An Evangelizing Parish
There are many ways to describe an evangelizing parish. In Reclaiming the Fire: A Parish Guide to Evangelization, Rev. Martin Pable suggests the following about an evangelizing parish:
1. An evangelizing parish is convinced that they have a precious gift to share - the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
All Catholic parishes have an evangelizing purpose. It is a perennial temptation to get comfortable with those who are already with us and slowly become consumed with their own needs forgetting that many more have not yet accepted the Good News. Some parishes go on autopilot, becoming so occupied with raising money, conducting programs and social events that they lose their focus. Jesus and his Gospel offer meaning and purpose for life, something to believe in and hope for. Pope Paul VI made it clear that unless the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, there is no real evangelization. An evangelizing parish is confident and focused.
2. An evangelizing parish listens to God's word in the Scriptures.
Evangelizing parishes allow themselves to be encouraged and challenged by God's Word. Despite the misconceptions held by many fundamentalist Christians, every aspect of Catholic life - beliefs, devotions, moral and social teaching, and worship are all grounded in the Scriptures. Catholics are using the Bible in personal prayer and group study, along with the three year cycle of Bible readings for the Sunday Liturgy. Both preachers and music ministers should know how to use the Bible to comfort those who are hurting and to challenge the parish to the next level of outreach.
3. An evangelizing parish celebrates God's action in people's lives through the Eucharist and other sacraments.
Because Catholics have a sacramental worldview they recognize that spiritual rebirth happens every day and they celebrate that on the Lord's Day. Catholics view life through the lens of God's Word and consider God's action in their lives. It is Christ who they join with in the Eucharist; it is Christ who baptizes at the font; it is Christ who forgives through the sacrament of Penance; it is Christ who unites a couple in Matrimony. These sacraments must include the reading of Scripture in their celebrations in order to connect the ongoing work of Christ with the human situation.
4. An evangelizing parish reaches out to the hurting and hopeless.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus was moved with compassion toward anyone in pain. People experience as much social alienation now as ever before. The amount of pastoral care needed in a parish cannot be accomplished by any single pastor or small staff. Evangelizing parishes mobilize the people of God through a variety of ministries that includes bereavement, divorce support groups, Project Rachel, prison visitation teams, prayer shawls, clinics, retreats and prayer groups for those with health problems, Stephen Ministries, etc. In times of community tragedy or natural disaster, the church is often the gathering place for prayer and consolation for those people most affected. Evangelizing parishes extend the compassion of Christ to all those in need.
5. An evangelizing parish works for justice.
Evangelizing parishes promote the rights and dignity of all people, especially those in poverty or marginalized in society. Throughout history, the Church has been most credible in its witness when it has stood with the poor. Some parishes sponsor food pantries, clothes closets and outreach ministries in their neighborhood. Some parishes create micro-finance funds to empower people and encourage self-help enterprises across the globe. And some parishes partner with another parish in the developing world for learning exchange and mutual benefit. Parishes educate their legislative representatives and band together with other churches to advocate for needed change. They sponsor letter writing campaigns or hole bi-partisan candidate forums to educate the parish on both sides of an issue. They work for justice through systemic change. There is no dichotomy between faith and politics for an evangelizing parish.
6. An evangelizing parish announces the Good News and invites people to know Jesus in the Catholic faith community.
Many people are asking the big questions of life. They are spiritual seekers who want to feel God's presence and struggle to know how. Spiritual seekers will find a church that address these questions in a humble and non-doctrinaire fashion as a valuable resource. An evangelizing parish provides access to a variety of spiritual tools and resources online. It may host inspirational book clubs and concerts, organize neighborhood based small groups for prayer, or sponsor study sessions in local meeting places off church property. An evangelizing parish equips people with a credible faith who will take the initiative to reach out to the seekers or those who have left and ask the spiritual questions: What helps you make sense of life? What do you believe about God/Jesus? Do you ever pray? How did you ever miss them? Do you ever think of coming back? What would you need?
7. An evangelizing parish is a welcoming community.
It connects with people, welcomes people and retains people. In a word these parishes are sticky. Evangelizing parishes go out of their way to invite neighbors to experience their community. These parishes take time to get to know visitors. There may be a visitor center in the lobby or foyer of church equipped with refreshments and materials on the parish, its mission and how to get involved. The parish will send out a welcome committee to those who are new residents. It will regularly host get-acquainted gatherings after a popular Mass. These parishes give everyone a chance to do what they do best as part of a ministry in the church. Newcomers are invited to be part of a small faith-sharing group so that they can have a friendly, supportive and challenging experience of church.
Evangelization should be the organizing principle for all ministries and activities both on church property and throughout the community. When the pastor is convinced of the importance of evangelization as the organizing framework for the parish, it is essential to inform and inspire the congregation. Many Catholics are unfamiliar with what contemporary Catholic evangelization means. This can be accomplished through homilies, bulletin inserts, Mass intercessions, home activities, a parish retreat during Lent or a speaker series on essential aspects of evangelization during the Easter season.
The next step is to form an evangelization team whose charge is to establish parish-wide goals in cooperation with the staff and pastoral council. This will involve advocating with the varied pastoral council committees, as well as parish organizations and ministries to address those goals at every level of the parish. Every leader has a stake in creating an evangelizing parish and every organization has a role and responsibility to contribute to the work of evangelization. Each organization should ask itself, "How can we be evangelizing in what we are already doing?" "What should we start doing, stop doing or continue doing to stay focused on our evangelizing purpose?"
View How to Form an Evangelization Team for more details on the work of the parish evangelization team in an evangelizing parish.
This description is adapted from Reclaiming the Fire: A Parish Evangelization for Evangelization by Rev. Martin Pable. Used with permission.
For more information on what constitutes an evangelizing parish contact:
Office of Parish Life
795 Main St.
Buffalo, NY 14203