M5S 1H7. Attn: Sales.