Spot On: Church Revitalization, Evangelization, and Discipleship

H/t to Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD for this short and simple list — Church Revitalization: 5 Reasons It Works When It Works.

Breaking apart the post, Fr. Michael White offers 5 critical factors that are present when church revitalization occurs, the parish:

1. Acknowledges that they have a problem.
2. Approach the problem in prayer.
3. Preaches the Gospel (evangelization/discipleship).
4. Lives evangelization and discipleship.
5. Have a clear, consistent, and challenging discipleship path.

The all important “step zero” is that fundamentally, the parish realizes that the only true revitalization is exactly what the Church has proclaimed for centuries–evangelization that necessarily includes discipleship. I have observed situations where parishes do mistake revitalization for something other than evangelization and discipleship (for example, boosting Mass attendance, a building project, a successful fundraising campaign, increasing engagement and participation of parishioners, etc.).

Praise the Lord, I believe more and more Catholic parishes are realizing Steps 0, 1, and 2, named above.

Steps 3 and 4, however, are a bit more elusive and challenging because they are inherently zero-sum propositions. To preach and live evangelization and discipleship means that, practically speaking, other things must go. This can be hugely challenging. A stumbling block that prevents parishes from making past steps 1 and 2. 

What is this “preaching the Gospel” all about, as Fr. White explains:

Preaching the Gospel, of course, automatically means an emphasis on evangelization and discipleship that begins in the pulpit. And these churches keep the message focused and simple.

There’s only so much “pulpit time.” Yes, it can (and should in many cases!) be expanded in parish life (see here and here).  But assuming the weekly pulpit time isn’t changing in a parish, then an emphasis on evangelization and discipleship means that some style of preaching, content, and forms the parish is used to, probably have to go.

Which leads into the challenge of #4,

Preached simply enough and often enough, the parishioners will get it, and live it. They don’t just talk about evangelization, or form a committee to talk about it, or confuse it with other things they are already doing. They do it. They intentionally share Christ with others, and make invitations to their unchurched friends to come to church.

Thinking the New Evangelization is complete by merely “talking about evangelization” or making (usually well intentioned, yet shallow/surface-level) changes to things the parish is already doing is a real temptation. It’s amazing the number of initiatives and programs that seem to be re-named or re-branded as “evangelization” over the past few years, as evangelization and discipleship have become the pressing and prominent topics they always should have been in parish life.

If a community truly recognizes #1 (we have a problem), then it’s not about making small changes or surface changes–fundamentally some activities of the parish need a new intentionality, a difference substance, purpose, and direction. Again, for most people and parishes, there’s the reality of limited time and resources–so the question becomes what can’t we do anymore, if we are to live evangelization and discipleship as the simple and driving principles within our church? I find Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s alignment principle to be especially helpful here. Also, take heart! This is hard for leaders outside of the ministry world as well, as parish minister Michael Gormley shares.

Making room for true priorities is not an easy conversation for any organization, much less a parish to have–but it’s a critical conversation that needs to be had in order for the New Evangelization to be more than a theological concept, but clearly and vibrantly lived in a parish, so that no one can miss it!

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Why Do We Have to Preach for Evangelization in a Catholic Parish? (aka Evangelistic Preaching: Part 15)

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

The parish is the focal point for evangelistic preaching because it is near where most people are. Most non-Catholics and Catholics who are in need of evangelistic preaching are not going to attend a diocesan rally, a retreat, or large conference—but, they may be regularly attending a parish or make a one-time visit to a parish in a time of need or spiritual inquiry.

How does a parish become a focal point for evangelistic preaching? First, we need preachers. Most parishes already have a combination of priests, deacons, and/or general [lay] ministers with homiletic training. Baptized faithful who are “orthodox in faith, and well-qualified, both by the witness of their lives as Christians and by a preparation for preaching appropriate to the circumstances” can be admitted by the bishop to preach (with the exception of the Eucharistic homily, which is not ordinarily a primary place for evangelistic preaching).[1] Parishes can take steps to help faithful parishioners discern the call to evangelistic preaching by cultivating a culture of sharing personal testimony, reflecting on one’s own conversion story in small-groups, and recruiting from within the flock.

