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Two things everyone can do to grow the church

Bishop Carlye Hughes

If you want to grow the church, says Bishop Hughes, start by growing your own faith in fellowship with other faithful Christians, which will empower you to talk about faith with others who need to hear the good news that they are loved by God. (Time: 5:31.)

Video Transcript

This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. Lately people have been talking to me about church growth. They want to know what am I or what is the diocese going to do, or what are other churches doing, in order to grow. And for the past five years, I've talked with this diocese about probably the most important thing about church growth. Actually, it's two things. One is fellowship. The second is evangelism.

And I say them in that order for a specific reason. In order to be in the place where your own spiritual life is nurtured, and healthy, and vibrant enough to be able to talk about the faith with another person, you really have to do your own work. It means learning how to pray, learning how to pray for yourself and for others. It means learning to develop a discerning ear, to hear the things that God is saying to you, to a group, to your family, at your work, to your church, to our country, to the world – to be listening for the ways God is working, and the ways God is trying to lead us in every part of our life. It means spending time – and that's why it's under the umbrella of fellowship – it means spending time with other people who are working on their spiritual life.

One of the ways that we have suggested doing that in this diocese, is something that we call faith groups. It's a group of people who covenant – make a promise together – who covenant to meet with each other on a regular basis for a period of time. There are faith groups that decide to meet all throughout the academic year, so September through May or June, they meet. There are faith groups who decide to meet for a season – we're going to meet in the fall and winter, or we're gonna meet in the spring and summer. There are faith groups that meet every week, there are faith groups that meet every other week.

The thing that is particular about faith groups, though, is they are not meeting for the task of running a meeting or committee. They're meeting for the purpose of shoring each other up, helping each other grow into the faith. They may spend some time ruminating, thinking about, pondering on a piece of scripture, but they're not necessarily studying that piece of scripture trying to pull everything they can out of it in terms of its historicity, or how it was written, or when it was written, those kinds of things. Rather, they're taking a piece of scripture, reading it together, letting it inwardly soak into them. And then asking the question, how does this speak to my life, how to speak to the world, etc. So that fellowship piece is important. It's how we grow our faith. I know we want to believe that that one hour on Sunday morning will take care of it, but it is simply not enough. We need more time, and time with other faithful people talking about faith.

The other part is evangelism. And I don't think sharing the faith, talking about faith with other people, is something that we're equipped to do if we have not worked on our own faith. So to talk about faith means that we have to be able to look at our own, and be comfortable with using that language – something that we can do when we're in our small group, when we're working in our faith group, talking with people in our faith group about faith, we learn how to talk faith. We learn how to use those words, they become comfortable to us. And when they become comfortable to us in one setting, they become more comfortable in another setting.

Almost every time I talk with people about sharing the faith, the thing that they express the most fear about is that there'll be some expectation that they're going to go out and convert people to the faith. And I would say this, our real message in terms of sharing our faith is to let people know that they are loved and that they belong to the One who created them. And sometimes people can hear that message just from the beginning because they've heard such a hateful message about who God is. And so it's healing to know that that God created them exactly as they are, intentionally, and loves them exactly as they are. Really that is the biggest gift we can bring when we talk about faith, to let people know that they are loved by us, that they belong in our own company, and that they are loved by God and that they belong to God.

These two things, fellowship and evangelism, will grow the church. It's something everybody can do. It doesn't matter if your church is large or small. It doesn't matter what your plans are, if you have a strategic plan or not. Every single Episcopalian in this diocese, can spend time in a small group talking about faith, learning how to do that beyond the group, beyond the church, in sharing the incredible love, mercy and relationship that God wants to have with God's people, wherever we go in the world.

If you want to grow the church, start with growing your own faith.

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