An Introvert’s Guide to Evangelization
Meaningful friendships bring others to Christ.
About 25 years ago, I started to discover the faith of my childhood. I read dozens and dozens of books on apologetics, Church history and Church teaching on a wide variety of challenging subjects. Naturally, I assumed that I was now ready to go out and change the hearts and minds of everyone to whom I relayed this wonderful information! Funny thing, though — evangelization doesn’t work that way. Who knew? Turns out, most of the Christians of the early Church knew this and they were wildly successful with leading others to Christ, even amid the most brutal of circumstances.
I recently attended a weekend retreat where Church historian Mike Aquilina gave a series of talks. All of the talks were fantastic, but one of those centered on friendship — the vehicle through which most conversions took place during those first three centuries, and still take place today. During the course of that presentation, Aquilina referenced the work of sociologist Rodney Stark (particularly in The Rise of Christianity), who used a rational, data-driven means of calculating the growth of Christianity up through the year 350. Incredibly, the ranks of Christians grew by 40% per decade for those first 300 years! (And contrary to popular belief, the rate likely did not spike after Emperor Constantine gave his official endorsement, but rather continued for the next several decades before leveling off a bit in the mid-fourth century.)
While that rate of growth would seem to be attributable only to miracles or mass conversions, the explanation is probably much more mundane — and compelling. The work of Stark (and others he cites) show that throughout history, people convert to a belief system they have a meaningful relationship with someone who is already an adherent. While some may feel called to stand on street corners and preach the Gospel, or to knock on doors of strangers to tell them about Jesus, conversions rarely happen like this. Instead, those early Christians made friends with others — regardless of social class — and then through those friendships their friends became Christians.
Strong family relationships had a similar effect. This same principle holds true today. This is how Mormonism spreads — through networks of family and friends. All those missionaries riding their bikes knocking on doors of strangers lead to a conversion rate of only about 1 per 1,000. But when a family member or close friend is also a Mormon, the rate approaches 50%. The same dynamic holds true for others from Moonies to Scientologists to Wiccans, and as different as these ideologies are from Catholicism, there’s a wonderful lesson here that we can all make use of — meaningful friendships bring others to Christ.
So as we lament the recent spike in people claiming to be “nones” or atheists or agnostics, it makes sense that as most turn more to technology and superficial “friends” on social media, the impact we have as Christians plummets (along with our mental health). If you’re an introvert like me, the temptation is to embrace this social isolation. It is more comfortable, after all! But I’m realizing lately that this isn’t what we’re supposed to do — we all have to preach the Gospel. While that may sound like a daunting task, the truth is that it’s all about investing time — face-to-face time — in developing deep, meaningful friendships and relationships with our family members. Not only are we doing ourselves a favor when we spend our time on such endeavors, we give others a chance to see and experience the reason for our joy.
You don’t need precise and brilliant explanations of the Catechism. You don’t need earth-shattering charisma. All you need is to show others they matter to you. And you do that by making time for them on a regular basis and loving them. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, commit to regular time building those friendships. (But don’t forget your family!)
Ask them to tell their story. Ask them what interests them and why. Ask them what’s important to them. Then listen and just be a friend. The focus doesn’t have to be on a huge number of people. Just a handful will create a ripple effect beyond what we could imagine.
So let’s take a tip from those early Christians. Rediscover friendship. If enough of us make a habit of this, we just may see that elusive re-Christianization of the world take place after all!