The second key step for parishes is integrating evangelistic preaching into parish life. Though Mass is not intended to be a place for initial proclamation, certain Masses, i.e. Christmas, Easter, Mother’s/Father’s Day, and harvest or homecoming Sundays in certain regions, tend to attract a large number of visitors, a prime opportunity for evangelistic preaching.[2] Additionally, when parish leaders know the spiritual state of those in their pews well enough, they can determine what type of preaching is most appropriate for Mass, i.e. if most people are not yet committed disciples or evangelized, and Mass is the only opportunity you have to reach them–then even ordinary Eucharistic preaching probably needs to be evangelistic at heart (while making sure there are then other opportunities for more catechetical or discipleship oriented preaching for mature believers).

Parishes can also consider adding a service designed for evangelistic preaching. For many parishes this requires a radical re-orientation from an nearly exclusive focus on the “already converted” to allocating quality resources for initial proclamation, seeking to attract and offer something designed for the nominal believer or nonbeliever. This shift is at the heart of the call to the New Evangelization in the United States.

What might this look like? Possibilities for parish services[3] that incorporate evangelistic preaching include:

  •       Taizé-inspired prayer services.[4]
  •       Modeling a service after the XLT (pronounced “Exalt”) nights popular with teenagers and young adults. XLTs “combine quality music and a dynamic teaching with worship of the Eucharist in an energetic and reverent setting.  In other words, you are sure to hear a fun and relevant talk, some of the best new worship music, and experience the intimacy of spending time with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration”[5]
  •        Reviving the Cathedral Vigil services (or other adaptations of the Liturgy of the Hours) popular in the Patristic era. A version of this is currently popular among young adults in Colorado.[6]
  •       Making use of services that do not include reception of the Eucharist, since receiving the Eucharist is often not applicable for someone in need of initial proclamation and allows for wider use of the baptized faithful as preachers of the Word or Liturgy of the Hours as a venue for evangelistic preaching (i.e. Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgy of the Word).
  •       Offerings modeled on small-group series, such as the Alpha Course,[7] or a retreat-based opportunity for preaching and decision, similar to a Cursillo.[8]

Finally, parishes can also bring evangelistic preaching outside the walls of the parish, to non-parish facilities. This includes offering evangelistic messages in public locations, virtually through the internet, using broadcast media, and in hospitals, Catholic schools, and prisons. Preaching in the public square is not limited to presenting a sermon. Processions and other visual aspects of the Catholic tradition offer settings where preaching could potentially be inserted, after the visual captures the attention and imagination of the audience.[9]

——-

[1] USCCB, “Complementary Norms: Canon 766 – Lay Preaching,” 2001.

[2] See “180 Week One: Easter,” a sermon preached by Fr. Michael White, March 31, 2013 as an excellent example of evangelistic preaching in an Easter Mass, http://churchnativity.tv/media.php?pageID=96.

[3] Charles Arn’s How to Start a New Service: Your Church Can Reach New People (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997) provides how-to steps on planning a new/additional service.

[4] See the Taizé community’s website for examples of contemplative ostinato music, intercessory prayer, and silence as characteristics of Taizé prayer: http://www.taize.fr/en.

[5] “XLT: Teaching – Adoration – Worship,” http://emmausyouth.squarespace.com/xlt/, accessed January 2013.

[6] “Young Adults Pray at Vigil Praise,” National Catholic Register, 13 April 2013, http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/young-adults-pray-at-vigil-praise/.

[7] See the Alpha USA website for more information: http://www.alphausa.org/Groups/1000065342/Alt_Home_page.aspx

[8] For a description of the Cursillo movement, see: http://www.cursillo.org/whatis.html.

[9] See “Lift the City: A Catholic Eucharistic Flash Mob,” http://youtu.be/cZ5aYoSr3Hg and “No, Not a Wedding, a Eucharistic Procession,” http://newevangelizers.com/blog/2013/04/30/no-not-a-wedding-a-eucharistic-procession/ as examples of how the visual can capture the attention of onlookers, offering a potential way for parishes to evangelistic preaching to the public square.

Evangelistic Preaching (Part 13) — Strategy Wrap-Up

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

Our final three–strategies #8, 9, and 10…

Slide26

The use of narrative structures in preaching, pioneered by homileticians such as David Buttrick, Fred Craddock, Thomas Long, and Eugene Lowry, has proved tremendously important for Catholic Eucharistic preaching since the Second Vatican Council—and for good reason, a faith community gathered for the Eucharist is participating in a meta-narrative that includes both the mystical and visible elements of Christianity. However, for the potential hearers of evangelistic sermons, this narrative is largely unknown and in a culture that displays tendencies of becoming increasingly episodic, rather than narrative in thinking, other sermons structures—i.e.  expository, textual, declarative, dialectical, rhetorical, polar opposites, pragmatic, topical, quadrilateral, etc.—may be better suited for evangelistic preaching.[1] Why not give some other structures a try?

