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.
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?