The key to seeing our churches full again is Christians being gripped by the good news about the good news, says the Archbishop of Canterbury’s advisor on evangelism, Chris Russell 


Source: Carsten Reisinger / Alamy Stock Photo

Chris Russell’s new book on evangelism compares the good news to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s description of “a vast and endless sea”. 

The word may mean ‘good news’, but nowadays many assume the gospel is neither good, nor news.

Rather than being perceived as ‘good’ it is suspected of being restrictive and oppressive – and therefore at least unhealthy, if not actually harmful.

Instead of being ‘news’ it is seen as decidedly dated, archaic and belonging to a bygone era.

But, in actual fact, to call the gospel ‘good’ is the most ludicrous understatement and, the sooner we are able to grasp that, and that its contents are of the most pressing significance, then it must be told.

The Gospel declares and guarantees that one day all things will be made new

To be utterly focused on this good news - living in grateful response to what we have encountered, and intent that all should have an opportunity to hear this good news - is not just for trendy churches without pews, clergy without collars, extroverts without embarrassment, or Christians without nuance, but for every church and all who follow Christ.

What evangelism – the spreading of the Christian gospel – most needs isn’t new techniques, courses or heroes.

What is needed is a captivating vision of the good news.

The vast and endless sea

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is best known for writing the novella, The Little Prince. He wonderfully says this: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Without doubt, there is much to discuss about the ‘how to’ of evangelism; there is a significant amount to learn about good practice, effective engagement and helpful guidance. But those things aren’t the things that come first.

Before anything else, we ourselves need to be grasped by the good news about the good news.

It is a pearl so exquisite and captivating that, having stumbled across it, we gladly give up everything to make it our own.

It is a hidden treasure that, when we find it, we know we must own, and so we will sell everything to buy the field in which it is buried.

The good news offers us incomprehensible peace, immeasurable joy, and knowledge that is beyond our knowing.

It makes enemies friends, breaks down dividing walls between us and creates the people of the true and living God.

It sets people free and enables them to find this freedom. It heralds the end of death, the beginning of eternity, and the sure and certain hope of everlasting life.

It makes forgiveness possible, it means we are not the worst thing we have done, or the best thing we might achieve.

It means we are not defined or held by our pasts, or identified simply by what we have in the present.

It is the news of transcendent wonder and overwhelming glory. For God is for us and not against us. This love that has come to us will never leave us alone. This God who came to us has for ever bonded himself to us. There is nothing that will ever separate us from this love. Compared to this, all things are rubbish. We would give up everything for the sake of this good news. It brings life in its fullness, joy that is the strength of our lives, and a reason to be. It declares and guarantees that one day all things will be made new. That justice will flow like mighty unstoppable streams and the arc of history does, in fact, bend towards truth. In the presence of the gospel, racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia and every form of prejudice are unmasked and declared to be godless. All are welcome, everyone is invited, no one is left outside. For God has done what we could not do. And this news must be shared. Because it’s news. And if it is not proclaimed, it can’t be responded to.

Don’t keep it to youself

2 Kings 6 and 7 tells of the siege of the town of Samaria. Enemies have surrounded these poor people and laid siege to their walled city. The situation inside was catastrophic. All seemed lost. Outside the town, at the gates, four lepers decided to risk going to the enemy camp and plead for their lives. When they arrived, they discovered the reality was completely different to what they expected. The tents, which they thought contained the ultimate threat to all of their lives, were empty of people and full of everything they needed or could hope for. God had acted to save them and the enemy had scarpered. Immediately they started to plunder the tents and stockpile the treasure – until one turned to their friends and said, “What we are doing is not right. This is a day of good news, we cannot keep it to ourselves.” (2 Kings 7:9)

For too long, we Christians have kept everything to ourselves that has fallen into our laps because of God’s saving work in Christ. We have hoarded the treasure.

In, through and because of Jesus, everything has changed. For everyone. This gift is only ours because we are those who have had our eyes, ears, hands and hearts opened so we can say ‘yes’ to all that is ours from God in Christ.

Yet the majority of people live, or maybe just exist, in terrible ignorance of what has been done for them, what they are invited into, and what they can be part of.

Evangelism is simply the refusal to keep this good news to ourselves. To be taken to the beach, the edge of the ocean, and lift their heads so that we all might live in the wonder of the beauty, goodness and truth that we find before us.

Because it’s a vast and endless sea.