 

Slide27

For those who have already made a committed response to Jesus Christ, any application of Scripture or doctrine to their life is implicitly an invitation to deeper relationship with God. Yet, for the audience of evangelistic preaching, more explicit invitation to a tangible action is essential for encouraging response to encounter with Jesus Christ. Catholic ministers, Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran emphasize the importance of preaching the “outcomes of the message” and “life-change”—without this a preacher can easily fall into the habit of “aim[ing] at nothing” and “hit[ting] every time.”[2]

 

 

Slide28

 

 

Stephen Wright observes a commonsense reality–response to the Gospel usually takes more than one pitch, more than one message. And, given our Catholic theology of the breadth of evangelization, we understand that any decision that flows from hearing an initial proclamation is just a starting point, not the final outcome. An initial encounter requires on-going conversion and life in the Christian community. Because of this, every evangelistic sermon should include an intentional what’s next—a clear step or follow-up action or opportunity for those who may have encountered Jesus Christ and are seeking a way to respond. It also points to the potentially fruitful use of series in evangelistic preaching, so that the preacher can offer multiple topics and build a relationship with a hearer.

Okay, so those are my top 10 strategies for preparing homilies [or sermons, or messages] with evangelization in mind. 

I’m not going to claim that these ten practical strategies for Catholic evangelistic preaching are the only techniques, but they are at least a solid a starting point, and every preacher will develop his or her own preferred methods and techniques. The underlying premise is intentionality, not just choosing one technique or imitating a particular preaching, but truly applying ourselves to the task of evangelizing our preaching. As the Venerable Paul VI wrote, “ evangelizing preaching takes on many forms, and zeal will inspire the reshaping of them almost indefinitely”—it’s our job to figure out how.[3]

—–

[1] Thomas G. Long, “Out of the Loop” in What’s the Shape of Narrative Preaching? Essays in Honor of Eugene L. Lowry, ed. Mike Graves, David J. Schlafer, and Eugene L. Lowry, (Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2008), 126.

[2] Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter, (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2013), 144.

[3] Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 43.

Evangelistic Preaching (Part 12) — Strategies

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

We’ve reached the point of discussing how to preach evangelistically in our Catholic context. Here are strategies 5, 6, and 7.

Slide23

Effective evangelistic sermons are memorable so that hearers can continue to ponder the message after it has ended, reviewing and considering (hopefully prayerfully) the call for action or decision. To help make a sermon more memorable, preachers consider clarity (if the one delivering the message can remember it without notes, then a hearer might also be able to remember the logic of the sermon and even potentially recount it to another person), repetition, not simply restatement, of key phrases, and use of illustrations.

Slide24

 

“Present-day audiences are oriented toward story in sight and sound in addition to verbal instruction,” and are indeed “accustomed to receiv[ing] and shar[ing] much of our communication through images.”[1] The use of multiple media to convey a message could be as simple as offering Scripture verses projected on a screen  for those who are unfamiliar with a Bible or Missal [photo example: Fr. Michael White of Church of the Nativity, Timonium, MD], or as intricate as the use of interwoven theater or drama to communicate a message. Medieval preachers, for example, used a visual homiletic that included drama, plays, and a specific repertoire of gestures known to audiences from paintings.[2] When incorporated with care and discernment, the use of a variety of media can make an evangelistic sermon more evocative, vivid, moving, and memorable.[3]

Slide25

In an evangelistic setting, where establishing the credibility of the preacher and a way for hearers to follow-up and continue to ask questions are of particular importance, creating multiple points of engagement can help create lasting impact for the sermon. This means considering opportunities for dialogue, discussion, interaction and questions after or during preaching, using the internet and text-messaging to offer opportunities for virtual engagement, and exploring how to make the audience part of the sermon moment.

——-

[1] Richard, Preparing Evangelistic Sermons, 155; Wright, Alive to the Word, 162.

[2] Thomas H. Troeger, Ten Strategies for Preaching in a Multimedia Culture, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 12.

[3] Wright, Alive to the Word, 164.

