[Episcopal News Service] Think about the last 24 hours. What has given you joy?
There’s no right or wrong answer, but if you’ve taken up the 30-Day Evangelism Challenge, the answer to that question was just the beginning.
“The reason it’s 30 days is it takes 30 days to change a habit,” said the Rev. Becky Zartman, one of the creators of the challenge, which launched Aug. 4 on the Episcopal Evangelists’ Facebook page and is scheduled to conclude on Sept. 2.
The new habit formed by challenge participants is the practice of evangelism. The game-like series of daily prompts encourages reflection and action, harnessing the recent energy in the Episcopal Church around evangelism and seizing on the spirit of experimentation encouraged by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Way of Love and its seven rule-of-life practices.
“Sometimes the narrative of decline in our church is so heavy on the heart,” said the Rev. Patricia Lyons, the Diocese of Washington’s missioner for evangelism and community engagement. “And as a result, we lose creativity in that scarcity, and we’re afraid to play and experiment. And I understand why. The stakes are huge in a post-Christian culture.”
She and Zartman were determined to try something new and learn from the experience. Zartman serves as an Episcopal chaplain at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Both were part of the team of advisers who met with the presiding bishop last year to discuss evangelism and who produced the framework for the Way of Love.
The 30-Day Evangelism Challenge grew out of those conversations, as well as Lyons’ experimenting with what she calls “micro-formation.” She saw social media as the ideal platform.
Lyons and Zartman are both Facebook administrators on the Episcopal Evangelists page, which is now approaching 4,000 members after its launch just a few months ago. This became their test group for the Evangelism Challenge. So far, the response has been encouraging, with more than 50 churches sharing the Episcopal Evangelists’ posts about the challenge and more than 2,000 engagements with those posts, Lyons said.
The 30 days are broken into three phases. Over the first 10 days, Zartman, tasked with writing the individual posts, challenged participants to look inward and think about the place of God in their own lives.
Day 4: “Think about your life. When did you feel close to God? When did you feel far away? What brought you home?”
Day 7: “Write a thank you note to someone who’s been influential in your faith journey. Who did you write to, and why?”
“Where Jesus shows up in people’s lives never ceases to amaze me,” Zartman said.
For the second phase, participants were encouraged to look around and seek God in their neighborhoods and their neighbors. Zartman sees such exercises as building the foundation of a uniquely Episcopal brand of evangelism.
“This isn’t about just going out and handing out tracts,” she said. “Rather it’s about where Jesus is already working in the world and discovering where you can join.”
The challenge’s final 10 days are more of a call to action, encouraging participants to pray, serve, show kindness and, when the moment is right, talk about their faith with others.
“My hope is to make a curriculum that people can use in their parishes that will help people stay accountable to each other and actually foster a sense of the practice of evangelism on the ground in parishes,” Zartman said.
Part of the challenge’s value is the Facebook discussion it fosters among participants, though Zartman also created a simple website to house the daily posts. Lyons also thought one of the most interesting mixes of responses came on Day 6, when participants were encouraged to consider where God is working in their own lives by asking their social media followers.
Many expressed feeling awkward at even asking the question, with one comparing it to a teenager posting a selfie and asking for compliments. But some were pleasantly surprised by the feedback they received from friends, and several commenters felt encouraged at hearing their efforts to lead a Christian life had not gone unnoticed.
“I was really taken with how hard that question was,” Lyons said, but part of the challenge is to brave the uncomfortable. “This is a very good Episcopal formation moment.”
Lyons said she has received numerous emails from churches interested in modifying this challenge for different contexts, and she and Zartman plan to spend time after these first 30 days are over to review what worked and what could be improved. Eventually, they envision any number of similar 30-day challenges centered around other aspects of faith, including the seven practices of the Way of Love.
“It seems like the church is hungry for an Episcopal-style evangelism,” Zartman said, and Episcopalians are learning how to articulate their faith in their own way. “This is about the amazingness of God and sharing that love.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.