Help! I’m a Catholic who wants to evangelise!

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 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.
  • Take part in Ananias Training from the Catherine of Siena Institute.
  • Register as an individual to go through the Called & Gifted process – identifying your gifts will help you discern where to focus your evangelising activities.
  • If you’re comfortable in the on-line world, the Word on Fire Institute has a particular focus on evangelizing through new media.
  • 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 the Sion Community, 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 Office.
  • Join a support network on Facebook such as Home Mission, Proclaim15 or Forming Intentional Disciples UK.

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).

I’ve been asked by my parish priest to start an evangelisation group.

Great! The first step is prayer. Who are the people in the parish who will pray for the success of your outreach? With the parish priest’s permission, hold an open meeting to call together those who feel called to pray deeply for the parish – this will identify your intercessors. Work out a way they can pray regularly for the needs of the parish, and receive feedback when prayers are answered. It’s also good to harness the prayers of sick and housebound parishioners, and to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but remember that intercession, although it can be done during adoration, is not the same thing as simply dedicating a Holy Hour (or Rosary) for an “intention”. It’s a prayer within which we ask God “how should I pray for intention X” and follow the guidance we receive. There’s a video resource on Prayer you can watch too.

Once you have a solid base of prayer, you need to form your group and do some general training. Then you can identify what particular opportunities there are in your parish, so you can seek appropriate 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 your team doesn’t feel very confident, you could run some more extensive training – in 5 sessions you can do Pass It On, in 7, Sharing Christ; or in 18 short or 9 long sessions you can use the Relit Evangelisation Course (that’s not cheap to buy, though).

A good motivational exercise is to host the New Evangelisation Summit – any venue with an Internet connection can stream a weekend of world-class motivational speakers to move your parish culture towards evangelising.

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. But also be aware of the particular gifts of the members of your team – what kind of work will best use the gifts available? You may want to ask the members to go through the Called & Gifted process.

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.

You may wish to adopt one of the established packages – Keeping In Touch, Landings or Catholics Returning Home. However, don’t go to the effort of organzing high-effort events until you have an effective means of inviting people to come. This either means getting a good proportion of your Massgoers engaged and willing to pass on invitations to their family members and friends, or having a strong way of advertising the course to a wider community – through school parent networks or in the local press. You may find an invitation to “come back” is less effective than inviting people to “tell their story of why they left”.

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. But again, don’t go to the effort of organzing high-effort events until you have an effective means of inviting people to come.

Focus on evangelising the churchgoers

Many regular churchgoers will fail to understand the need or importance of evangelisation. In a typical parish, it’s likely that more than 90% of the worshippers who turn up for Mass – and even those who get deeply involved in running parish activities – see themselves as “belongers” rather than “disciples”. They have trust in the church, but may not have moved beyond pasive curiosity about the Gospel even though they are committed to their parish as an institution. You may decide that your starting point is to raise support among the congregation before you start to reach outside.

You might consider running the Called & Gifted process at parish level. This will identify the gifts latent among parishioners, but also includes conversations which will reveal where each participant is in their journey into discipleship. Harnessing parishioners’ gifts to maximum effect will generate enthusiasm within the parish, and knowing whether individuals are already disciples helps invite them appropriately to leadershop training or to an evangelistic experience to foster discipleship.

One such experience is from ChristLife, which offers an integrated series of three video-based courses: Discovering Christ, Following Christ and Sharing Christ. “Discovering” covers much of what an Alpha course would offer, but is presented by an American priest and an American layman in talking-head format; it is shorter, at 7 sessions and a day-retreat. The “Christian lifestyle” aspects of Alpha are taken up in “Following”; then “Sharing” trains parishioners to evangelise.

Smaller parishes might find the Catholic Christian Outreach resources are more accessible; these allow a handful of people to meet with a leader in someone’s living room. Or a parish might want to organise a weekend retreat following the pattern used in Boise, Idaho, for Evangelisation Retreats. Student-focussed groups might find the Sycamore Course useful. If there are one or two leaders willing to go to residential event to be formed, they could attend a week-long Fundamental Retreat from the Foyers de Charité or a Cursillo Weekend. All of these events are useful in helping belongers move through the thresholds which will encourage them to become disciples.

You may decide that a formal cell-group structure will work in your parish. If so, there are several models available:

Other tools for deepening the faith of a congregation include Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism resources and the video sets from Cafébut 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. As well as courses, you can run individual films, such as the resources from Outside da Box or possibly Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. A parish mission can help more people take that step, and mission events are available from providers including Café and the Sion Community.

Finally, note there are three Proclaim’15 videos touching on particular groups you may wish to work with in a parish:

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 or Discovering Christ, 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. You will also need a mechanism for drawing out the gifts of your parishioners, either through a formal mechanism such as Called & Gifted or informally through group leaders talent-spotting the gifts present in their group members.

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 DisciplesWhen 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!