Rev. Dr. Dawson encourages “Progressive Evangelism”

By Rev. Dr. C.W. Dawson Jr., Interim Sabbatical Minister

In the time I have been with you as your Philosopher-in-Residence and now as your Sabbatical Interim Minister, I have found the experience wonderful and exciting. I hope this experience has been a blessing to you as well.

There is something I have hinted at since I have been in your company that I wish for you to think about seriously. There are a couple of things that I have learned while working with you.

Our congregation is getting older. I do not say this as a bad thing since I am getting older as well. But as a congregation begins to age, it must realize that the younger end of the membership must grow to maintain balance. Youth bring energy and new ideas. Age brings wisdom birthed in experience.

We are borrowing from our surplus funds to meet our budget. We cannot continue this practice. I know that Rev. Molly and the board are thinking of ways to creatively think of stewardship in a holistic way that is needed in every congregation. With the talent you have, I am sure that your desire to make giving an expression of your faith and spiritual growth will be phenomenally successful.

However, given the above, it is also time to think about church growth programmatically. How does a progressive, socially conscious community of faith attract new members? They do it by engaging in Progressive Evangelism. I know evangelism has a bad image for some of us. It is because we equate evangelism with conservative evangelicalism. But evangelism is not just a tool of the evangelicals – it can also be an instrument that aids our quest to be more centered in the world, and more effective as we attempt to be faithful to our mission of justice and love.

Ask yourself the following questions.

  • How long have I been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia?
  • How many people (outside of my immediate family) have I brought into the fellowship of this community?

I suggest that these are important questions to ask for the future of the church.

Progressive evangelism is centered in inviting people to join our values and beliefs. In a society so torn by strife and division, there are people all around us who are seeking a beloved community. They are not with us because (a) they do not know us; and (b) we have not invited them. Progressive evangelism demands:

  • Intentionality. We must be intentional in our inviting
  • Boldness. We must boldly state that we are a people of radical welcome, service and love. If you are timid about who you are, no one will take you seriously.
  • Friendliness. UUs are very smart but sometimes we are aloof to those we do not know. In the tradition I come out of, the statement goes, “If you want to have friends, you must show yourself friendly.” The same is true about church growth.
  • Accentuation of strengths. You have a gifted pastor/preacher. You have excellent musicians. You are a thinking and serving church.

I suggest that if you seriously ponder Progressive Evangelism, it will bless this congregation in a mighty way.