Evangelistic Preaching (Part 6) — Who’s the Audience?

This is the sixth post in a series on evangelistic preaching in Catholic contexts.

If we believe that evangelistic preaching  is a necessary part of the fullness of Catholic preaching, our next step is asking, what should evangelistic preaching be like in a Catholic setting?

While Vatican and USCCB documents from the Second Vatican Council onward have explored the meaning of, proper function of, and purpose of the Eucharistic homily, the Church has not yet elaborated on the specific nature of preaching for pre-evangelization, evangelization, and/or catechesis with similar detail. Not surprisingly, Catholic homiletic scholarship (which is limited in comparison to non-Catholic sources)[1] focuses almost exclusively on Eucharistic preaching. Thus while evangelistic preaching is a vibrant subcategory of homiletic scholarship in many Christian traditions—and definitions, descriptions, and “how-to” texts abound—these definitions and principles are not necessarily rooted in, or compatible with a Catholic theology of evangelization. Given this reality, I will offer a definition of evangelistic preaching proceeding from Catholic sources, and providing insights from non-Catholic homileticians when applicable.

I define evangelistic preaching in Catholic contexts by audience, content, and purpose.

First, we’ll look at audience…

Slide11

The audience of evangelistic preaching is nonbelievers. This audience includes three main groups, first, those who have never heard the Gospel (including children).[2] Second, it includes those who are baptized Christians but live “outside Christian life,” are indifferent to the faith, are in need of deeper foundations of their faith, and/or “feel the need to know Jesus Christ in a light different from the instruction they received as children.”[3] And third, the audience includes non-Christians (i.e. atheists, secular humanists, etc.).[4]

Now, at first one might think, “that’s pastorally impossible—unless I stand on a street corner and preach as people pass by, I’m going to have more believers than nonbelievers any time I preach!” But, evangelistic preaching need not quantitatively have more nonbelievers than believers in the audience, the point is the intent of the preaching. Additionally, our Catholic theology allows for the very real possibility (a major concern of the New Evangelization) that those who believe in some way or are baptized are still in need of initial proclamation.

What’s the implication? Defining the audience of evangelistic preaching as nonbelievers means that in practice, evangelistic sermons should be prepared as if the entire audience is in need of initial proclamation of the Gospel, rather than attempting to adapt a sermon preached to mature believers (i.e. many Eucharistic homilies) by merely simplifying language or making other less-than-substantive changes.[5]


[1] In An Introduction to the Homily, Waznak notes, “because homiletics never occupied a primary academic status in Roman Catholic theological education, most…[homiletics] texts, especially the theoretical ones, have come from Protestant and Anglican homileticians” (p. viii).

[2] Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 52. See also Redemptoris Missio, no. 33.

[3] Ibid., no. 52.

[4] Ibid., no. 53.

[5] R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How to Preach Evangelistic Sermons, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Pub., 2010), 170.

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