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.
It usually happens this way. Enthusiastic Catholics have spent quality time studying the original documents and assessing their parish. They have determined to do an evangelization project; an outreach to less-than-active Catholics, for example. They choose an approach, adopt a program, do the publicity, prepare the parish through prayer, etc. Their chosen program takes, let’s say, six sessions. The program attracts seven inactive Catholics, all of whom are very happy with the 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 comments like this: “Wow, that was a lot, let’s wait a good while and recover before we try that again,” or “Gee, we put in a lot of effort and only touched seven people I’m not sure this was really worth it.”
From the example, we can see several factors in developing a sustainable evangelization effort on the part of the parish emerge:
- The team must be large enough
- Not everyone should be involved in everything
- Pacing is of utmost importance
- The team has to be about recruiting new members for various activities
- The team should be looking at times for people beyond themselves to help with the projects.
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.