In a way, if we can sketch an answer to this question, we can begin to debug the various factors which have kept evangelization teams from flourishing—the lack of clarity, lack of communication, the over-reaching, the exhaustion and burnout—and see our way towards a long-term ministry of evangelization in a parish.
The ideal evangelization team would have between six and ten active members. Others in the parish, of course, will also get involved in the organizing of evangelization work (of course, everyone is involved in the doing of evangelization work!). These members would have the broad support of the parish, the pastoral council, and the general lay ministers of a parish. They would not necessarily be known because they were “pillars” of the parish, or “involved in everything,” so much as because they would be easy for parishioners to relate to. The team will make sure that communication with the parish and parish leadership is ongoing.
The team will meet mostly on a monthly basis, taking perhaps the months of June and July off (depending on the ministry). The members see themselves as facilitators of evangelization in the parish—mid-wifing strategies and pastoral initiatives—more than as the direct agents of these pastoral initiatives, although members will surely want to be actively involved in some way.
The team will have a clear picture of the present situation of the parish, and how the parish can advance in evangelization over the next five years. This picture will eliminate fantasy ideas about the realities of the parish, thereby helping evangelization initiatives to spring from the actual parish situation. While some of the team’s attention will focus on the ongoing transformation of active parishioners, the majority of its attention will focus on those who are not present—Catholics who are no longer active in their faith, and the growing number of people who have no active church family.
The team will also have come to a clear picture on Catholic evangelization (and the “new” evangelization), understanding what is distinct in Catholic emphases on evangelization and approaches. The team accomplishes this by reading the basic documents of the Church and applying those documents to its actual, local situation. In particular, the team will resist the temptation to see itself as particularly enlightened, and the rest of the parishioners as somehow lacking in enlightenment.
The team will then develop some clear evangelizing overtures, spacing them out so that the efforts would not be not exhausting, and inviting broader support from members of the parish. These overtures will have:
- a communication aspect—speaking to the parish and its leadership;
- a public relations aspect—speaking to those we are inviting;
- a phase in which the initiative is executed, with particular emphasis on personal interaction with people; and
- a review phase, in which lessons, now learned, shape the next initiative.
These overtures will span a range of areas, depending on the parish, but not neglect the outreach to inactive Catholics or inviting people to consider the Catholic faith in their lives.
Pie in the sky? We don’t think so. The problem with evangelization teams is not that they don’t work; the problem is that we’ve barely begun to use the potential they can bring to our modern Catholic parish experience.