Preaching the Kerygma. Preaching for Evangelization. It Doesn’t Happen By Accident…

Yesterday’s second reading from the Letter to the Romans (aka the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A) is one of those amazing Scripture passages that makes you stop. And just say YES! Lord, Thank you! Or utter an audible, Amen. Why? Because it’s a mini-kerygma, pure and simple.

Here it is:

Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

I wanted to just jump out of my pew and rejoice when I heard this at Mass yesterday.

But here’s where a big gap arises. Anecdotally and statistically, it seems that the depth of the meaning of this passage isn’t known to most in the pews. And this is why evangelistic preaching is important for Catholic ministry.

After yesterday’s Mass, someone remarked to me:

“I think I’ve heard ‘the plan of salvation’ [preached] 1000% more in Protestant churches than Catholic ones….even though salvation is more than the ‘Jesus prayer’ why isn’t it being talked about more? We believe ‘I have been saved, I am being saved, and will be saved,’ but I don’t hear ‘salvation’ as a central theme in Catholic homilies the way I did in Protestant churches.”

I agree. There’s a need for evangelistic preaching in Catholic ministry. In places where ordinary folks will actually hear it. And this isn’t about copying Protestant preachers–not at all! Evangelistic preaching has a history in Catholicism that’s older than the Reformation.

Read my article about how and why to preach evangelistically in Catholic settings here in Church Life: A Journal for the New EvangelizationIt’s a mix of theology, history, and really practical/pragmatic sermon preparation tips…so read only what appeals to you 🙂 Or, if you’re the visual type, check out these excerpts from my presentation on the topic. 


Resources for “Forming Intentional Disciples”

Here’s a list of links to resources that might be helpful for those who are reading Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and looking to put some ideas into action personally–to begin to “break the silence” with others.

For starting conversation, questions, and/or assessing spiritual journeys:

Aggie Catholics: Questions To Ask Others When Evangelizing

Tell Me Your Story: The Art of Asking Intentional Questions (FOCUS)

Examples of combinations/variations of the 3 Spiritual Journeys

Sharing your testimony or story:

Canadian Catholic: Sharing Your Testimony 101

Telling the Great Story:

Catholic Christian Outreach Canada: The Ultimate Relationship

Have other suggestions to share? Add them to the comments. And, I’ll be posting study guides, diagrams, and other resources from a recent presentation under this tag in the coming weeks.

For Motivation: Evangelization is a Necessary Duty

Evangelization is:

“the duty incumbent on her [the Church] by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation” (§5)

-Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975)

“If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely greater” — a motto for faith formation and catechesis?

The first reading for the Friday after Epiphany (1 John 5:5-13) contains this short, but insightful statement:

“If we accept human testimony,
the testimony of God is surely greater.”

This seems so very simple and obvious. Yet, thinking back on a calendar year where so many parishes and dioceses actively engaged in growing disciples within the Church and evangelizing the Church, the wisdom inherent in this snippet of Scripture runs very deep. For many, Christianity, Catholicism, the Church, or religion can seem like accepting human testimony. And it includes human testimony, don’t get me wrong. But, I think we’ve witnessed the profound problems that surface when formation in the Catholic Christian faith is only about accepting human testimony. Of learning things. Memorizing stuff. Believing what mom, dad, or my religious ed catechist “says” to believe.

This is all important. But far deeper and surely greater is the testimony of God. Now the testimony of God comes in many forms. But one of the most fundamental forms is personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Relationship with Jesus the person. Not Jesus the idea, doctrine, or political concept–but Jesus the person, Jesus our Savior.

So maybe this, in a nutshell, is the goal of evangelizing the Church and faith formation within the Church–to provide human testimony, but also cultivate the conditions for encounter with God, genuine relationship with Jesus–so that this surely greater form of testimony abides and informs a person’s faith and ongoing conversion.

Apologetics? Evangelization? What if I forget what to say…

Over at, I write about how creeds, familiar prayers, and even hymns are great memory aids for when we find ourselves in an apologetic or evangelistic settings, and are looking for a way to guide and structure a conversation.

This probably points to the potential value and fruits that come forth from liturgical catechesis and preaching from liturgical texts…I wonder, how often those in the pews say or pray things without really grasping the wondrous truths we are proclaiming? I know I did as a kid. I probably prayed the Nicene Creed thousands of times, without even stopping to consider if I believed it…you know, in my heart, mind, and soul…not just in the sense of declaring aloud “I believe” (or at the time, “We believe”).

