by Deacon Keith Strohm | Sep 18, 2018 | Uncategorized
It’s finally time to launch your parish’s evangelization program!
After what seems like endless months of planning, modifying, communicating, and prepping, launch time is here. You’ve read all the right books and been to all the right conferences, and you worked hard at picking the best possible program. The name tags are made, the pencils sharpened, and the small groups assigned. Now, all you have to do is keep the momentum going and parish transformation will blossom like flowers in springtime.
If you are like so many other parishes, your program may launch to great success and then seemingly disappear without much lasting fruit, ending up assigned to the dustbin of history as another reinforcement for the “we tried that before, and it didn’t work” culture so prevalent in parochial life. The truth is that cultural change is challenging and takes far more than a spiffy new program to occur.
Here are 5 reasons why your parish’s latest evangelization program won’t bear much fruit:
Maybe your parish is exceptionally active, and you have so many things going on that your latest evangelization program is just one more activity in the Greek-Diner-sized menu of competing events. Or perhaps you are under-resourced as a parish, and it took everything that you had to just get this latest program off the ground. Either way, chances are that your new evangelization initiative is not linked in a strategic way with any other parts of your parish’s pastoral strategy. It’s an outlier, and once people go through it, you don’t have any process, program, or event that builds upon what your parishioners experienced in any formative developmental way.
In other words . . .what’s next for the alumni of your evangelization program? What path do you have for them to take the next step toward (or in) relationship with Christ? Here’s a fundamental question I ask every parish that M3 Ministries works with: What is the specific pathway that your parish has available to help those who are unchurched encounter Christ, come to a decision to follow Jesus, mature as disciples, and receive formation to share Christ with others? In order to really bear fruit, every parish must have a clear plan accompanying people on the journey toward missionary discipleship. One program–even the most amazing one–is not sufficient.
It’s a Cattle Call
Catholics have developed a remarkable ability to create institutions, programs, and processes to move large amounts of people through specific experiences–Catholic Schools, RCIA, Religious Education of children, sacramental preparation–you name it, and we can catapult thousands of people through every major hurdle and come out the other side. The problem is that we never take the time to discover where each of our people are in their own spiritual journey before we load the catapult. As a result, we offer every single person the same experience as if they were all in the same place spiritually, and we very rarely help them discern if they are in the right place developmentally for a particular program to bear sustained fruit in their life. And we wonder why our programs seem to have little lasting impact.
It is only recently, with the publication of Sherry Weddell’s landmark book, Forming Intentional Disciples, which introduced the concept of key pre-discipleship thresholds to the Catholic world, that we have a language and conceptual framework for seeing more specifically where people actually are. The work of other apostolates, like FOCUS and their Discipleship Roadmap, have expanded this understanding to the post-discipleship journey. The reality is that people in different thresholds and places on the journey require different things, and offering people something for which they are not developmentally able to receive can cause them to “go backwards” or stall in their journey toward missionary discipleship. In other words, how will baptismal prep at your parish be different for someone in the Threshold of Trust versus someone who is in Seeking?
We rarely do any followup or debriefing with those who come through our evangelization programs. Often, our parishioners have positive experiences and may even move through some thresholds, but we never walk with them after and help them unpack that experience. We either end the program abruptly when it is done, or quickly move on to the next program. When we offer experiences and programs that make an impact and then don’t nurture that change within people, we guarantee that the fire kindled within them will eventually die. It is imperative that we take the time and walk with people post-program. It is as important as providing the program itself in the first place. Personally, I like to ask men and women who complete a process or program: “How did this experience influence, change, or deepen your relationship with Jesus?” and “What can I do for you to help you grow further in this area?”
Sometimes we embrace mediocrity in the Church, believing that good content and great intentions mean that we can get by with ho-hum execution. The good news is that most evangelization programs today are high-quality and possess phenomenal multimedia resources baked into them. But I’m not just talking about video quality or handout design. Good execution means paying attention to every facet of the program experience–from ease of sign up, to meeting hospitality, environment lay out, small group facilitator discernment and formation, communication with participants, and just about anything else you can think of. In the 21st century, we are competing with countless other activities and experiences for the attention and time of people. This isn’t about making our programs more entertaining, but rather providing the best possible experience for our parishioners and guests. Why invest money, time, and resources into a program that you are just going to run on autopilot?
Evangelization programs should have as their goal the making of disciples. Running a program without explicit understanding and agreement of this reality on the part of leadership leads to less fruit. When evangelization programs are run to try and keep people engaged or get new people “involved,” they often do not bear lasting fruit. Furthermore, we know that only a disciple can make a disciple. Unfocused evangelization programs often lack the presence of disciple facilitators who understand the disciple-making process. Without disciples facilitating the program and intentionally accompanying participants, the program will not have as much of a long-term impact as it could. This intentional accompaniment includes a willingness to invite others “in the present moment” to drop their nets and follow Jesus if the situation warrants that kind of invitation.
The good news is that our evangelization programs do not have to fail. By taking these five factors in to account during the planning and execution of your parish’s program, you will help that program yield sustainable long-term impact.
by Deacon Keith Strohm | Apr 11, 2018 | Uncategorized
From time to time I will republish classic posts from previous blogs that I have owned. This post originally appeared four years ago on my Ablaze blog. I have updated it to include the latest resources available.
Coming out of a sedentary lifestyle is difficult!
