Matthew Warner provides a simple, but an inspiring blueprint. I recommend running right out (to the internet) to order this book (and maybe multiple copies so everyone on your staff and ministry team can read it). Dynamic Catholic has is for just $3 if you buy 6 or more copies (get it here).
Evangelization is the mission of the Church. Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiadi that the Church exists in order to evangelize. As Baptized people, we are also called to evangelize. Although I’ve said it before, it’s important enough to talk about evangelization again.
When I work with parishes who know they want to focus on their mission of evangelization, they want to start a program, bring in a great speaker, or do a big event. These aren’t all bad ideas – but the first thing we should be doing is helping our parishioners learn how to share the Gospel.
I grew up in a small, very Catholic town where almost everyone I knew was Catholic (even when I started attending public school). In my town of 13,000 people, we had 3 thriving parishes. I was a fearless evangelizer when I was a teen. I loved Jesus and was involved in all of the “church-things” for youth group (I literally helped start the youth ministry program for our small town) and was part of a group affectionately called “The God Squad.” If you’re thinking we didn’t name ourselves, you’d be correct.
We were teens who prayed for a few minutes in front of our lockers each morning, led the “Meet Me at the Pole” morning program, and put a green scapular under the desk of our least favorite English teacher (who is now a strong Christian, I might add). Now that I’m more ‘in the world’ I’m a little less foolish and, might I add, enthusiastic about my own evangelization efforts. Do I live differently than everyone else because I’m a Catholic? Am I so excited about the salvation that Christ offers me, I can’t but help share it with everyone I meet? A few years ago I heard this from Penn of Penn & Teller:
“I’ve always said,” Penn Jillette explained, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to here or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.“How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”(Source)
Matthew Warner writes something of this in his book Messy & Foolish as well:
But here is the reality, the real reason people do not take the Christian invitation seriously: We Christians don’t look or act all that different from non-Christians. It’s that simple.If we believe our faith and action in this life have eternal consequences, why don’t we live like it? If the God of our universe, the Creator of everything, truly gives us his body and blood, why don’t we act like it? If our relationship with God is truly the most important relationship, why don’t our daily schedules reflect that? If our marriages and families are our greatest blessings, why do we sacrifice them for our careers? If God has a plan for us, why do we make so many plans without Him? Why are we not on our knees every morning thanking, praising, and trusting him with every moment of our entire day? If we truly believe he has conquered the world, why are we so afraid to just be ourselves? If Christianity were true, why isn’t everything we do ordered around this truth? The incongruity between what we claim to believe and the lives we live says everything the world needs to know. Any honest outsider can tell that we can’t possibly believe what we say we believe. Not only is our religion a fraud, but so are we Christians. At least, that’s what our actions often communicate to the world. This was summed up a half a century ago by the Second Vatican Council, which said: “One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practices of their daily lives.” It’s not a new challenge.(Warner, 31-32)
I know that was a long quote, but it’s important. When we’re thinking of what to do about evangelization in our parishes, don’t miss the people in the pew. They come to Mass some Sundays, but are they full, head-over-heels-in-love believers? Are we preaching, acting, ministering to them in a way that brings them closer to Christ? When we’re considering programming, activities, speakers, ministries, or even staff members to focus on evangelization, where are we focusing? Reaching out is important – but one person or one ministry reaching out isn’t enough. We need our entire community to reach out if we’re going to evangelize everyone to the ends of the earth.
If we intentionally split our focus between the people outside of our community and the people within our walls, we can start a messy, foolish, fire for Christ in our communities. [If you want to listen to what this might look like in a parish, check out this podcast. It’s quite excellent!]
So talk with your parish ministry groups about their faith, where they’re struggling, how their daily lives fit into God’s plan for their life. Get a few people together to read this book and take a deep dive into what it means to be a Christian. It’s more than just attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. It’s everything!