Catholics and evangelization: do we need to learn how to close?

Before I began writing for Catholic papers in 2004, I tried out the dream of being a full-time fiction writer for a year. I had a novel I hoped to get published (The Defilers came out in 2006) and I was already working on a sequel before then. I also attended many  writing conferences, including a big one in Los Angeles by a bestselling author telling us how to become a bestselling authors.

I had a sneaking suspicion that we were in the midst of a multi-level marketing scheme that was making money out of our dreams of getting published. If we followed their advice and signed up for their $1,500 online course on how to do it, we could then learn how to create our own online courses, leverage our networks etc. to help other aspiring authors become bestselling authors.

But I do recall a session by one master marketer on the art of closing a deal. It’s one thing to be out there and touting whatever it is you have to sell, it’s quite another to close the deal, and after answering all the objections, to make the “ask” that results in a “yes” and a sale.

I’ve been thinking about this in relation to Fr. Seraiah’s post about catechesis and why evangelicals have been seemingly more successful in recent decades in getting people to say “yes” to Jesus than Catholics have been in recent years. 

I keep hearing a statistic that says for every new convert to the Catholic faith, there are six who leave.  Why are so many Baptized Catholics sleeping walking through the other sacraments if they bother with them at all?

There is something powerful in being say at a Billy Graham Crusade Mission (He was in Ottawa in 1999) and having him or any other credible evangelist invite you to ask Jesus into your heart and become your personal Savior.  He filled a hockey arena every night for three or four days.  Thousands—many of them Catholics—streamed down from the stands to the floor to publicly show their commitment as everyone sang Just As I Am.

On the whole topic of catechesis, one needs to have the basics of the faith taught, but where I have seen true success in changing hearts and minds and lives are in programs that not only pass on the truths of the faith but make it possible for people to have an encounter with Christ, but it involves an “ask,” an invitation for a person to make a decision, to invite Jesus into their heart, to put God at the centre of their life.

This might be why the Alpha Course (which began several decades ago in Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican church—can we claim this as Anglican patrimony or is it not vintage enough?) is now taking off in Catholic parishes and why Catholic Christian Outreach, a missionary program to evangelize university students patterned after Campus Crusade for Christ, is growing and successfully reaching students in an environment pretty hostile to faith these days.

Some friends of mine, a Catholic couple, run seminars by an evangelical named Craig Hill. Facilitators and coordinators receive extensive training in order to be able to run these seminars, which include engaging lectures by Hill, a discussion time, and a time of ministry led by the facilitators. My friends have not only experienced powerful spiritual breakthroughs and healings in their own lives, they have witnessed them time after time in others.

Again, it’s that combination of solid, engaging teaching on some basics of the Christian faith, or in Hill’s case seminars on anger, or on the importance of blessing within families

Hill’s lectures are great, and there are many available on YouTube, but I think the key for why the seminars are so successful is that after watching the ministry and discussing them, there’s an “ask” where those who have attended are offered a time where they are guided in asking God the Father for insight into whom they may need to forgive; what inner vow needs to be broken; what lie have they believed so they can repent of it and find freedom.

I don’t think just watching the lectures would have that effect. Same with Alpha. One could watch the entire Alpha program at home and I’m sure find it interesting and engaging, but where Alpha brings about its most powerful conversions—and they can be real 180 turns making people on fire for Jesus Christ—is the Holy Spirit weekend.  After several weeks of listening to lectures, discussing things in a non-threatening atmosphere, growing in a sense of community with the strangers at the dinner table, the attendees spend a weekend together.  If they do it right, they go away to a retreat centre.  But built into an Alpha Holy Spirit weekend is time for an encounter with God—it involves an “ask,” and invitation to say “Yes” to God.   The Unbound program is another one that offers lots of opportunity for prayer ministry by trained teams in addition to solid teaching on deliverance from a Catholic perspective.

Many from a more traditionalist perspective are probably cringing.

