Those of us who have reached a certain age were brought up to think of the town in which we lived as being largely Christian. The population divided itself up into denominations, largely based on family loyalty.  We were Episcopalians because our parents were. Of course some became Episcopalians through marriage. A few  joined from other denominations for one reason or another.

There were enough Episcopalians around to let us “do church”. By tradition we attracted at least a few wealthy people who gave generously. Our clergy spent most of their time looking after us, as we met for worship, or attended guilds and groups.

The thought of evangelism rarely crossed our consciousness.  Who would we evangelize? Most everyone went to church. There were a few who didn’t, but they seemed hopeless cases. At Epiphanytide, if we thought about evangelism at all it was in terms of foreign missionaries working overseas.  Perhaps we sent some extra money to African missionaries and felt rather good about it.

We could largely live to ourselves as churches, just as our ancestors had. True there were some churches around who seemed to want to convert everyone, but as most people were Christians we presumed they continually reconverted each other.

It is hard for us to adjust to the new reality. Most people in our communities are not practicing Christians. The old loyalty to one’s “denomination” has largely evaporated. People “shop” for church, and make their choice often on the basis on the “program” a church offers, it’s youth activities, singles’ club, or contemporary worship. There are a good number who don’t look for a church. They can’t see how what Christians do has any relevance to the life they live and the problems they face. Many churches in our area are barely surviving, living off endowments, and peopled by aging parishioners who cling to the old way of doing things to please those who attend and particularly those who have attended the longest!

Yet the Feast of the Epiphany reminds us of our calling to be communities with The Message. Jesus didn’t tell us to construct local Upper Rooms, where we could huddle “for fear.”  Instead he told us to “Go Tell” about Him.  If evangelism is about recruitment, it is about recruiting people who will join us in using the local building as base camp from which we reach out into the community. Talking about a church “home” is really rather bad. Homes are comfortable places. They exist for us. The church exists for others.

It is really rather a waste of time concentrating on how we may make the church more efficient at drawing people in, or making the church more “attractive”. Rather we need to concentrate on learning the skills of apostleship. An apostle is a person chosen and given power of attorney to represent Jesus. This is our calling. That is why the Sunday after Epiphany takes us to Jesus’s baptism; His commitment to service.

We can’t take on our real calling as a church until we stop trying to cling onto the old ways, doing what we have always done for us, in smaller and smaller numbers until the light goes out.  No one out there needs our church. They need our Lord.