I remember years ago hearing about two twenty something Anglican Christians who as part of their church’s outreach ministry visited homes in their parish in order to invite people to their up and coming Easter Services. On one occasion they encountered an elderly lady and when the pair introduced themselves and told her that they were from the local Anglican Church she responded saying:
“What? What church? Anglican? What sort of church is that? I am not interested in you Fang-dangle Anglicans or whatever you call yourselves. I have my own church”.
When they asked her what church she belonged to, with pride in her voice and quick as a whip she said “I belong to the Church of England”.
Working hard to contain their laughter, the pair informed the lady that Church of England had changed their name to Anglican. “What!” When did they do that?” She piped up? And so they told her, “1981”. Her response was one of shock “Well I don’t remember that! No one ever told me”.
This is a funny example of what I believe is an encounter with a nominal Anglican, that is, with an individual who identify as being Anglican but is for various reasons is disconnected from the church (be it physically, relationally or doctrinally). Nominal Anglicans may believe in God, or they may not. They may be good living people. They may see the church as belonging to them even though they may rarely if ever attend. They may define being a Christian as being good to one’s neighbour, or say they are Christian, even though they don’t know or read the Scriptures, and the Lord Jesus is more like a distant great Uncle than a close intimate friend. They may even attend church regularly but interpret committed Christian discipleship as extreme.
Judging by the latest census results here in Australia fifteen percent of the population identify as Anglicans, which suggests that there are a large number of Nominal Anglicans.
But as interesting as it is to ponder the question of how many people there are in our diocese (or your diocese) who identity as Anglicans yet never attend church, the more important and (if may be so bold to say), urgent question that we do well to ask is this:
How do we reach them with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?
While I am absolutely no expert on reaching nominal Anglicans, here are some thoughts to that question:
- Keep preaching the whole Counsel of God – If you have a preaching ministry. Preach through the Bible, the OT, the NT, The Gospels, The Epistles. All of it. It will not only serve to ensure that your people don’t become nominal Anglicans, God has given us his promise that his Word will not return empty. If you don’t have a preaching ministry, encourage your minister to do this
- Keep preaching the Cross – We preach the Cross because it God’s power to save, we preach the cross because we should not assume that everyone in our parish is saved; we preach the cross because we don’t know whom may come to one of our services on any given Sunday. And we preach the cross because it will give your people confidence to invite their non-church going friends to come to church knowing that if they do come they will hear the life changing message of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus! Again, encourage your preachers do this if you do not have a preaching ministry.
- Don’t assume that all non church goers are rabid secularists or athiests – Yes, there are rabid secular athiests out there, but for every rabid secular atheist, you will meet people who identity themselves as Anglicans, (whether it be due to family history, a baptism, a funeral, a good experience with a previous minister or member of the Anglican Church), whom may believe in the God of the Bible and have a high regard for the Lord Jesus. Because of this, you have a point of connection.
- Don’t assume that your church does not have nominal Anglicans– while the majority of nominal Anglicans don’t attend church. Your parish will have nominals who dutiful attend, ranging from twice a year Easter and Christmas, to monthly, and perhaps even weekly. Some may come out of duty, guilt, some may even come because they simply enjoy church and it is something that do out of habit. This is where morning tea and supper are so helpful (and important). These are wonderful opportunities to talk with nominal Anglicans about the Lord Jesus, about our faith and we are in church so we should not be shy to talk about our love for God, his Son, and/or how and why we were challenged or encouraged by the sermon, or how we moved by the taking Holy Communion. Nominal Anglicans don’t usually talk about such things, but your conversation with them could be the seed that God uses to germinate a saving faith in their heart.
- Connect without Compromise – Build bridges, our parish has a church fete which I believe is a great point of connection in our community. We also have a very large Op-Shop. There are many opportunities in which we as God’s people can connect. There is of course the traditional means, Weddings and Funerals, and Baptisms (though this is a tricky one). There are also events such as having services designed to invite those who identify as Anglicans, Come to Church Sunday Services, or Back to Church Sunday Services or a Welcome Back Sunday service. Perhaps some thinking out of the box is in order. I am working on starting something within our Op Shop called Op Chop where those who are in need can have a hair cut for $5 or $2 or $1. Even nominal Anglicans need a haircut! (I used to be a hairstylists before going into full time ministry).
- Don’t Hide Anglican Quirkiness – This may seem rather contentious, but there is the false theory out there that says we must make our services as appealing, as palatable and as ‘normal’ as possible in order to win the outsider. As if we are saying, “We promise this experience will be exactly what you’re used to.” If you were dating someone and your pitch to them was constantly that you were unfailingly average and totally a good fit for anyone! Your partner would never feel like you were a good fit for them specifically. And our denomination has some delightful quirks that not everyone will enjoy–but a sizable portion of the population will be able to connect with and even like and enjoy. And if we reveal those quirks boldly, well, that’s when people fall in love. Sure, some will walk but some won’t.
- Pray – This is the given, the non negotiable, yet so often is the one activity that we forget to do. Pray that God will enable us to build bridges with those who identify themselves as Anglicans, and that in his grace God will open their eyes to the truth that a true Anglican is one who loves and trusts in Jesus, and that they will cross the bridge.
which says that 3, 679, 907 people identify themselves as Anglicans.