Laurence Singlehurst highlights the challenges and opportunities for evangelism in the face of Covid-19 restrictions
The pandemic has turned our world upside down, but, as missiologist Laurence Singlehurst pointed out when he took part in a HOPE Together webinar, change isn’t always a bad thing.
Laurence identified four key missional changes as a result of the pandemic:
So – what might these new pathways look like? Laurence reminded us that all missional activity begins with prayer and is done with love. He suggested there are three stages in the pathway to faith:
A national ‘spiritual openness’, where doors are opening to the gospel message
A new ‘connectedness’. As the Queen described, our ‘streets are empty, but filled with love’ as people engage in acts of kindness towards their neighbours
A move ‘from the central to the personal’ – because, as our church buildings are closed, we can no longer rely on meetings and events, but instead lay people are now firmly on the frontline of mission
A need for ‘new pathways to faith’ – because many of the traditional ways in which people have often encountered God and come to faith are not possible just now
Relationships lead to encounters with God. This is significant at this time of greater connection through increased personal relationships, through service and care (for example, when volunteering at a food bank) and through internet church, to which people from all over communities are connecting.
Historically, we may have deepened relationships by inviting people to an event like a carol service. Now that this is impossible, how can we enhance the relationships we have – be it through service, Whatsapp or Zoom church? Laurence suggested we should be encouraging church members to engage in deep conversation – to ‘play conversational tennis’, where we introduce a spiritual dynamic into a conversation, by asking a question like ‘have you found prayer useful in this time of difficulty?’ and see what is batted back.
He also suggested that churches should arm themselves with resources to give away free to people engaging online. HOPE Together produce a visually-appealing, affordable edition of Mark’s Gospel to give away, as well as ‘Who do you say I am?’, a beautiful introduction to the historicity of Jesus. ‘Hope in Uncertain Times’ is a pocket-sized booklet that speaks the Christian message of hope directly into the uncertainty of the pandemic. All of these resources are available to buy at www.hopetogether.org.uk/Shop.
How might someone embrace faith themselves at this time? Alpha has moved online, which could be a valuable resource helping people to explore their questions further. Evidence suggests, too, that a significant percentage of people come to faith through talking to God themselves. Laurence suggested that people could talk to God about their circumstances and ask him whether he is really there. HOPE Together is encouraging churches to set up HOPE Spaces in 2020 – creative prayer spaces in shops, parks or other community spaces where people are invited in to experience God. You can find out more about how to do this here.
There are real opportunities for creativity at this time – for example, Laurence told a story about a lady who used her skill at origami to provide online lessons, where she taught people to create objects with spiritual significance and chatted naturally about her faith as she taught.
Laurence concluded: ‘During this remarkable time, we have such an opportunity to be forging new pathways to faith. Let’s make the most of every opportunity to make Jesus known!’
He was one of the contributors to a webinar for Mission Champions. HOPE Together’s dream is for every church to have a Mission Champion who will inspire and equip people fellow church members to reach out and make Jesus known. You can watch the webinar again here. Anyone who signs up to do this on the website will receive a free copy of HOPE’s Mission Champions guide, which includes practical chapters by members of the HOPE Together team and others.