On Feb, 5 2022
There’s a lot of talk in the Church today about Evangelization. In fact, it has become kind of a “buzzword” in Christian circles, always being added to the titles of new outreach initiatives or retreats. And while this is great, it’s important to remember that not everyone knows what evangelization means, much less how to live it out. Even if we do understand the term, it’s a good idea to dive deeper into the meaning of evangelism, so we are able to practice it, communicate it to our students and become a force for change on the spiritual battleground that is the college campus.
Where does the word come from?
The word evangelize comes from the Latin word evangelizare which means “to spread or preach the Gospel” with the Greek root euangelizesthai or “bring good news”.
In scripture, references are made to Mary as the first evangelist when she visits Elizabeth and proclaims her Magnificat. John the Baptist is another of the first evangelists as he proclaims the need to repent and the coming of the Kingdom.
We can learn a lot about what it truly means to engage in the work of evangelization by studying the Bible. The first scripture reference about being sent out to proclaim the gospel is found in Luke 10: 1-42:
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, Peace be to this house!’”
And again at the Lord’s Ascension, the disciples are given what is referred to as the Great Commission:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 19-20
Evangelization in the Catholic Church
As we read about the early Church in the book of Acts and consider the growth of the Church in future centuries, it’s clear that the Great Commission – which is the command to evangelize – took hold and brought millions more into Christianity.
As the Church evolved with the creation of religious orders, men and women called to the religious life were sent as missionaries all over the world to people never exposed to Christianity. For example, in Mexico alone, Spanish missionaries established the Church throughout the Americas and are responsible for an indelible imprint of faith even to this day. French missionaries and others evangelized Native Americans prior to the founding of the United States and left signs of Christianity that brought thousands to Christ.
Many famous saints were some of these missionaries, and their work of evangelization made a lasting impact on the Church that still bears fruit today:
St. Patrick – Known as the Fifth Century Apostle of Ireland, Patrick’s Christian witness had an expansive, lasting impact on the culture. St. Patrick is known for using the image of the shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, making a great mystery of God accessible to all people.
St. Francis of Assisi – Francis of Assisi lived the Gospel by identifying himself with the poor and by embracing people considered outcasts and enemies. His evangelization efforts revitalized a Church that had "fallen into ruin", and his influence today goes beyond the order he founded and even the Catholic Church.
St. Ignatius of Loyola – Founder of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, Ignatius was a former soldier from Spain. He founded the Jesuits in 1540 as an effort to counter the effects of the Protestant Reformation by the promotion and defense of the teachings and authority of the Church across Europe. Ignatius also developed his Spiritual Exercises, a model of prayer still used today.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta – Both a nun and missionary, Mother Teresa devoted her life to caring for the sick and poor. Following the call of God, she got permission from her order to work in the slums of Calcutta, where she served the city’s poorest and sickest people. Mother Teresa also opened many charities all over the world to care for the sick, and her witness has continued to impact our culture to this day. (from USCCB, click to read full article)
Unfortunately, as the Church has evolved over the years, the evangelistic component has lessened. Some argue that the Church is passive in its continued expression of the Great Commission and is something that needs to be reignited. If someone knocks at your door to talk about God, or you hear a preacher from a street corner, the likelihood of that individual being Catholic is very low. Over time, the act of introducing Christ to nonbelievers or individuals not practicing their faith has become the work of many protestant denominations. Other non-Christian denominations are also known for their intentional and well-known evangelistic efforts i.e., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Despite the lack of many evangelistic practices in the Catholic Church, the Great Commission remains as a continuing commandment of Christ with the responsibility to make disciples of all nations. While most of us will never be called to travel abroad for such a Commission, the call to evangelize is no less, especially on a college campus.
Do you have an Evangelistic Emphasis in Ministry?
Here's a brief inventory to determine if your ministry includes an evangelistic component that reaches out to the 70-percent* of nonpracticing Catholics, and others, about Jesus and his invitation to follow him:
- Is your ministry program built around segments of your student population and their current connection to the faith?
- Does your outreach on campus include particular attention to nonpracticing Catholics and others?
- When considering the word “evangelism”, does it resonate with your ministry program?
- In a typical ministry event, do you include an evangelistic component whereby some individuals reach out to new students intentionally to draw them into your ministry?
If you answered yes to two or more of the inventory questions, it is likely that you have included an evangelistic component to your ministry. If your answers are mostly no, that’s okay! There are many simple ways to learn about creating an evangelistic culture on your campus that could be game changers for your ministry.
*Before going further, let’s quickly explain what we mean by the 70 percent. In a typical college environment, a small percentage (10 to 20 percent) of the student population self directs to campus ministry. Most others require some type of outreach, invitation, event, etc. to attend - among these are the 70 percent. Sometimes some of these “70 percenters” show up to an activity and/or mass, confession, adoration, retreat or Newman night. However, because their commitment is weak unless they make an important connection, there is a good chance they won’t return.
