Why not? Why shouldn’t I aim high? And really, is it that high? Is it really so unrealistic to ask every member of my congregation to shepherd one soul back to the sacraments and the practice of the faith in the next year? Is that so impossible, for each one to reach one, and work with them for a year and to invite them to come and learn more of the faith?
Well, I’m going to try. As a parish we have been engaged in a door-to-door evangelization campaign and that’s been going quite well, actually. Over 1500 homes have been visited and our Sunday numbers are up by 50.
But I am also aware that friendship and family are a more fruitful vein than the “cold-contact” approach of door to door. We’re going to keep doing that because we need to obey Christ who sends us out two by two. But every congregant knows at least five members from among their family or friends who need to come to God’s house either because they have drifted, or because they have never had a Church home at all. It’s time to go to work and shepherd them back.
And this isn’t going to be a one-time ask, a la “Come to Christmas Mass with me.”
What I am am asking is a year-long effort that would include some of the following:
- Introduce – On our Parish feast day in couple of weeks I am going to ask every member of the congregation to prepare to commit to the Lord that they will shepherd one soul back to mass.
- Pray and discern - Between September 18th and the Feast of Christ the King, we are to pray and ask the Lord who that person might be. It may not be the obvious one, such as a spouse or a child. Then again it may be. But pray and ask the Lord for guidance: “Who Lord? Who? Speak to my heart Lord, show me who. Who is it that I reasonably know and will be able to gently shepherd?”
- Commit – On the feast of Christ the King we will be asked to commit to shepherd the soul to the Lord by spending the next year praying, some fasting and abstaining too, befriending, drawing closer and meeting with that person. They will be ask to place the name of this person on a card. The cards will be collected and placed near the altar, Masses will be offered each week for these souls.
- Reflect on personal testimony – During Advent each congregant who has agreed will be asked to write a letter of testimony and thanksgiving to the Lord thanking him for the gift of the faith, the Church and Sacraments and to say something of why they are glad to be a Catholic and how the Lord has blessed them in their practice of the faith. These letters will be presented as a gift of thanksgiving to God at Christmas time. Writing these letters will also help the faithful to hone their own testimony which they can later share with the soul they are shepherding.
- On-going Parish formation – During the period after Christmas and through Lent, directed Bible Studies and seminars will also be conducted in the parish that will guide people on how to lovingly converse with the person they are leading back. There are many “meeting stories” in the Bible (e.g. Jesus with the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Peter and Andrew and so forth). These passages and other resources will be given the parishioners to help them engage in a kind of friendship evangelization. The first step in friendship evangelization is friendship. And these studies will help equip parishioners to draw close to the person they are praying to lead back in a way that is not manipulative or secret, but which is also not filled with pressures.
- Relate and befriend – Over the period of the year, make it a habit to contact and speak with the person. Talk with them, listen to their stories and ideas. Find out where they hurt and where they find joy. Find out how they drifted from Church or why they have never gone in the first place. Perhaps they have felt hurt or betrayed by the Church, perhaps they are not used to considering the real meaning of their life and have never taken time to consider that this life will end. There is a real power in listening to people in a respectful and loving way. In this stage we also tell our own stories and how the Lord has blessed us and what the Church, the sacraments, the Word of God and fellowship have done for us.
- Invite – Without lots of pressure, begin to invite them to Church functions. They may not be ready to sit in a pew on Sunday for worship. But we will have concerts, Bible studies, dinners, movie nights, the blessing of the animals.
- Pray and fast – Continue to pray, as will the parish. Consider some fasting, and abstinence, or take up a spiritual practice such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, devotional reading etc. and offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord for the return to the faith the person you are shepherding.
- Invite – As the relationship deepens, let the Lord help you to know when and how it is best to explicitly ask this person to either resume the regular practice of their faith or to begin to come regularly on Sunday’s with you. A good time to aim for this is early October when RICA and Adult education classes resume.
- Assess – As the year draws to a close on the Feast of Christ the King 2012, we will see if our numbers have doubled.
There is an acronym that is applied to projects that are undertaken: S.M.A.R.T. And I think this on meets the Criteria:
- Specific – Each one reach one
- Measurable – Double the size of Sunday attendance
- Achievable – It is quite possible for every congregant to take up this challenge and, over a year meet many if not all the milestones.
- Realistic – to Double our Sunday Attendance is challenging but not unrealistic if everyone does their part and we remember that the Lord has our back.
- Time Based – 1 year, with specific milestones on the way.
It is a true fact that simply increasing numbers is not the only, or even most important goal. But rather, that we should authentically evangelize and draw souls to Christ, to his Sacraments, his Word and the fellowship of the Church. At the heart of evangelization is relationship: meeting Christ in others, allowing them to meet Him in us. This is what Christ did, he went out and met others and summoned them to the Kingdom by stages and through relationships. He tells us to do them: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And Lo I am with you always, until the end of the world. (Matt 28:19)
Am I crazy? Perhaps, but at least call me a fool for Christ. I am going to aim high, that we double our Sunday numbers. Not just for the number’s sake, but for what they represent, souls coming back to God’s house, to be nourished at the altar of the Word and Eucharist, to be more deeply immersed in Christ.
How about you? Will you be crazy too? Are you willing to join me in being a fool for Christ? Let’s get started, there is a work to do.
Photo Credit: A Painting by the artist Atanur Dogan
Here’s a nice video that celebrates the Catholic Faith and can help us get our testimony together. The second half of the video contains a wonderful litany of gifts that are present in the Catholic Church.