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First Steps in Parish Evangelization Ministry: 5 Ways to Get Started

The Eucharistic Revival is a strong reminder of our apostolic mission to go out and tell the Good News. This ministry requires that we be highly personal and relational. For many Catholics, proactive outreach is still a significant shift in thinking and behavior. In our work with parishes to review data from the Discipleship Indicator, it has been striking to see how few people are inviting others to Mass or sharing their faith with others in the parish, let alone externally. We talk about engaging people in the parish; however, my own personal experience aligns with what pastors are saying: we do not intentionally encourage parishioners to share with each other or invite others to a parish prayer group or Mass. 

The data shows that active Catholics strongly align with the teachings of the Church. However, lived experience and input from Catholics across the US indicate that we are not prepared to “tell the Good News.” Those who are not actively studying their faith likely have not heard the term “kerygma.” Back in 2021, Archbishop Christophe Pierre addressed the USCCB, reflecting Pope Fancis’ message to “begin again from Christ:” “The kerygma — the proclamation of the Good News — is not a ‘traditional’ custom or a certain ‘social practice.’ The kerygma is the joyful announcement that Jesus Christ is a living Person to be encountered, who through his Resurrection has defeated sin and death.”

Catholics fundamentally understand and deeply believe this, but we don’t typically think or talk about it as a topic of discussion. Archbishop Pierre goes on to explain why: “Our tendency today is to unload the entire bale of hay — to instruct converts in the whole doctrine of Christ, before they are even initiated, and ask that they assent to all of it, before they are baptized or received into the Catholic Church…some today who argue that we should get back to the original plan of proclaiming the basic kerygma — repentance, baptism and the faith that that implies … It is too easy, they argue, for people to get lost in the weeds and miss the essential point.”

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop that included a simple method to convey the kerygma, summarizing 4 key points:

  1. God is love and has a loving plan for us
  2. Our sins and my own sinfulness separate me from God
  3. Jesus Christ is our salvation through his death and resurrection
  4. We are called to repent and believe 

It was very helpful to me for many reasons. I had never even thought about the kerygma, having only heard the word for the first time a few years before this class. I did not have a succinct way to express the story, which gave me a “toolkit” for conversation when the opportunity presented itself. The breakthrough for me is that it was presented as a method to use with others. How many of us have this as a handy reference to convey the core story about our loving God who seeks a relationship with us?

A first step for parishes is to equip parishioners with this or a similar short summary. Teach the kerygma as part of homilies, put it on the parish website and app, and consider creating prayer cards with the 4 points on one side for reference. Encourage parishioners to practice with their families so everyone becomes comfortable enough to say it anytime. 

Here are four other ways to get started:

  1. Send Sunday Mass or daily readings and related reflection ideas for the following week. Send them from the parish with commentary, suggested discussion points or reflection from your pastor or a ministry leader. Make it relational and specific to your parish to draw parishioners into a community that is aligned in preparation for the upcoming weekend. Give parishioners a reason to interact with the parish in place of (or in addition to) other resources. 
  2. Be intentional about welcome and follow up. Notice new or visiting people and make it a point to interact with them and collect their contact information. Then, enact a structured follow-up to invite them back or to keep them informed of the parish’s ministries and priorities. While they may not become registered parishioners, they may be nourished by the parish mission and even want to support the parish financially.
  3. Foster intercessory prayer both in-person and virtually.  Schedule times and locations for the Rosary or other prayer for the intention of the parish so that people can participate at the same time, even if they are not physically present. It doesn’t have to be a web meeting. Invite those who cannot be in person to pray on their own at the scheduled time. Create a sign-up so you can list the names of those praying in other locations, along with those present in person. Consider an honorable close to the prayer time, offering an opportunity for people to share what they experience through intercessory prayer. Invite comments and feedback from those who prayed separately to be shared as a follow-up. 
  4. Employ a resource that gives insight into parishioner discipleship. Seek ways to allow parishioners to share where they are in their relationship with Christ and how the parish is equipping them in their faith. ACST Catholic introduced the Discipleship Indicator to provide parish leaders with data to inform your ministry.

The Eucharistic revival provides the context to build parish community and revise or restart evangelization ministry.  As we have returned from the challenging pandemic, we need to intentionally rebuild our parish communities, attend Mass in person, and reach those who have fallen away or whose routine no longer includes church. 

Terry Poplava 

Terry Poplava serves as General Manager, ACST Catholic. As a cradle Catholic, his faith was lukewarm until he was confronted by the intense challenge and commitment he heard in the message about Stewardship. “What do I own and what owns me?” which led him to executive roles at Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Leadership Institute before his current focus on serving the Catholic Church at ACS Technologies. Terry has extensive experience working with churches across the U.S., supporting their planning, stewardship, and engagement efforts