I was recently involved in a group discussing the Eucharist and mission. Too often the Eucharist is celebrated with little enthusiasm (Greek for God in it!), heads in books (or printed sheets, or even gazing at OHP or projector screen), the written texts used without apparent conviction – or as if the words did not mean what they say – using them solely “because we have to” and what we want to express from our hearts is extemporary or in our own words, not the liturgy’s.
Little wonder then, that some communities, attempting to be faithful to the call to evangelise, abandon Eucharist as their primary service, and invent non-eucharistic “seeker services”. Eucharist, if it continues, is relegated to an 8am with a greying, numerically decreasing congregation.
But there is another model, advocated in Celebrating Eucharist and by this site. Whilst acknowledging that Eucharist cannot “bear the weight” of all our spiritual needs (the tendency of always having “communion with that”), in my opinion it models a more healthy and appropriate understanding of mission.
Firstly, let us remind ourselves that worship, and Eucharist at its heart, IS central to our mission as Christians. The model of encouraging non-Christians to attend seeker services with a low threshold of difference to outside-church culture in the hope that they will be converted and join the community of faith has several problems. Not least is the experience that people at these type of services tend to stay at this level of participation, do not tend to move into a Eucharistic spirituality, and often do not develop a depth of faith which sustains them for the long term. Some denominations complain of having too few young people – others of having too few old people!
An alternative model is provided by the family meal. The family meets regularly and has practices and habits possibly even unique to this family. A guest is invited by a family member to a meal. The guest is made welcome, some of the particular practices may even be explained. The guest is clearly not part of the family, but we hope feels at ease, enjoys the fact that this is a family that has eaten together before. The guest may appreciate the experience so much that they wished they could become part of the family.
Translate this to a healthy celebration of the Eucharist. A member of the community invites someone to Sunday worship. Or someone has observed the life of a Christian and arrives at church seeking to find the source of this life. They are made welcome, feel at ease, some of the particular practices may even be explained. The guest is clearly not part of the community, enjoys the fact that this is a community that has clearly met together previously (how many times is a service so presented that we are all treated as if it is our first time!) We hope that the guest may appreciate the experience so much that they wished they could become part of the community. For this there is a (catechumenal) process of incorporation.
In this model, evangelism doesn’t happen primarily or solely within a church service, it occurs through the words, witness, the life generally of lay people out in the world – in their ordinary lives. This is lay mission and ministry which sorely needs to be recovered from the tendency to dress lay people up in what, to most, appears to be the robes of clergy, place them at the front of services doing priestly-type things and calling that lay ministry – as if participating fully in the pews and living the Christian life in the world is somehow not full lay mission and ministry.
Mission and numbers
The following is for those who are concerned with numbers in their evangelism – and to be frank, if I were to be concerned with numbers it would be with the number of people that a Christian community served outside the church building more than the number of people at a church service. Had we consistently encouraged every person to aim to disciple one new person every say ten years into the community who would stay with that same hope, then (compound interest) our community’s size would double every seven years. (Reproduction also counts!) In 21 years our community would be 8 times its size. [Compare that with the statistics of the numbers we lost in the Decade of Evangelism!] In 42 years that’s a community 64 times in size! We all know the simple principles in saving money – why is no one expecting our community to be 64 times the size it was in 1964?