I was responsible for running a table for our apostolate after Mass at a parish in Lansing, Mich. One of the parishioners walked up to me and told me that he had driven by a car accident and was one of the first people on the scene.
He spoke to the man involved in the accident and offered to pray with him while they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. They prayed together and exchanged information. A week later, the young man called him and confided in him that he was a lapsed Catholic and wanted to know how he could come back to the Church. He told me that if it was not for our training he would never have had the courage to offer to pray with him.
As Catholics, we know we are supposed to share our faith in Jesus. There are a lot of “professional evangelizer” Catholics telling us how to evangelize. They want us to share the story of Jesus, tell people our testimonies — to be real, share interesting stories and avoid proselytizing, arguing, and so on.
The response I hear from Catholics is usually something like “Well … great, I guess. But how do I do that? I am a high-school science teacher. I don’t know what that kind of evangelization looks like. My mom used to be Catholic, but I can’t really talk to her about those things. It would be awkward. If I tried to tell my family the story of salvation when they came over, they would look at me like I grew an extra head. They just aren’t going to listen to CDs or read books about Catholicism — they don’t care. To tell the truth, I’m not even really sure where I am with Jesus right now.” I think many Catholics are in the same boat.
That is where “street evangelization,” in the time-honored tradition of Frank Sheed and the Catholic Evidence Guild, comes in. These apostolates are made up of ordinary Catholics who have a passion for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and his Church. And what better time than Advent to evangelize, a time when people tend to draw closer to their faith?
In conversations with some of these modern-day evangelists, I have put together their collective wisdom and experience in a series of points below. These reflect the fruit of their efforts. These ordinary Catholics are forming street-evangelization teams all over the world and are helping thousands of people encounter Christ, bringing people back to the Church and helping people become Catholic. They even are experiencing miracles, and that is extraordinary. Through the promises of the New Testament and the power of the Holy Spirit, they are saying, “Okay, sure, I can do that. I’ll evangelize.”
They are disciples. Many of our new evangelists found that they were going to Mass out of habit but were not experiencing any kind of advancement in the spiritual life. They knew of Christ, but were not experiencing a transformative relationship with him. Their knowledge of Christ never made it to their hearts. If we want to share our faith, we need to be disciples. You can’t give what you don’t have. Ed Graveline of our Las Vegas teamed shared, “When you go to confession, go to Mass and receive the holy Eucharist; then go out and evangelize. The Holy Spirit takes over. He brings people to you. He opens their hearts.” Ed’s team has brought hundreds of people back to the faith.
They realize they need practice. Our evangelists realize that there are two great ways to practice and prepare to evangelize. The first is through St. Paul Street Evangelization training workshops. The second is to just go out and evangelize with people who have done it before. There is no one-size-fits-all way to share the initial proclamation of Jesus, because the people they meet on the streets all have different journeys towards God. (See Evangelii Gaudium, 121.) Our evangelists have found that, by practicing street evangelization, it has made them better evangelists in everyday life.
They realize that passion and enthusiasm for sharing the faith come with practice. Our passion for evangelization grows as we practice sharing our faith. It’s okay to be nervous when you think about sharing your faith. One of my street-team members used the words “abject terror” to describe how she felt before the first time she went out to evangelize. The good news is that most of our evangelists have found that, once they get out there and start sharing the faith, the fear melts away, and they become enthusiastic about sharing their faith. Evangelization becomes natural. They watch in awe as the Holy Spirit uses them as instruments to reach others.
They build bridges of trust. St. Paul Street Evangelization, with which I am affiliated, is essentially about building a bridge of trust between the world and the Church by forming relationships. Our evangelists have learned that they have to listen first. Everyone we meet is in a different place. Some people do not want to talk. Others scoff. Others are deeply wounded and desperately need to talk to someone. Most often, people thank us for our presence.
They pray with others. When we started our endeavor, we thought street evangelization would be about apologetics and debate. Our evangelists have discovered that about 1 in 100 conversations are about apologetics. They have encountered a world that is broken because it has turned its back on God. People are waiting for an invitation to be prayed for. Praying with others on the street makes it easier to offer to pray with people we know and see every day. It’s not so difficult to say, “I’ll pray for you,” but it is hard to ask, “Can we pray right now for that intention?” Effective evangelists get out of their comfort zones and pray with others.
They share their story and the story of Jesus. Our evangelists practice sharing the story of what their lives were like before Christ, how Christ broke into their lives and what their lives are like as disciples. If people are going to trust you, they need to know you. Those conversion stories help others know that they can approach Christ, too. It gives them a model to follow.
They know that attitude matters. Pope Francis wrote, “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction” (Evangelii Gaudium, 15). Our evangelists have found that being present to the world and sharing the faith in joy makes all the difference.
They give away rosaries and Miraculous Medals. People need something in their hands to walk away with. This could be a book or CD, but it is much more effective to give away rosaries and Miraculous Medals. It isn’t something they have to read or digest; instead, it is a simple, fascinating, tangible reminder of Jesus’ love for them and a tool for them to use to help them to pray. Our Lady leads people to Jesus.
Our evangelists give out tens of thousands of rosaries and holy medals and share the stories of each of them. Everyone loves a good story! Stories open up doors to curiosity. They are invitations to trust in Christ and follow him.
They remember the people they meet. Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is the sweetest sound.” Our street evangelists show they genuinely care about the people they meet by remembering them. They usually evangelize in the same places, so they see the same people over and over again and use the opportunity to build relationships.
Evangelists spend time with Christ. Effective evangelists are attentive to the contemplative life. They go to Mass daily when possible, make frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration. They start every street-evangelization event with prayer.
You can do this. And we have to do this!
Catholics are out there every day changing lives and saving lives. We will help you get started.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “The Church, as a mystery of communion, is thus entirely missionary, and everyone, according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ” (Verbum Domini, 94).
Adam Janke is the program director of
in Royal Oak, Michigan
which has more than 150
teams around the world.