In 2013, the Barna Group did a large survey on the importance of Christians who share their faith. The group which had the lowest number of people who actively shared their faith was Catholics. Here is the truly sad part. They only polled those they designated as “people who said they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.”
This means they polled the best and most engaged Catholics who have had an encounter with Jesus. They found that only 1 out of every 3 Catholics agreed with the statement, “I, personally, have a responsibility to tell other people about my religious beliefs.“ Additionally, only 1/3 of Catholics who have encountered Jesus and chosen to follow him agreed with the statement, “During the past 12 months, I explained my religious beliefs to someone who had different beliefs, in the hope that they might accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
This means we Catholics in the USA are not good at evangelization – the core mission of the Church! God didn’t make you his disciple to merely get you to heaven. Rather, all of us are his disciples to get others to heaven as well. Jesus commanded that we “go make disciples” not just be his disciples. To put it another way, If you have fed the animals at Sea World, but have never been fishing – you can’t say you are fisherman. If you stay safely inside the walls of Church buildings to talk about Jesus, but never do it at other times – you can’t say you are a fisher of men.
It is no wonder that so few Catholic parishes are growing, due to new believers. The stats don’t lie, we have lost our way.
Before you get too depressed, I would bet the average reader of this blog is more likely to evangelize. But, it also lays a bigger burden on us – we cannot simply aim to evangelize. We must aim to spiritually multiply disciples who evangelize! Remember this – Jesus had to save the world and gave us his strategy, by deeply investing in a handful of other people.
Our goal in the rest of this post is to better understand why Catholic don’t evangelize, in order to have a good strategy to overcome the issues later.
5 Reasons Catholics Don’t Evangelize!
- They have never been evangelized themselves – therefore, they have never responded affirmatively to a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Our faith is really about changed lives that are a result of an encounter with the Risen Jesus. Once we have encountered Jesus, we can respond to the graces he pours out on us, and our lives are changed. Statistics tell us that most who identify as “Catholic” in the USA have never said “yes” to this encounter. Therefore, their hearts have never accepted the grace they need to be transformed. Sherry Weddell wrote – “We have asked hundreds of diocesan and parish leaders from sixty dioceses throughout the English-speaking world this question: What percentage of your parishioners, would you estimate, are intentional disciples? To our astonishment, we have received the same answer over and over: ‘Five percent.’” To build on this – Pope Paul VI says: “The person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn” (EN 24). How can we expect the unevangelized to evangelize? We can’t.
- The current culture within our parishes dissuades Catholics from active personal evangelization, rather than supporting them and training them to do so. We have built a system which teaches classes, puts on programs, and does events (which can all be good things). But, when you volunteer for a social or to be a catechist, this doesn’t fulfill your duty to be an evangelist in other areas of your life. Furthermore, we know that cultural Catholicism is one of comfort and ease. We aren’t really challenged to become holy evangelists, rather we are told to get your kids sacramentalized and show up to church. This kind of easy and comfortable Catholic culture is counter to the universal call we all have to share the Good News of the Gospel with others. Imagine Jesus response if he assessed where your parish and/or diocese was, in terms of making disciples. Would he be happy with the current state of affairs? What about a personal assessment of your evangelizing?
- There is a lack of real leadership, community, accountability, and deep Christian friendship in our Catholic culture, so we don’t have anyone challenging us. We have settled for a laissez-faire kind of Christianity, which doesn’t shake us up, challenge us, or push us to grow. Yes, there is that periodic conference or retreat for the really dedicated Catholic. There is also a growing number of small groups. But, even with these, there are few that really know what it means to be accountable, tell the truth, pray together, confess sins to one another (as well as in Confession), grow in holiness, and be pushed into the mission fields. That is what Christian community should really look like. It should make us want more!
- Many Catholics are just too scared to evangelize, will make excuses why they shouldn’t do it, & refuse to leave their comfort zone. The excuses aren’t anything new, we see them throughout history. Even Moses was scared to respond to the call to free the Israelites from slavery. We are battling a new slavery, the slavery to sin. In Exodus 3-4, we see the call to go and challenge Pharaoh and we also see the excuses Moses comes up with:
Excuse #1 – I am not worthy – “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh” (Ex 3:11). But, God answers, “I will be with you” (3:12). Why should you worry? God is on your side!
Excuse #2 – I don’t know enough – “what shall I say to them?” (3:13). But, God answers, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you‘” (3:14).
Excuse #3 – They won’t listen to me – “they will not believe me or listen to my voice” (4:1). But, God answers by promising to provide miraculous acts to convince any doubters (4:8-9).
Excuse #4 – I am not talented or gifted enough – “I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (4:10). But, God answers, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (4:11-12).
Excuse #5 – I don’t want to do it – “Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person” (4:13). But, God answers (in anger), “You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do.” (4:15). We need to get over our excuses and go do it anyway.
- Many Catholics are universalists or don’t believe faith in Jesus really matters. That is, they believe that the vast majority of people (or all) will go to heaven and/or there is no real point to helping someone know Jesus, because all faith traditions are basically the same. This kind of idea is religious relativism. You can pick and choose what is true, and it doesn’t really matter. Hell is a social construct that doesn’t truly exist or at the worst, few will end up there (mass murderers and terrorists). So, why should we care? This is counter to the clear teaching of the Church. Hell is real. Heaven is real. Eternal salvation is on the line! Even an atheist gets the implications of Heaven and Hell better than most Catholics. If you don’t believe me, watch this:[embedded content]
With all of these reasons (and more), we can see that there are no good reasons why Catholics don’t evangelize. Now, it is time for us to take hold of our sacred job to help others come to know Jesus and then also help them to become evangelists themselves.
“In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.”
-Pope Francis EG 20
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