Your thoughts? What prayers, hymns, or creedal lines have you ever found especially helpful in those moments when you don’t have access to books or online resources?

Catholic “Follow-up Strategies” for the New Evangelization?

As far as I can remember, I’ve never been to a Baptist church that didn’t have a “follow-up strategy” for visitors they identified attending services or events. At a particular church I was a member of, it was that Thursday was “Pastor’s Visitation Day,” where, in addition to visiting those who may have lapsed in attendance, the pastor and a volunteer made a house call to anyone who had been a visitor in Sunday morning service the past week.

In contrast, in the many Catholic parishes I’ve called home, I don’t recall ever seeing or experiencing any follow-up strategies to keep in touch with me after my initial visit. The closest I can remember is, after registering as a member of St. Patrick Catholic Parish in Fayetteville, NC, I received a visit from two members of the church, giving me a small welcome basket, some additional info on the parish, and just sharing some friendly conversation.

This prompts the question, are follow-up strategies important for Catholic parishes? In the New Evangelization? Theologically?

The USCCB’s Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization is mostly quiet on follow-up strategies as an evangelization technique. However, we get a mention in Part IV that, “All participants would benefit from followup contacts.” No further details are given. Yet, even on its own, it’s a pretty bold statement. It applies to everyone (“all”) and the follow up is presumed to further some benefit. Seems like something the USCCB is encouraging, at least in the context of participants in RCIA activities and other evangelization efforts. Theologically, I can think of nothing wrong with following-up with visitors, so long as it is done in a spirit of love, humility, and hospitality (which, is ideally how all of our actions should be conducted 🙂 ).

I’m currently reading Adam Hamilton’s book on pastoral leadership, Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched (2002). Hamilton is a pastor in the United Methodist Church. He devotes Chapter 6 to the topic of effective follow-up strategies, explaining:

Every time a first-time visitor walks in the doors of your church an opportunity unfolds. This individual or family has taken the time to worship with you for some reason. Visitors likely have a need they are wondering if you can fulfill…Effective follow-up is among the most important things a pastor or leader will do if she is seriously interested in reaching the unchurched (p. 42-43).

Hamilton notes that he is aware of other pastors who specifically do not conduct follow-up with visitors because of a belief that it “taints the church’s mission.” But, he argues that in a “post-Christian era” we can no longer assume that visitors are “generally Christians” who will join another church on their own initiative if they choose not to return to his church–as a result “we want to do everything in our power to help the visitor feel the welcome of Chris throughout our church  and to motivate him to want to return the following week.”

So what does Hamilton recommend?

1. Get the Name and Address of First-Time Visitors. Hamilton’s church uses attendance notebooks, with a left side full of info sheets/newsletters for first-time visitors to take, and the right side with a register for all in attendance to sign. The ushers pass these  during a break in the service with the pastor inviting all to “take a look and see who is sitting net to you and where that person lives; there may be someone who lives in your neighborhood sitting right next to you. Be sure to greet those sitting next to you by name after the service” (p. 44). This helps the visitor not feel singled out. Hamilton’s congregation used this technique until attendance surpassed 500 per weekend (single service, I think).

I’ve experienced this technique at Saints Peter and Paul Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Houghton, Michigan. It was fairly unobtrusive, and if I recall, the notebooks were passed concurrently with the collection plates, so it did not significantly add to the total time duration of the service. I could see something like that done concurrent to the collection, but without the announcement. (Maybe do the announcement before Mass begins and have the instructions printed on the notebook folios?).

Another spin on the idea of all in attendance (visitors and regulars alike) providing information is the use of a “contact card.” I’ve experienced this many times at Faith Covenant Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The contact card is a small card with a place for providing address and contact info (or updating it for regular attendees), prayer requests, and an opportunity to ask questions or check boxes about receiving more information on programs the church offers. This might be a little faster than passing a notebook during collection, and I like that it has more purpose for regular attendees (who wouldn’t be updating an address every week), but would have regular prayer requests, etc. I could also see a contact card being customized at certain times of the year to facilitate distribution of information about retreats, mission trips, etc.

