Laity Session: Telling our stories, reaching new people

June 22, 2016

By: Christa Meland

Minnesota United Methodists are good at healing a broken world. Give us a missional goal, and we exceed it like we did with Imagine No Malaria and the meals we packed for hungry children through our “Million Meals Marathon.” But ask us to reach new people, and we hope someone else will do it. Even the word “evangelism” makes many of us uncomfortable.

Yet, evangelism and reaching new people have been identified as vital elements to the future growth of our churches, our conference, and our denomination, conference Co-Lay Leader Bob Kutter said at the 2016 Laity Session.

Blessing others through evangelism

Conference Co-Lay Leader Janet Beard pointed out that one of the dictionary definitions of “evangelist” is “an enthusiastic advocate.” She said she and her husband recently bought a camper and they are enthusiastic about camping. Kutter, meanwhile, is so enthusiastic about gardening and providing healthy food choices that he started a farmer’s market in his small community. Surely everyone has something they are enthusiastic about. The challenge is to be outwardly enthusiastic about our faith as well—and what that takes is preparation and practice, Beard said.

The first step is to put words to our faith. Referencing advice from author, Rev. Bob Farr, Kutter suggested beginning by answering these questions: Why God? Why church? Why this church? Other questions that can help us put words to our faith: Where have I seen the Holy Spirit at work in my life? How is God working in the lives of those around me?

“We may know the answers to all of these questions in our hearts, which blesses us,” said Kutter. “When we share the answers out loud, however, we bless others.”

And sharing our stories is a critical first step in helping new people come to know Christ. Three church planters from the conference talked about their experiences in reaching new people and gave their advice for how lay people can be part of the process—especially when it comes to connecting with Millennials.

Connecting with younger generations

Josh Meyers, who is planting North Summit Church in Moundsview, pointed out that 80 percent of Millennials between the ages of 18 and 25 are not attending church. He shared four suggestions for ways to connect with and support them: Help them discover their purpose, allow them to use their ideas (and the church building), be kind when they fail, and start a community of discipleship for them. “If you take us on and teach us and mold us, we’re going to be grateful for that,” Meyers said.

Rev. Whitney Sheridan is associate pastor at Centennial UMC in Roseville, which is merging with nearby St. Anthony Park UMC and starting a second campus there. Although the new campus won’t launch until the fall, a launch team has been hosting and participating in community events—like movies in a nearby park—and meeting people in the area, which includes a lot of young families.

“As you are making connections with Millennials, listen to them and love them and give them leadership opportunities,” Sheridan said. “How is your life different because you have heard the good news of Jesus Christ? Are we living into that passion and enthusiasm in everything we do? If you guys are on fire for Jesus, if you are so in love with God that it’s pouring out of you…people are going to catch on; they’re going to notice.”

Rev. Tyler Sit, who’s planting New City Church in Minneapolis, which is focused on environmental justice, said one of the challenges to connecting the generations is ageism on the part of both young people and older people. There’s a place in the church for every person of every age—young and old.

“No one is disposable in the kingdom of God,” he said. “God is not wasteful. God is faithful…God has already set within your life all the things you need to be able to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Let your life speak.”

Do we believe that church is important? Do we believe that faith provides meaningful answers to the questions of life? Do we believe Christ calls us as disciples to “go”? Beard asked laity.

“If we believe these things, we need to start talking about them!” she said. “And as we go to out to tell our stories, nothing should keep us from seeing others as God’s children. Nothing should stand in the way of our living fully into who God has called us to be. Nothing should hold us back from sharing the best of our lives with those we love and then those we don’t know. Nothing should keep us from sharing our stories of faith.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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