It's one of those times when words can be not just unhelpful, but positively misleading.

If you're 'ex-vangelical', as so many people in my current parish are, it can be a real issue. Before you've even got to the end of the word, a negative emotional reaction has been evoked by the 'evangel' prefix.

Your body has tensed, a fight or flight reaction has begun, and you might feel the need to leave the room or shut down the conversation in instinctive self-protection.

It can be hard to understand this if you yourself identify as evangelical, or have generally positive associations with the word; or if, like me, you became a Christian later in life without any real sense of churchmanship, so these labels are an interesting talking point rather than having huge emotional weight attached to them. Books like Vicky Beeching's Undivided are beginning to communicate to the rest of us just why some ex-vangelicals have such a strong response to these words.

I blogged about what I called the 'Natural Grammar of Evangelism' back in 2016. As I said then, I think sharing good news is something we very naturally do as humans - when we discover something new that we enjoy or find helpful, we naturally want to tell our family and friends about it. But for some reason we find this embarrassing when it comes to church - and I suggested that was often because it isn't 'new' enough for us. If we've been Christians all our lives, we haven't recently discovered it, and so it is odd and feels forced in our culture to share it. This, I think, is why Bob Jackson's research found that churches that were growing tend to be those that have made a change - any change. That gives us something to share with people!

Since then I've had many conversations about evangelism with people, and found that the same Frequently Asked Questions keep coming up. For example:

  • Why do evangelism if we don't believe people will go to hell?

  • Does it matter whether people are Christian or not?

  • What about other faiths?

  • How do we evangelise in a culture that is inherently suspicious of truth claims?

  • Is Christianity a 'toxic brand'?

  • What is the 'good news' for liberals?

To help us think through some of these questions, my colleague Mark Waters and I are organising a day conference in February 2019, 'Reclaiming Evangelism: Positive Liberal Theologies of Mission', sponsored by Modern Church. You can read more about it and book tickets on Eventbrite.

Please come along and join in the conversation. Because - whether you like the word or not - evangelism is too important to be left to evangelicals alone.