September 2011 Evangelization Exchange – DeSiano

Evangelization Teams, Part II
How Do We Sustain Them?

by Frank DeSiano, CSP

Read Part 1 Here

Fr. Frank DesianoIf a parish has the great grace and fortune to be able to begin an evangelization team, pretty soon an even larger problem emerges—how do we sustain the team over time?

I have seen this happen in many parishes—eight or ten people get into the issues of evangelization, meet, reflect, and begin evangelization initiatives. After about six months, however, the members are looking around at each other, wondering what they have accomplished and what direction they should pursue.

The problem of sustaining evangelization teams has attitudinal and organizational difficulties. It might be helpful to review some of these.

The major attitude issue parish evangelization teams have involves a certain naivety about how things happen. Members come up with an idea, design, and begin to execute it, often with the blithe notion that their evangelization action will be almost “magical.” For example, they send a post-card to all the parish households and expect their attendance at Mass will double. Or they put an ad in a local newspaper and Sept2011UphillEvangDesianoreceive only two phone calls in response. Evangelization teams, in other words, overlook the difficult context in which they are working. Instead of realizing that evangelization—particularly in today’s culture—is an uphill battle (but one that is worth fighting and must be fought), they think that one or two techniques, used a few times, will bring transformation. When it doesn’t, “Why did we waste our time?” people say. They get discouraged.

One cannot do evangelization ministry (and it is a ministry) without taking a very long-range view of the task before the Church. Such a view—that seed grows imperceptibly, and the net drags in all kinds of things, and that the net must be put down many times—shows two paradoxical truths: the little steps we take are absolutely essential, but they will always be little steps. To appreciate the small but crucial efforts in reaching out to people with a message of love, mercy, and conversion—is absolutely essential for evangelization teams. We can get too intoxicated by visions of thousands of converts in the book of Acts, or hundreds of people going to a local “non denominational” Church. Perhaps our era has to do what Paul did in Athens—say our message with as much sensitivity to the culture as we can, even though only a few people might hear it at any one time.

We Catholics need to realize that one or another congregation might be able to amass large numbers of people—many of them Catholic—at one or another time, and this does look impressive. Why? Because it’s concentrated in one or two large congregations. Our image of Church—communities in union with the bishop forming a network of faith and love—spreads us out over dozens and even hundreds of parish congregations. When we all come together, we are blown away—wow, look at all the folks coming into the Church at Easter—but often we only see our own parish—and we don’t see it in the broader context of Church which is our Catholic vision.

In my next essay, I’ll talk about some of the organizational difficulties of evangelization teams—these may be the biggest stumbling blocks. Important, though, is the realization that evangelization teams can overcome these stumbling blocks—they can become successful, with the proper perspective and vision.

We deal with some of the attitudinal factors in evangelization team formation in our Parish Evangelization Jump Starter Kit which lays out some directions, and some cautions, for evangelization teams. I invite you to check it out by clicking here — and to think about team formation in your parish and in your diocese.

We will never be able to mount consistent evangelization efforts until a network of stable, grounded, hopeful, and faith-filled teams exists across the United States and Canada. Without these, we simply do not have the heft we need to get beyond our own internal, parochial, concerns.