Let’s face it. We are losing. More people are leaving the church than entering it in the U.S. of A. Then when you look at those who are staying, most are mildly engaged at best. The crisis of faith that exists in our country today is also a crisis of engagement. Practice of faith is often seen like a club or membership. Check the box a few times a year, receive a sacrament here and there, and then attend the church festival. I’m a Christian. Done.
People will not feel significant until you give them something significant to do. Empowering people to evangelize will not only grow the flock but will also foster deeper faith and engagement. Some would say one does not truly show mastery of something until they are able to teach it. Evangelization seeks to foster mastery of the mission of Christ.
Sound exciting? Let’s examine the flip-side of evangelization for a moment. A parish is a boundary, a piece of land, not a set of buildings. Your parish has a mission to serve and share God’s love with all who are in it, not just those who are registered or show up on Sundays. Do you have intentional outreach on a consistent basis? Does it reach to those in your parish boundaries? And now the kicker…do you have the infrastructure to welcome and receive those in your parish boundaries if they wanted to take the next step?
I often think about these things when a homily encourages the congregation to invite someone to Mass. What would happen if everyone responded to this? Or, to scale it back a bit, what if it was only every family who invited just one person to Mass? The average parish in the United States has approximately 1,100 families or around 4,000 people. Imagine your parish participation jumping 25% in one weekend. Do you have the space to welcome these people into your programs? Into your pews? Would this type of sudden growth be met with joy or complaining? Think about the last time you went to a 4pm Christmas eve service. I would estimate that 25-40% of those present were guests on some level. Often, I’m just glad when those things are over and we can get back to the regular crowd, my family has been sitting in that pew for years after all.
When we talk about evangelization, we must examine sustainable fruits to evangelization. God’s call is outstanding, the human response is quite challenging because love makes demands. In the midst of this tension, hopefully, is someone from your parish, a disciple, journeying with their neighbor, co-worker, or friend, as they seek to respond to God’s love. If every Christian had a person they were journeying with in this way, our churches would double every 2-3 years. The dilemma is that I am not sure that we are capable of sustainable growth in this way.
I challenge you to examine your community, your discipleship, and your role as a disciple. Where does evangelization fit? What infrastructure needs to be set up or strengthened to honor the fruits of evangelization? And finally, how can we engage all parishioners to reach out, get uncomfortable, and evangelize.