Evangelistic Preaching (Part 11) — Strategies

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

We’ve reached the point of discussing how to preach evangelistically in our Catholic context and are discussing specific strategies for developing evangelistic sermons. Here are strategies #2 through #4…

Slide20

 

For Catholic preachers, this is a significant difference from a liturgical homily in the context of the Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours, where a relatively large portion of Scripture is provided as the basis for preaching and well-crafted integration of diverse texts is encouraged as a fruitful means of reflection for the assembly. When preaching evangelistically, one often has greater choice of text and should carefully consider, if the text can be readily understood without extensive background, if the text is effective with hearers who do not associate it with a particular place in the liturgical year, if the text will be visible to the audience during the sermon, and if a distinctly Catholic hermeneutic is required to grasp the message of the sermon. In many cases, texts for evangelistic sermons will often be much shorter than selections of Scripture used for catechetical or Eucharistic homilies.

 

 

Slide21

Again, this highlights another point of difference in emphasis when comparing evangelistic and Eucharistic preaching. Eucharistic homilies are intended to be essentially connected to Scripture and intrinsically related to doctrine and catechesis (USCCB, Preaching the Mystery of Faith, 23, 31). While this is appropriate for preaching to an audience of faith, hearers of evangelistic sermons often have misperceptions based on faulty factual knowledge of Christian tradition and the Catholic Church. Effective evangelistic sermons will often include a greater proportion of time spent on factual clarification and/or apologetics when compared to other forms of preaching.

 

Slide22

 

In our information and media saturated world, “in which cynicism about what to believe or not believe is everywhere,” what makes preaching unique as a form of communication?[1] One element is the potential for personal connection between a speaker and listener. We cultivate this connection, this “fullest and most intense bonding between the preacher and those who share the preaching,” by offering personal testimony, appropriate intimacy and vulnerability, being relational and interactive, and sharing our fervor, passion, love, and genuine emotion and humor.[2] Many preachers accomplish this through the deliberate minimal use of notes, outlines, or memorization of a script for delivery when preaching evangelistically in order to maximize this connectivity (note: this also helps with simplicity of message!)

————

[1] Joseph M. Webb, Preaching Without Notes, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 29.

[2] Webb, Preaching Without Notes, 25.

 

What to do when the Eucharistic Preface is simply awe-inspiring?

Yesterday at Mass I was absolutely struck by the richness and profound teaching contained in the Eucharistic Preface for this, the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A).

Here it is:

For when he [the Lord] asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink,
he had already created the gift of faith within her
and so ardently did he thirst for her faith,
that he kindled in her the fire of divine love. (Full context from iBreviary)

So much theology, so much Good News, packed in so few words.

What really struck me was how this concise prayer illuminates the one element of the relationship between sacraments and evangelization–that in grace God gives us the “gift of faith” while at the same time waiting for our response, our “faith” in return. Baptism (or any sacrament of initiation) isn’t fully fruitful. Isn’t complete in any way, without our faith in response. It’s not about checking the baptism/first eucharist/confirmation box and moving on without personal conversion.

Okay, but what to do with a Eucharistic preface? How does this become accessible to more people at Mass? Because let’s face it. Many people miss out on the Eucharistic preface. Sometimes, it’s the presider’s rapid speed or poor use of vocal inflection and volume that make it inaudible or hard to understand. Other times, it’s that we’re not ready to hear this prayer with open hearts. I mean, I intentionally tune in for the homily. I don’t always remember to do the same for the Eucharistic preface 😉

A few ideas:

  • Preach on it. This prayer nicely relates the content of the second reading (Romans) and the Gospel (Samaritan Woman). Preach on the words of the prayer directly, referencing it, and preparing the congregation to hear it again shortly thereafter, when it might become a moment of personal and corporate reflection and gratitude.
  • Use the words of this preface incorporated into an image as the bulletin cover. [I mean, it’s certainly more relevant than the typical stock image chosen by a publishing company or drawing of the parish’s buildings…]
  • Use the words on a prayer card to be distributed after Mass. Tangible take-aways from a worship service are a great way to help a homily, text, or topic “stick” and resound throughout the coming week(s).
  • Have the presider chant or deliberately slow down for the Eucharistic preface so that it stands out to the assembly as a particular moment of connection to the Scriptures of the day.
  • Use discussion based on the theology and teaching in the preface prayer as the content of formation (children, teens/students, adults, etc.) during the week preceding Mass so that all are ready to hear it (again). [Note: using similar content for all age levels gives families and intergenerational friends a great opportunity to keep discipleship discussions going outside of formal formation activities/events]

Any other thoughts or suggestions? 

 

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.