Christmas 2011 Evangelization Exchange – DeSiano

Evangelization Teams, Part 4
Can They Work?

by Frank DeSiano, CSP

 Read Part 1 / Read Part 2 / Read Part 3 

Fr. Frank DesianoBurn out.

Now here’s a real organizational issue that affects evangelization teams.

It usually happens this way. Fine and enthusiastic Catholics have spent quality time studying the original documents and assessing their parish. They have determined to do an evangelization project, say, an outreach to less-than-active Catholics (of which there are millions). They choose an approach, adopt a program, do the publicity, prepare the parish through prayer, and execute the program.

The program takes, let’s say, six sessions, so some of the members of the team, at least, are present for those six sessions. The program attracts 7 inactive Catholics, all of whom are very happy with theXmas2011BurnoutDesiano chance to reconnect with the Church. (No surprise here—people do like to come back to the practice of their faith!)

At the end of the sessions, however, the team reassembles and one hears conversation like this: Wow, that was a lot. Gee, we put in a lot of effort and only touched 7 people. Man, let’s wait a good while and recover before we try that again. Or, I’m not sure this was really worth it. (As if getting 7 people reconnected with their faith was only chopped liver! As if the program did not affect many more people who made decisions about their faith apart from the parish’s explicit program.)

We could substitute another example, a post card mailing campaign: we sent 5,000 post cards and only 3 people responded! What a waste! All that time, effort and money….

From these examples, we can see one of the factors in developing a sustainable evangelization effort on the part of the parish: (1) the team must be large enough; (2) not everyone should be involved in everything; (3) pacing is of utmost importance; (4) the team has to be about recruiting new members for various activities; and (5) the team should be looking at times for people beyond themselves to help with the projects.

Xmas2011TimingDesianoOne basic organization problem, then, is timing and effort. Teams must pace themselves. They have to focus in on a specific objective and set of programs. And, most importantly, they cannot think that doing one program, all by itself, will accomplish all that needs to be accomplished.

Evangelization is not sprint running. It’s more like marathon running. Long distance runners have to pace themselves, realize their reserves, know when to intensify and when to coast, and think about the long range objectives to be accomplished. All too often our evangelization teams arise and fall in one big burst of energy, a sure sign that the team members were not aware of how long-range evangelization efforts have to be.

Are such teams, then, impossible because the needs simply outstrip the resources? Are teams destined to burn out because they cannot respond to the projects that they feel called to do? Is evangelization simply too much work for parishes to do?

These are sobering questions—and they do not earn an automatic “yes” as a response—an automatic admission that evangelization simply is beyond the pale of most parishes. Rather, they speak about the way evangelization teams relate to the wider parish, and how parishes surround these teams with resources from the pastoral staff and other ministers in the parish.

Evangelization teams can sustain themselves if they are careful about the projects they take on, realistic about the efforts needed, and connected with the broader parish to bring in resources beyond themselves. Even more, evangelization teams need to be sustained—and pastors have to see to this—if the fundamental mission of the parish is to have any credibility.

Paulist Evangelization Ministries wants to see itself as a resource for evangelization teams. What a blessing if every parish had one! And, even more, if they had one that knew how to do its ministry and sustain itself. We like to hear from people’s experiences so we can share and support each other in our extremely important, but also difficult, ministry for the Kingdom.