Evangelization strategies that work

Three keys every successful parish uses

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By Sylvia Devillers

Catholic evangelization is now more than ever understood as the “essential mission of the church…bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 14, 18). All Catholics are urged to speak out, reach out, and live out the Good News of Christ Jesus, and many parishes seem to be getting the message.

Parishes that care deeply about evangelization instinctively share their faith in Christ Jesus with whomever they encounter.

  • Parishes are by nature hospitable and welcoming to those who attend parish liturgical and social events, friends and strangers alike.
  • They donate time and treasure to peace and justice programs.
  • They worship well, and liturgies are robustly prayerful.

But at the same time some parishioners may sense that there’s more to evangelization and wonder what is lacking. 

Going beyond the front door
In these parishes, the gospel message can often seem to be centered more on strengthening the parish community than on evangelization efforts that go beyond the front door of the church. While the building and maintenance of a viable community of faith is undoubtedly absolutely vital, the faith community may at times become insular or out of touch with those who are on the margins of the parish.

Who is not here?
If parishes are to get serious about “bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity,” it is important for them to take a clear, hard look at who the parish is serving and begin to consider those who are missing from the picture. In doing so, the following questions might be considered:

  • Where are those whose language, marital status, or sexual orientation makes them feel unwelcome?
  • Where are the frail elderly, the sometimes infamous and unpredictable young adults, the welfare recipients?
  • Where are those who have left the Catholic Church, for whatever reason?
  • How can evangelization efforts touch the lives of parishioners who don’t often come to Mass or who ignore invitations to attend parish social events or faith formation opportunities?

Make it personal

Strengthen your evangelization efforts by asking each parishioner to take some personal steps to bring the Good News to others in their families, at work, at school, and beyond their neighborhoods. Here are some techniques:

  • Develop “God-talk” skills, the ability to speak easily and often about one’s relationship with God.
  • Explain the meaning of Catholic terms such as “sacrament” to a nonbeliever, but only when asked.
  • Become well-informed about church issues, such as the church’s position on capital punishment, war, economic justice, fair wages, annulments, divorce, or immigration reform.
  • Participate actively in Sunday liturgy: singing, verbal prayers, the sign of peace, sharing in Communion, coming on time, staying until the end.
  • During parish drives, collect food and clothing from neighbors, coworkers, relatives.
  • Realize that religion is a suitable topic for discussion. Just be sure that it is done gently. People might be able to argue about your theology, but they cannot argue about your experience.
  • Support and vote for political candidates who reflect Catholic Christian values.
  • Show enthusiasm for your Catholic faith.

By speaking out clearly about God, by reaching out to those in need, and by living out our Christian values, you can strengthen your evangelization efforts. By helping parishioners practice these techniques, your parish will begin going beyond its doors to “transform the world.” It is good to know that evangelization begins at home but equally good to know that it doesn’t just stay there! TP

Welcome those who come to the parish

  • Revitalize the “Greeters Ministry” to include families, genuine extroverts, and people who are willing to welcome and greet Mass arrivals from the parking lot or outside the church door.
  • Find room in the parish budget to advertise Mass times and special parish events in the local news media. Emphasize “All are welcome!”
  • At all parish gatherings, encourage participants to introduce themselves to at least three strangers or people they don’t know well. At the very least, allow a few minutes before the start of Mass for this activity.
  • Suggest to parishioners that they mention their membership in your parish when they meet people at work, at school, at social events, and at neighborhood or community gatherings.
  • Designate a few Sundays each year as “Come and See” Sundays, for anyone who would like to observe and experience a Catholic liturgy. Ask parishioners to also seek out Catholics who have left the church, inviting them to “come and see” what has changed!


Look beyond the parish

Be sure parishioners are aware of ways they can participate in food distribution centers, homeless shelters, English as a Second Language or adult literacy programs, or tutoring children.

Become involved in the political structure. Attend city council meetings, participate in “get out the vote” campaigns, or volunteer to work at polling places on election day. Make sure the Catholic Christian perspective is known to others in gentle and non-threatening ways.

Attend ethnic and cultural celebrations in your town. This is a fun way to learn about and deeply appreciate people while enjoying delicious food, different kinds of music, and a wonderful and colorful environment.

Learn the value of dialoging with others. Listen carefully, respect the other person’s viewpoint, and ask, “What can I learn from you?”

Organize ecumenical worship experiences at your parish. Encourage parishioners to invite friends, neighbors, or coworkers to attend and to participate with enthusiasm.


*This article appeared in the September 2007 issue of Today's Parish.

Sylvia Devillers

Sylvia DeVillers, MA, serves on the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission and is a member of Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo, California.