OnePeterFive recently posted a piece entitled Why Catholics Are So Bad at Evangelizing–And What Needs to Change 

The Church, and individual Catholics in it, are supposed to be mustard seeds and leaven in this world. Or, as some prefer to say, “salt and light.” We have a missionary imperative from Christ to convert the world. But there are at least five serious obstacles to evangelizing today, any one of which would already deal a serious blow to the endeavor. First, the privatization of religion. Second, the rejection of original sin and the assumption of universal salvation. Third, the widespread doctrinal and moral confusion in the Church. Fourth, the banality and irreverence of mainstream Catholic worship. Fifth, the utter lack of ascetical demands. When you put all these together, you get Catholics who don’t think they should bother other people about religion, who assume that most people are already fine, who are not even quite sure they know what they believe, have nothing especially attractive to invite people to, and are not living and promoting a way of life that would respond to the needs of any serious searcher.

Evangelicals and charismatics are better at getting people started in that first encounter with God.  But a friend of mine and I were talking about how in some evangelical churches, it’s almost the same message every Sunday about getting saved.  Well, after that, then what? my friend asked.  What opportunity is there to go deeper?

We in the Catholic Church have so many more ways of going deeper after an initial conversion experience—we have the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation to help those of us who are already Baptized and Confirmed.   Perhaps if people made better use of the opportunities in the confessional to forgive people who have hurt them and against whom they have held grudges, or to confess inner vows or bitterness or other things that keep us from experiencing freedom in Christ, there would be no need for the Craig Hills or the Unbound Ministries of this world.

So, what would a robustly Catholic catechetical program steeped in Anglican patrimony look like?  How can we teach the faith and provide opportunities for encounter with Jesus by issuing invitations for people to make a commitment, or to ask for prayer or for help?

Many people who do have that encounter with Christ and go deeper come to love traditional liturgy and worship and treasure what they have discovered about the sacraments.  Everything comes alive for them.  What can we do to help that happen?

1 thought on “Catholics and evangelization: do we need to learn how to close?

  1. The problem that I see in many Catholic circles is that of the “Catholic culture” leading to the assumption that everyone is already Catholic simply because everyone is going through the motions — attending mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, sending children to religious formation, seeing to it that children receive the sacraments, etc. — even though these behaviors are happening under the duress of familial and social pressure rather than as a manifestation of individual commitment of faith. The result is parishes and even whole dioceses of “baptized unconverted” parishioners led by clergy, and perhaps even bishops, of the same mindset who lack the fire to witness to the faith because they don’t hold the faith themselves. Most of the “falling away” is the direct consequence of people being freed from the social and familial pressures that coerced compliance with the external forum rather than an internal abandonment of Truth.

    The bottom line here is that you cannot close a deal if you don’t have a product or service to deliver. An evangelist, first and foremost, must be an authentic believer whose very life bears witness to the gospel. And here, I’m reminded of the counsel that Francis of Assisi gave to his friars: “Preach the gospel always. Use words if you must.”

    That said, many Catholic catechetical programs are grossly deficient in another way: they never get around to teaching people how to share the gospel to a non-believer. You can’t make an “ask” until you have a prospect to ask. At this point, worrying about making an “ask” is putting the cart before the horse. In evangelical Protestant quarters, on the other hand, teaching parishioners how to evangelize and to form disciples is part of a pastor’s job — and evangelism is well understood to be the duty of every parishioner. The Second Vatican Council brought this evangelical motive explicitly into Catholic doctrine in the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium on the Church (internal citations removed; boldfacing mine).

    33. The laity are gathered together in the People of God and make up the Body of Christ under one head. Whoever they are they are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer.

    The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal”.

    Besides this apostolate which certainly pertains to all Christians, the laity can also be called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. This was the way certain men and women assisted Paul the Apostle in the Gospel, laboring much in the Lord. Further, they have the capacity to assume from the Hierarchy certain ecclesiastical functions, which are to be performed for a spiritual purpose.

    Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church.

    The same council unpacked and expanded upon this in the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes on the Church in the Modern world. Unfortunately, there are few parishes that have heeded it. Many ordinariate members and congregations may well be far ahead of the preponderance of their diocesan counterparts in this area, but we need the whole church to get with the plan.



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