Perhaps we can look at some of the issues that seem to make it hard for evangelization teams to work:
- Catholics, after some 40 years, still have not taken to the word “evangelization,” and are not jumping more easily at the phrase “new evangelization.” So to invite Catholics to be part of an “evangelization team” seems like inviting people into a pit of tar.
- Evangelization, as a concept, is enormously broad. Pope Paul VI, when he reluctantly defined evangelization, used broad strokes to allay his worry that some people would want to narrow it down and make it a simplistic process. Pope Paul saw evangelization as encompassing active Catholics, inactive Catholics, the catechetical formation of children, ecumenical work, and mission to those without faith.
- Evangelization can easily become part of the endless culture wars that have marked Catholic life for the last twenty years. As a result, evangelization can become the reason for one Catholic to insinuate that another Catholic might not have it all together. We start playing the game of “Who is the real Catholic?”
- Many evangelization efforts seem directed more toward active Catholics than anyone else. As a result, evangelization becomes indistinguishable from, say, catechetics, or from liturgy, or from devotions, or from a certain social policy. This idea can be summed up as, “We can’t invite people to our Church until we have become the people we should become. What are we inviting them to?”
There are undoubtedly more reasons why evangelization teams are hard to get started, but these observations present formidable issues in themselves.
If 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?
A common pattern in parishes, as they try to start an evangelization team, is; 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.
- 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. 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. 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.