You are reading this page because you are a Catholic who wants to share the Good News of Jesus with other people, but you don’t know where to start.
First, congratulations! Trust your instincts. Don’t listen to the people who say “that’s a Protestant thing” or “Catholics don’t do that”. On the contrary, heed Pope Francis who reminds us that all Catholics are called to be Missionary Disciples.
There’s a broad sense in which all the good works done by the Church are ‘evangelistic’. But not all of the Church’s good works explicitly speak about Jesus. There’s a blurred line where evangelisation stops and catechesis begins, at the point where a listener knows Jesus is real and wants to learn more about him. Nevertheless, you know you aren’t called to join the SVP or be a leader in your local RCIA group. You want to evangelise – you want to introduce people to Jesus.
But, how do we evangelise as Catholics? The best place to start depends on your context. Who are you working with and for?
- I’m on my own.
- There are a few of us in the parish, but the priest’s not supportive.
- We’re in a group set up by the parish priest.
- I am the Parish Priest.
- I’m responsible for a deanery, diocese or other large grouping of parishes.
I’m a lone Catholic with no-one else who shares my vision.
Don’t panic! You can do a great deal on your own, because effective evangelisation generally takes place within existing relationships. There are some things you can do to hone your skills at sharing your faith in a way that doesn’t put other people off.
- Learn to be sensitive to where other people are in their growth towards faith. Read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and watch the Proclaim’15 video on Sharing the Gospel Message.
- Practice giving your testimony – and watch the video on Testimonies.
- You can volunteer to your parish priest to “mentor” anyone who needs a confirmation sponsor or has expressed interest in the Church.
- You could get involved as a volunteer with one of the non-parochial Catholic groups which runs faith-deepening activities – groups such as Youth 2000 or Celebrate.
- You could also get involved with other local Christians running Alpha.
- There are lots of other ‘lifestyle’ suggestions from the Home Mission Desk.
There are a few of us in my parish who want to evangelize, but my parish priest isn’t interested.
This isn’t unusual. Hard-pressed parish priests might worry that they don’t have time to manage another parish group, or might be struggling to sustain the parish RCIA arrangements and worry about how they would manage if you were successful in your evangelising. Nevertheless, a parish priest has no authority to stop any group of Catholics from meeting and praying on their own private property (see paragraphs 19 and 25 of Apostolicam Actuositatem).
- See the advice above for a lone Catholic, but discuss and do these things together.
- As a mutual support group, watch the Proclaim’15 resources or Pass It On.
I’ve been asked by my parish priest to start an evangelisation group.
Great! So first you need to form your group and do some general training. Then you need to identify what particular opportunities there are in your parish and get some training and do some planning around your project.
A good starting point will be to watch the Proclaim’15 videos about Vision and Strategy and Parish Teams, and how to share the Gospel message and give a Testimony. If you are also responsible for organising intercession in support of evangelisation, use the session on Prayer (but if you’re not responsible for that, make sure someone is!)
If your team doesn’t feel very confident, you could run some more extensive training – in 5 sessions you can do Pass It On, or in 18 short or 9 long sessions you can use the Relit Evangelisation Course (that’s not cheap to buy, though).
After basic training, it’s time to decide what kind of project your group will tackle. Here, the Southwark Handbook can be invaluable. You will probably settle on one of three kinds of projects – to reach non-churchgoing Catholics, to reach people with no particular faith background, or to help those who already worship in your parish to move from being mere churchgoers to missionary disciples.
Focus on non-Churchgoing Catholics
Of all the human beings who don’t attend Mass, non-Churchgoing Catholics are the easiest target. They are members of the families of the people who do go to Mass. They are parents at the local Catholic School. They are easy to identify – but hard to shift. Dr Ann Casson’s 2014 research established that young Catholic parents consider themselves “good Catholics” if they are kind to other people and turn up in church at Christmas and Easter.
The Catholic Church’s focus on non-Churchgoing Catholics in England and Wales is branded as Crossing the Threshold and an e-manual is available, as well as a video from Proclaim’15. There are also extensive resources for use around Christmas and Easter.
Focus on non-Catholics
The most challenging project for most Catholics will be the prospect of sharing the Catholic faith with people who have no prior Catholic connections. Pioneering work in this regard has been done by the Seeker Centre at Pantasaph, who have developed an Evangelisation Manual. There is also a Proclaim’15 video. You could run an Alpha, which contains only basic teaching common to all mainstream Christian traditions. If you have a town centre location, you might consider the Nightfever model, or offer some other kind of Prayer Experience.
Focus on evangelising the churchgoers
Many regular churchgoers will fail to understand the need or importance of evangelisation. You may decide that your starting point is to raise support among the congregation before you start to reach outside. There are three Proclaim’15 videos touching on particular groups you may wish to work with:
You may decide that a formal cell-group structure will work in your parish. If so, there are several models available:
- From Ireland – Parish Cells Ireland
- From Milan – Parish Evangelising Cells System (PECS) with a FAQ (also in the USA)
- From Guildford – Homegroups running Alpha and Café
- The Neocatchumenal Way model
Other tools for deepening the faith of a congregation include Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism resources and the video sets from Café, but remember that education alone may not be enough – parishioners need to be confronted with the challenge of taking God seriously. Some courses (e.g. The Gift) do include a step of personal commitment but a parish mission can help more people take that step, and help to run a parish mission is available from groups like Café and the Sion Community.
I’m a parish priest, but I’m not sure what to do.
Your calling is to be an enabler of evangelisation. Found a team, and let them take the steps above. Your job is to equip the laity – they will connect with people you would never meet in your daily activities. But also have a strategy for your parish with evangelisation as an integral part. If your resources allow it, have some kind of pre-RCIA activity, such as Alpha, running all year round, and some kind of parish “Connect and Explore” fellowship which can help regular parishioners deepen their faith, and also serve as a post-RCIA opportunity. If your parish is too small to do that, you may need to consciously focus on raising the commitment level of existing worshippers, following the pattern of Divine Renovation.
In your preaching, be conscious of the need to draw your congregation on a journey from membership to discipleship. You don’t have time to read a book, so try this short summary of Forming Intentional Disciples. When you feel the time is right to issue a more direct challenge, run a Parish Mission.
I’ve been made responsible for promoting evangelisation across a diocese, deanery or cluster.
Great! The most important thing is to resist the temptation to put on some “big event” aimed at unchurched people or non-churchgoing Catholics. Big events only ever work when you have an enthusiastic network of churchgoers ready and willing to invite their non-churchgoing friends to come with them.
There is value in having networking events for active evangelisers to support each other. The wider the area, the lower the frequency. A city might have a monthly gathering for evangelisers – a diocese might have a convention once every year or two.
You can organise regional events to pray for intercession – you can use the Proclaim’15 Prayer Resources, the Mass for the New Evangelisation, or the Masses on pages 810-823 and 1342-1345 of the British & Australian Roman Missal.
Above all, promote evangelisation at the grassroots level – most effective evangelisation is carried out by individuals and fostered by parishes. Promote all the small-scale solutions above and encourage your evangelisers to persevere. May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion!