Maybe it’s time to mothball two of the church’s favorite terms: evangelism and discipleship.

The current meaning of these terms has deteriorated into something far afield from the original intent.

Let’s start with evangelism. For most churches, evangelism boils down to one of two activities:

  • Lecture a roomful of people about sin and God.
  • Hope that stalwarts from your denomination move to town and join your church.

The past few months I’ve contemplated the effectiveness–or lack thereof–of these approaches. Then I traveled to the cornfields of Iowa. Here, a fledgling ministry called Cana exercises evangelism in a refreshing–and effective–way.


Last year Barbara Huisman and a few of her friends talked about planting a church in their hometown of Fort Dodge, Iowa. They worked with their denomination to gain support, but they stipulated that they didn’t want to follow the typical church-planting model.

Instead, they dreamed of a “creative space where life and faith come together.” So they leased an old downtown storefront location across the street from a budget motel that rents rooms by the hour.

While most church plants establish themselves with a Sunday worship service, Cana started with a Tuesday night Lifetree Cafe, a weekly hour of conversation about life and faith. If people are interested in a regular church service, Barbara refers them to the many churches in the community.

At Cana, the team demonstrates what Barbara calls “radical hospitality.” It’s a highly relational approach that community members experience the moment they step inside.

Jodie, a woman struggling with addictive behavior, wandered into Cana’s Lifetree Cafe one dark Tuesday night and was immediately embraced and invited to sit with Joyce, a Cana regular who enveloped Jodie with the simple love of Christ. Jodie said that night changed her life. The non-judgmental acceptance overwhelmed her. And “God went through me like a lightning bolt,” she said.

She experienced evangelism–true evangelism. Through relationship. With God’s people and the Holy Spirit.

And then Jodie experienced discipleship. But not in the usual way.


Usually, the church approach to discipleship means sitting through informational classes and sermons. But that’s not how Jodie was discipled at Cana. She spent time with followers of Christ who lived out Cana’s motto: “Where your passion meets the community’s need. Where miracles happen!”

Jodie’s miracles began that first Tuesday night last year. Her addiction ended that night. Week after week God transformed her. She found her new and real identity in Christ. Cana’s mentors surrounded her with God’s love and guidance.

Then Jodie stepped forward and told Barbara she wanted to start a ministry. She wanted to form a recovery house for women struggling with addictions. It seemed like a far-fetched dream. But Barbara and the people of Cana encouraged Jodie. They suggested she seek funding from local churches. So Jodie met with leaders at a local church–and walked out with a $50,000 commitment for the recovery house.

Cana formed a new 501(c)(3) organization, and the Gateway to Discovery women’s center is on its way. But that’s not all. Other Cana people wanted to pursue their ministry passion for the arts. So they leased the space next to the Lifetree location to accommodate PieceWorks, a new non-profit arts ministry.

Still other people at Cana found they shared a love for horses. So they established Stable Connections, another Cana non-profit that uses horses for mental health therapy.

In just the past year, this little ministry outpost called Cana has launched three new non-profit organizations, a prayer ministry, and a community Bible time, in addition to their Lifetree Cafe.

It’s a picture of discipleship. Everyday people growing in their relationship with God, becoming active disciples of Jesus, carrying his love into the community.

I like the reclamation of evangelism and discipleship I found in Iowa. It’s not an academic exercise. It’s not mass-produced. It’s a personalized, relational approach. Much like Jesus modeled 2000 years ago.