About the UPSem-POJ Evangelism Initiative

Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism is a partnership forged between Union Presbyterian Seminary and Presbytery of the James. Recognizing that it is now more important than ever to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ with passion and clarity, UPSem and POJ are committed to a renewed focus on the practice of evangelism.

The American religious landscape is currently shaped by two major trajectories: the overall decline of Protestantism (mainline and evangelical) and the so-called rise of the “nones”—people who claim no religious affiliation. For the past fifty years Presbyterian churches and other mainline Protestant denominations have experienced significant membership loss. The majority of Presbyterian churches now have 100 members or less and many of them can no longer afford full-time pastors. We lose more members than we gain. We close more churches than we start.

Presbytery of the James exemplifies these trends. In the first decade of the 21st century, POJ churches experienced an overall decline of 13%. Out of 112 churches, 80 lost members while only 32 gained members. Of the 80 churches with declining membership, 38 are located in the greater Richmond area.

Presbytery of the James represents the full cross section of mainline Protestantism in the United States. There are urban, suburban, and rural congregations. There are large congregations and small congregations. There are thriving congregations and struggling congregations. There are racial/ethnic and immigrant congregations. Theologically, there are conservatives, progressives, and everything in-between.

And right in the middle of it all is Union Presbyterian Seminary. Because today’s seminarians will be called upon as tomorrow’s church leaders, this presbytery-seminary partnership comes at a critical time in mainline Protestantism. As we respond to God’s call to be the body of Christ in an ever-changing world, church leaders need to develop a vital set of pastoral skills not addressed by many MDiv and DMin curricula: the ability to clearly articulate and share the gospel, church revitalization, and new church development.

Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism is a work-in-progress. Here is an overview of current and developing initiatives:

  • John W. Vest has been called as the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary. After this initial four-year appointment, the long-term goal is for this position to be staffed by different seasoned practitioners in the field of evangelism every three or four years. The teaching load is currently half-time in order to allow for work in the presbytery.
  • In collaboration with POJ and UPSem’s Supervised Ministry and Vocational Planning Office, John is developing evangelism internship opportunities for students.
  • John has developed and is available to offer small-group workshops on evangelism. If your congregation, group, or council is interested in working with John, please contact General Presbyter Carson Rhyne.
  • Through UPSem’s Leadership Institute, plans are underway for an evangelism conference to be held in Richmond in September 2016.
  • This blog, curated by John, will serve as a record of this venture and a clearinghouse of evangelism resources for congregations.

President Brian K. Blount on the UPSem-POJ evangelism initiative.

General Presbyter H. Carson Rhyne on the UPSem-POJ initiative.

John W. Vest asks, “Why Evangelism?”