From a previous blog, you are aware that the Catholic community until recently did not have to concern itself with evangelization efforts. Immigration and birthrate filled our churches and parish rosters. Today, most evangelization efforts in Catholic parishes are directed toward making intentional disciples and then sending them to evangelize others. What this comes to is asking each disciple how many people he or she has brought to the faith. It is an individualistic approach that does not involve the whole community as it should. Here are some ideas for your parish to focus on evangelization and have the ability to measure your communal efforts.
First of all, parishes must realize that everything we do is evangelizing and catechizing others. What are we communicating to parishioners, guests and the general public through our words, actions and activities?
Parishes must have a clear understanding of the dynamics of evangelization.
- Inviting and Deepening – a quick view of the Gospels reveals that Jesus invited people to follow him constantly and to spend time with him to deepen the relationship.
- Welcoming and Involving – a deeper review of the Gospels shows that Jesus welcomed everyone and challenged them to take up his mission.
Parishes should also be aware of their ability to mis-evangelize people. Sometimes in our zeal for the mission of Jesus, we share the message inaccurately or make lesser aspects of the faith the more important ones. This can happen in everyday parish life as easily as it can happen in a faith formation session.
Many parishes are easily discouraged from a focus on evangelization because they feel their efforts cannot be measured. While it will always be difficult to measure what is in people’s hearts, minds, and spirits, every parish has ministry areas which are particularly focused on evangelization and reveal how effective our efforts are. Here are six areas of evangelization upon which every parish can and should be focused.
- Faith Formation for Children and Youth – 50% of all Catholics who do not persist in the practice of their faith will do so between ages 0 and 18. How much effort do we spend keeping in contact with families, listening, and encouraging them in the practice of their faith? This area has the greatest potential for evangelization efforts. We know who these people are and that, at one time, they were connected with the Church. Parishes, in general, reach about 75% of elementary-age children and only 50% of high school-age youth.
- Young Adults between the Ages of 18 and 24 – Another 25% of Catholics who do not persist in the faith will do so between these ages. Contact is often passed to campus ministry – which we know does not reach every college student – and most parishes do little or nothing for those who enter the work force or live at home while furthering their education. We know these people and can reach out to them rather than hoping some other Catholic ministry will find them.
- Sacramental Celebrations – At most Sunday liturgies, there are people in attendance who are searching for direction. Other searchers attend our celebrations of baptisms, weddings, and funerals. What are we teaching about our faith at these celebrations and is our faith so vibrant and visible that some of these guests will want to join us?
- RCIA – This is the most obvious evangelization activity in the parish. If no one or only a few are interested in joining the community of faith, what is that telling us about our parish?
- New Residents – Most parishes do not follow the comings and goings of people in their areas of service and they should. Every new resident is a potential member of your community. If you do not invite them, they will not come.
- Social Events – Most Catholic social events are fund-raisers, not friend-raisers. Think of the fish fries, spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts, parish festivals and you realize that the parish appears to be more interested in your cash, than your spirit. The most effective evangelization activity right now among all Christian denominations involves a “free meal.” Many people are hungry out there and looking to be fed and make new friends – even your parishioners.
- Care for Those in Need – Many parishes rely on St. Vincent De Paul Societies or the Knights of Columbus to “take care of” the human needs of people. Please read and re-read chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew. Parishes should be collaborative in their efforts with other parish, diocesan and civic organizations but must be dedicated and overwhelming in their efforts. According to recent studies and polls, many of the Americans least likely to become Christian or Catholic today are poor. What do you think Jesus would say and do?
How well does your parish evangelize? Determine your base by identifying how well you are doing right now, develop some strategies, and follow your progress year-by-year. Your efforts will be rewarded both now and in the future.