“Our most important affair is that of our eternal salvation; upon it depends our happiness or misery forever. This affair will come to an end in eternity, and will decide whether we shall be saved or lost forever; whether we shall have acquired an eternity of delights, or an eternity of torments; whether we shall live forever happy, or forever miserable.”
St. Alphonsus de Liguori
According to Pope Paul VI the “Church exists in order to evangelize. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.” How is this to be done? According to Benedict XVI “Your great task in evangelization is therefore to propose a personal relationship with Christ as key to complete fulfillment.” The St. Paul Evangelization Institute has taken a direct approach to evangelization that leads to relational ministry. This is not unlike the work of St. John Paul II or Billy Graham.
Although evangelization can seem complicated, the good news is that it does not take a long time to train in order to get started. The church needs strategic plans to carry out parish and diocesan-wide evangelization efforts, but as individuals we can start evangelizing today with a few simple tools and know-how. Our evangelists often carry sacramentals like Rosaries and Miraculous Medals with them and give them away as tangible reminders of God’s love.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus speaks and teaches in public places to those who will listen. The lessons and the results vary, but one thing is clear, in his public ministry he took the proclamation of the Kingdom of God to the road. After the Resurrection, Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with two disciples who at first did not recognize him. Jesus opened up the scriptures to them and set their hearts on fire (Luke 24:13-35). Even today Pope Francis is calling us to be agents of the New Evangelization and take our Catholic faith to the public square. While we communicate more often at our computers, there are still plenty of places in towns and communities where people gather and travel outdoors. Below are some of the ways that our evangelists take part in direct evangelization.
- Street Ministry – The saints, also, were no strangers to direct evangelization in the pulpit and on the street. St. Paul, the Apostles, the 70 Disciples (Luke 10), St. Francis, St. Philip Neri, St. John Bosco, and so many others took their faith to the public square. Jesus used them to proclaim the Gospel, speak of God’s justice and mercy, call people to repentance, pray with others, heal the sick, find freedom in Christ, discover our true identity as sons and daughters, and to share the joy of the Lord. Our street evangelists use different methods in different areas of the country and different cultures, while applying the same basic principles to convert the world to Jesus Christ. (Learn more about conversational evangelization basics.)
- Prayer & Healing Ministry – When the disciples gathered in Jerusalem after Peter & John had been brought before the council, they prayed together for the same boldness that Peter and John had to preach God’s word. Specifically, they prayed that God would heal others through them. God’s healing power is recorded throughout all of Scripture and witnessed to in the Church the last 2,000 years. Our evangelists will offer to pray with people for healing in their body, soul, and mind when they evangelize.
- Street Confessions – As part of our street ministry, we often bring bishops and priests with us to evangelize. We have special resources and signs our evangelists will bring with them and the priest or bishop will offer a “street confessional”. The priest can listen to people, offer a blessing, hear a Confession, or pray with those who stop by. Evangelists will minister to people who stop as well, sometimes teaching Catholics how to make a confession when it has been a while, or simply offering to listen and befriend those who want to talk.
- Random Circumstances & Everyday Life – Our street evangelists find that the more practice they have on the street, the easier it is to speak the name of Jesus in everyday life. From restaurants, airplanes, workplaces, and schools, and with family and friends, it becomes easier to speak about Jesus when you keep his Name always on your lips. Street ministry is great practice for our evangelists to share their faith in everyday life.
Direct evangelization should always lead to relational evangelization. There is a common misunderstanding that street evangelization is the same as “Bible thumping” or “proselytizing”. Street evangelization is not about yelling at people through a bullhorn, lecturing, or telling anyone that they are going to hell. Rather, it is about offering a listening ear, sharing in a conversation about Jesus Christ, calling people to repentance, and praying for those that want it. By taking our Catholic faith to the streets we aim to be available and make the message of Jesus Christ accessible to everyone. We love to hear “I made a new friend today!” and “God put you here for me to speak to today!” when we evangelize. Well-done direct evangelization leads to building trust, rousing curiosity, and opening doors to people experiencing lasting relationships with Christian disciples.
When God helps us establish a new friendship in direct evangelization, we don’t abandon our new friend, but instead continue to walk with them and help them become disciples through relational evangelization. We invest in people and befriend them not for what we can get out of the relationship, but because God loved them first. We develop what Aristotle would call a “virtuous friendship,” and introduce them to Jesus Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa noted that we cannot put the obligations of the Gospel ahead of the discovery of Jesus. The discovery of Jesus opens the highway of the heart to everything else.
Some methods we use for relational evangelization:
- Person to person ministry – Our evangelists will befriend and walk with people they meet and share the Gospel with. Opening your own home and heart is the most effective way to evangelize and disciple someone. We were made for communion with each other and God. How can we forego these basic friendships, if we’re trying to build the Christian community?
- Seeker Small Groups – Our seeker small group process involves inviting people to meet at a place like a parish, home, or even restaurant once a week and talk about the Sacred Scriptures and the “big questions of life”, slowly discovering that Jesus Christ wants to free us and heal us from our sin and brokenness.
- St. Paul Bible Studies – Bible studies are another avenue to get people together and talk about what it means to believe in God, love God, and become a disciple of Jesus. (coming soon)
Whether we are giving away a hot chocolate and Rosary on a cold day in the park, or offering to pray for a waitress with a broken arm, or evangelizing our own family members, we are each called to share our faith. “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it … Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1816).
The St. Paul Evangelization Institute provides the tools and resources you need to be an effective evangelist.