Here’s another brief inventory of your current campus ministry program that can help reveal where you spend most of your energy and resources.
Considering your current student campus population, what percentage of time and resources are spent on the following:
- Connected but not involved in an ongoing ministry program
- Connected and involved in a ministry program
- Connected and in leadership and/or service
- Not connected and not involved in campus ministry
On a national level, the most common division of time and resources spent on campus ministry is dedicated to connected students involved in a ministry and connected students in leadership and/or service. Few dollars and little time are spent on reaching out to nonparticipating students on campus. From the perspective of the Newman Ministry Model*, that means that the “Connect” component of ministry gets a lot less attention.
When the pandemic hit we were all challenged to be innovative in our approach to evangelization. Things like offering zoom services and virtual bible studies became commonplace. As we move into a post-pandemic world we should consider how much of these new tactics can and should be carried into the future.
Sending them out Two by Two
Even the disciples were sent out in pairs of twos (Mark 6:27), and this format is a great way to start getting your students comfortable with the work of evangelization. If you decide to send out evangelistic disciples to your campus, here are a few important things to remember:
- Provide some training and preparation for conversation, that includes the four spiritual truths. The truths are best blended into a conversation that may begin like this…
“Hello, I am Robert, and this is Lisa. We are from the St. James Catholic Newman Center here on campus. We are talking to students today about our faith. Are you aware of the love of Jesus for you and His invitation to follow Him?”
How students respond to this introduction varies, so missionaries need to be prepared for multiple responses and how to proceed.
Four Spiritual Truths:
- God loves you and has a plan for your life
- Humanity is sinful and therefore separated from God
- Jesus Christ is the means of healing this separation
- Place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior
- These truths are the essentials of the Christian life and can be shared with anyone approached on campus. If a positive conversation happens, it’s always a good idea to ask a student if they want to pray with the missionaries to accept these four spiritual truths.
- Send your missionaries out prior to an event(s) where new students can attend.
- Equip them with a Holy Card and other easy-to-carry materials that have mass times, adoration times, confession times and any other ministry activity (remember to include all virtual links associated with the campus ministry).
- Be prepared to note a phone number or other contact information for further contact efforts.
Creating a Culture of Evangelization:
Going out two by two is a good idea, made even better in a campus ministry that incorporates many aspects of evangelism into its culture. The key to an evangelistic culture includes some of the following:
- Develop a student-based discipleship effort whereby students understand the importance of bringing other students to Christ.
- Work with all student leaders and others who buy into the campus ministry to keep an eye out for new students attending an event for the first time. Make a sincere effort to connect with the new students and welcome them.
- Consider the Newman Ministry Connect, Unite and Grow Model*. Learn how the Connect Mode is key to planning activities and capitalizing on events with an evangelistic mindset.
- Use the naturally occurring events like mass, confession, and adoration to evangelize. All of these are natural spiritual magnets that draw individuals to grace. A personal connection to a student leader or your chaplain may be all you need to draw a student further into the faith.
The work of evangelization is a big undertaking and can feel overwhelming at times. Of all the practices and tips we can learn about evangelism, it is most important to remember that it’s the Holy Spirit working within us who does the work. Just like with the disciples, He gives us the grace to overcome our fear and boldly share the love of God with the people who need it most. Pope Francis summed this up beautifully in an address on evangelization:
“It is He Who gives us the strength to undertake the missionary path and the joy of proclamation... This takes the courage to go forth to ‘reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel’. We cannot be held back by our weaknesses or our sins, nor by the many obstacles to the witness and proclamation of the Gospel.”
(Address with the Pontifical Mission Societies, May 9, 2014)
St. Therese of Lisieux, who is known as the patron saint of missionaries, knew prior to her death that she would be spending her heaven ensuring that many more would be brought to Christ. She has been known to be a powerful intercessor for young adults, especially for the missionary aspect of campus ministry. Don't be afraid to ask for her prayers as you take on the work of evangelization!
And above all, remember that it isn't about doing the exact right thing or getting a certain number of people to an event; the purpose of evangelization is simply about introducing people to the love of God and capturing more souls for Christ.
Here is a prayer to St. Therese! 🌹 Consider printing it out to pray before campus ministry meetings or the next outreach event on campus:
O Glorious St. Therese,
Whom Almighty God has raised up to aid
And inspire the human family.
I implore your miraculous intercession.
You are so powerful in obtaining every need
of body and spirit from the Heart of God.
Holy Mother Church proclaims you “Prodigy of Miracles…
The greatest saint of modern times”.
Now I fervently beseech you to answer my petition
to make of our campus ministry a vibrant evangelistic culture
and to carry out your promises of
Spending heaven doing good on earth…
Of letting fall from Heaven a Shower of Roses.
Little Flower, give me your childlike faith,
to see the Face of God
In the people and experiences of my life,
and to love God with full confidence.
St. Therese, my Carmelite Sister,
I will fulfill your plea “to be made known everywhere”
and I will continue to lead others to Jesus through you.
In Jesus’ Name,