Another technique. I have been in Catholic parishes where visitors are invited to stand, introduce themselves, and be welcomed before the Mass begins. This would also be an easy time for an usher/greeter to then deliver to them a folder of info and a card designed to be turned in during the collection with their contact information. The downside of this method is that shy visitors will likely not stand and many visitors would naturally not want to be singled-out in a public way, especially at the beginning of Mass. A twist on this method would be doing the same announcement in the post-Communion announcement space. This enables the usher/greeter to quickly collect the contact info card, and since the visitor was just introduced, it increases the chances other worshippers will informally welcome him/her after Mass ends (only a few minutes later).

We spent a lot of time on #1, but without finding a consistent way to do this, there will be no information to make follow-ups possible! All the love and virtuous intentions in the world can’t conquer not having an address, phone number, or email of a visitor.

2. Deliver a Gift. On Sunday afternoon following service, Hamilton would then personally deliver a coffee mug printed with the church’s logo to each visitor from the morning. The mug served two purposes: 1) it gave him a “reason” for the visit (so it wasn’t awkward conversation, and the first-time visitor didn’t feel intruded upon or forced to bear his/her soul to a near-stranger!), 2) gave an ongoing reminder of the church that was seldom discarded (in contrast to, say, a gift of a refrigerator magnet). Hamilton funded the coffee mugs annually by ordering twice the amount needed and also selling them (above cost) to the congregation. Members knew that by participating in the annual coffee mug sales, they were providing a gift to a visitor for each mug purchases. [I include this tidbit, because, in many Catholic parishes, any “new” ministry often has to be self-supporting or without a significant start-up cost.]

Hamilton delivered the gifts himself, thanked them for attending, gave a copy of the church’s newsletter, asked if they had any questions, and departed. No spiritual probing. Each visit took less than 10 minutes. He did this at the latest, by Monday night–so the church was still fresh in the minds of those he visited.

He writes:

Some have suggested that the laity should deliver these mugs instead of the pastor. In a large church this becomes a necessity, to be sure. But in a smaller church, it is impossible to overstate the significance of the pastor delivering these mugs. Nearly every pastor I have told this to has dismissed it at first. But once they tried it, they found I was right; their retention rate of first-time visitors went up and they became more effective in connecting with and pastoring their flocks (p. 46).

3. Add to Newsletter Mailing List. This mailing list becomes a valuable resource for the congregation. The newsletter initially had an evangelistic design, however, over time Hamilton’s church evolved to using the mailing list of visitors instead as a place to send full-color postcards and other tidbits announcing special events and sermon series. He found that people often might show up once, but then return in a few months (or years!) if they saw something that interested them.

4. Making a Pastoral Evangelism Call. After a visitor had attended Sunday worship for a third time, Hamilton would call and say “Hello [visitor’s name], this is Adam from Church of the Resurrection. I am so excited that you and [kids/spouse name] have been worshipping with us! My goal is to get to know the people who worship better so that I can be a better pastor to them and I would love to come bay and get to know you and your family. Would that be okay?” (p. 48). He’d then set up a time for a 45-min visit. During this visit conversation generally included:

  • Asking a couple how they met
  • Asking where a person was from
  • Asking about careers/career interests
  • Asking about church background

Hamilton would share his own background and story, including how and why he ended up at Church of the Resurrection. He emphasizes, “not preachy” and not like I was specifically witnessing to them. Finally, he would ask them if he could pray for them, and then offer prayers for the family, any job situations/transition challenges that had come up in conversation, and for God to guide them to the right church, and if Church of the Resurrection was the right church, for God to give them excitement about that.

I like that prayer time. The only thing I might change would be asking for God to give them contentment or confirmation about “St. XYZ Parish” as a home, since I’m not sure everyone relates to feeling “excitement” about finding a church home (though I certainly do, whenever I move!).

As a leader…Hamilton notes that he expects all of his ministerial staff and program leaders to develop timely methods for providing follow-up to the first-time visitors in their ministry areas.

Has anyone seen follow-up done in an effective and/or inspirational way in a Catholic parish? Please share!

“Cultivating Encounter with Jesus Christ in Parishes” in Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization & Summer Lull…

Things will be slower than usual this summer as I’ll have an increase in course load and am working on some larger writing projects…in the meantime, I’m happy to share that the latest issue of Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization is out, and I have a longer article entitled, “Cultivating Encounter with Jesus Christ in Parishes” (starts on pg. 72) that I hope leads to fruitful reflection and practical ideas.