What is evangelization?
At its most basic, evangelization is sharing the Good News (euangélion in Greek) with everyone we meet. It is to share Jesus Christ who is the Way and Truth and Life. It is to tell the story of Christ's life, death and resurrection anew: that he died for our sins, was buried and raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. "In order to bring to all people the Good News of Jesus, as required by a New Evangelization, all the parishes and their small communities should be living cells, places to promote the personal and communitarian encounter with Christ, experience the richness of liturgy, to give initial and permanent Christian formation, and to educate all the faithful in fraternity and charity especially towards the poor." (Proposition 26, Synod for the New Evangelization)
The purpose of a parish evangelization team is primarily to function as a catalyst to help the whole parish, and all its ministries, to evangelize. They are not merely the "designated" evangelizers of the parish alongside all the other ministries of the parish. Since evangelization is the mission of the entire Church and all its members, the Evangelization Team exists to examine all the various ministries of the parish and how they can serve the mission of evangelization. In addition, the Evangelization team can also propose new ministries that would serve the goals of evangelization.
How to start an Evangelization Team in your Parish:
- Pray about it.
Everything starts with prayer and relationship with Jesus. You have a passion to reach out and spread the Good News. Bring it to prayer and let the Holy Spirit guide you.
- Discuss it with your Pastor
Your pastor is responsible for everything in the parish. In order for an evangelization team to function in the parish you need the permission and support of your pastor.
- Who to invite to be on the Evangelization Team?
This step requires discernment, prayer and discussions with the pastor and parish staff to identify people who are:
Evangelized: Their relationship with Jesus is at the center of their life. They are disciples of the Lord
Faithful: They are committed to prayer and the practice of the faith
Open: They are comfortable with sharing their faith and patient listening to the faith stories of others. They are not afraid of those with doubts, or judgmental of those who question, are inactive in the faith or are un-churched.
Flexible: They are not rigid about a certain spirituality or piety (as in "if you don't pray this way you are doing it wrong...") and are willing to try new ways of doing things (they avoid the phrase "but we have always done it this way").
Not the usual suspects: Try to tap into some "new blood" rather than those who always volunteer for everything. Perhaps that quiet person who sits in the back pew but comes to many of the parish events, or that parent who is always offering suggestions for parish activities, but isn't on any committee. Depending on your parish(es), the Evangelization Team should be large enough so that there are a variety of voices at the table. A suggested size would be to aim for 6-8 people are at each meeting, so invite about 8-12 people. Because you are looking for people with the specific qualifications, you want to invite people personally, one-on-one, not through a general announcement in the bulletin.
Once you have the potential members of the Evangelization Team in place, there should be a period of formation and training of the team as well as ongoing formation.
- Formation/Training of the Team
The Evangelization Team should go through a period of formation. The Evangelization Team should meet regularly (every other week or weekly) for a couple of months to pray together; to read, study and discuss the basic documents; and to come to a shared understanding of the mission and purpose of the Evangelization Team in your parish. There is no such thing as one size fits all. The Office of Evangelization can assist by facilitating meetings and discussions.
The formation time is also a wonderful opportunity to become a faith sharing community that will be able to serve as a model for other small faith sharing groups in the parish. Be sure to take time to get to know each other. As the Evangelization team you want to be a small community, not just a collection of individuals. Take time to share your faith stories: who Jesus is for you, why you are Catholic, what Church means to you, where you have met God, etc. At the heart of evangelization is our relationship with Jesus and through Jesus with each other. It takes practice to share this story. You may want to pray a shared Holy Hour together, to ask the Holy Spirit to guide the Team in this ministry.
Even after your team is well established and you have gone through the initial formation, you want to make sure to keep up to date on new information as it comes out. The Office of Evangelization will provide information, but also plans to organize periodic, regional meetings, workshops and retreats for evangelization teams.
- Where to start
- The Evangelization Team should identify a team leader or chairperson who will be the liaison with the pastor and the pastoral council. This person will be responsible to keep the pastor and pastoral council informed of Evangelization Team activities and to secure any needed permissions from the pastor. (S)he will also be the main contact person for the Evangelization Office and responsible for keeping in contact with the Evangelization Team members.
- The Evangelization Team should meet monthly.
- Create a Parish Evangelization Inventory: Before planning any new activities or programs, the Evangelization Team should ascertain what the parish is already doing. One way is to make a list of all the ministries, prayer groups, outreach groups, liturgical committees, etc. with a contact person for each group. Ask the contact persons to give the committee a short description of the group, its purpose, what they do and how they contribute to the mission of evangelization (note: this information will also be valuable in creating a parish website or a welcome packet for new parishioners).
Using the Parish Evangelization Inventory information, along with the strategies in Go and Make Disciples, the Evangelization Team can then begin to assess the parish's strengths and weaknesses, who is or is not being served, what needs exist and begin to formulate a pastoral plan for evangelization.
- The Evangelization Inventory will also be used to see who is missing? For example, as you go through your parish groups, you may notice that you have prayer groups, but they are only attended by women. Where are the men, and why are they not coming? Is it perhaps, because since only women attend the prayer group, they feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. Perhaps the form of prayer is too "touchy-feely." Perhaps the time of day doesn't work for them. Should there be a men's group?
- Try to avoid getting stuck in the "programming mode". Many groups think that if we run this DVD series, have that bible study program, create this type of prayer group or buy that resource material, we will have an evangelizing parish. Programs can be great resources, but evangelization is not primarily about programs. Rather it is about people and relationships: our relationship with Christ and our relationships with others leading them to a relationship with Jesus. The fruit we are looking for is conversion of heart and mind to Jesus Christ. To that end, high on the priority list of any evangelization effort should be liturgy (Mass) and hospitality, not just hospitality for people new to the parish, but really getting to know the people who are already there and making them feel welcome.