Ever since the birth of my daughter and my entrance into diaconal formation, my available free time has been squeezed into twenty-minute blocks. By the time I return home each evening, I am exhausted and seek solace in a book, a movie, or blowing things up in my favorite Massively Multiplayer Online Game. But first, there is dinner that has to be made, cleaning that needs finishing, and the rare opportunity to spend some time with the love of my life. I give little thought to going for a walk, or working out.
And it’s started to show–not just in my weight, which has increased steadily, but also in my stamina, my energy level, and my blood pressure. The other day, I realized that I couldn’t keep up with my daughter, Siena, after only 5 minutes of playing around.
So, this past week, I started to do something about it. I strapped on my old running shoes and headed to the gym.
Thar She Blows!
The reality is that coming out of a sedentary lifestyle is harder than it looks. Even though I’ve been careful not to start too intensely, I essentially look and sound like a beached whale trying to roll itself back to the sea! Not only that, but I’ve discovered that I still make countless diet and activity choices that favor the sedentary, overeating lifestyle over healthier alternatives.
In fact, coming out of a sedentary lifestyle takes a great deal of discipline–a change not only in actions, but in thought processes–including how you interpret data about your body. What was once considered “bad” and to be avoided, must now be embraced. The experience of running when your “wind is blown” and your legs are tired doesn’t signal the end of the journey, but the beginning of real transformation. Entering in to that experience, rather than immediately slamming on the brakes, takes courage and trust in the process.
In short, leaving the deeply sedentary lifestyle requires a worldview shift–one that would not be possible without the support of family and friends, and without an intentional plan of attack.
Perhaps you see where I’m going with this?
Facilitating a Worldview Shift
Honestly, looking at the far side of my journey into health is daunting. Even though I once worked out regularly and ran 6-8 miles every 3 days, it seems crazy and impossible.
For most people, the spiritual journey toward Christ can feel exactly like that. Instead of shedding pounds, they have to shed the burden of a negative self-image, or an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, or shame. They may have to re-evaluate their self-worth in Christ. Even more basic, some must struggle to shift their pattern of thinking–their entire personal philosophy–to embrace the reality of a universe with a Creator. And then, they must deal with the shocking reality that this Creator actually created them for love.
While God’s grace will lead them and carry them forward–we can not just assume that people will figure things out, accept reality, and open their hearts to Christ on their own. Our current situation in the Catholic Church should be proof enough.
No, we must embrace the fact that we are called to be channels of that very grace which God pours out on others. In our willingness to walk with people through this journey, we incarnate the love of God, becoming (in a certain sense) a kind of sacrament for them. This is the very model Jesus gave us–replication! He spent three years replicating Himself in 12 men, and they spent the rest of their live replicating Jesus in those they meet.
But how do we live this out in a parish? .
Just like the transition from sedentary, overweight, and out of shape to healthy and fit takes some intentionaliy and support, helping others move through the pre-discipleship thresolds and change worldview takes a planned approach.
Missionary Disciple-friends as Coaches
One of the most efficient ways to move into wellness from a lifestyle of sloth is to find a really good trainer or dietitian–someone who has deep and experiential knowledge. The same is true of the process of discipling others. We must begin to cultivate a cadre of missionary disciple-friends–spiritual companions who can help others travel through the thresholds.
It may be that you have enough intentional disciples within your parish already to start forming a group of disciplers (even if you have disciples in your parish, many Catholics do not feel comfortable leading others to Christ), here’s how you could form them, depending upon their level of experience:
- Gather these folks into small groups and have them read and reflect together on the book Forming Intentional Disciples.
- Take part of each meeting and have participants start “breaking the silence” about Jesus and their relationship with Him. This will help get them more comfortable with talking to others about Jesus.
- Take some time to go over the kerygma, the Great Story of Salvation, with them and help them connect the kerygma with their own story. I would recommend using my book Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew to help people journey through the Great Story. Alternately, you can use a process like Alpha in a Catholic Context or Discovering Christ to help Catholics wrestle with and respond to the kerygma.
- Spend some time helping them become comfortable asking others where they are in their lived relationship with God and truly listening to the response.
- Teach them about the disciplines of living as a disciple in such a way that they can begin teaching them to others. I highly recommend using Deacon Ralph Poyo’s very short book Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Me. It is the most practical book on discipleship that I have ever read–and it has a helpful checklist so you can track your progress in each of the disciplines!
- It would be exceptionally helpful for each of the disciple-coaches to discern their own spiritual gifts. One of the best ways to do that is to have them attend a Called & Gifted Workshop. All of the spiritual gifts will be useful at some point in a person’s journey. Knowing where you are supernaturally empowered will help you step out intentionally and use those gifts where they will have the largest impact.
In the course of journeying with others, it often becomes necessary to walk with them through an area of woundedness and fear. If you are committed as a parish to the process of making disciples, it would be good to have your pastoral team ready to provide whatever pastoral care might be necessary. It would also be exceptionally fruitful to have trained healing prayer teams that include those with charisms of intercessory prayer, healing, and encouragement.
To help in this endeavor, M3 Ministries is in the process of creating the M3 Missionary Leadership Academy, designed to provide practical proven formation for the equipping of missionary leaders and offer a focused community that will support them as they seek to change the culture of their parish and make disciples. If you want to learn more about the Academy, receive inside information and early access to resources, and priority registration when we launch, just click here and sign up for the M3 Academy Waitlist.
This whole process takes time, energy, and planning. Think of it like training for a marathon–a ton of work, but the results are worth it. Instead of helping people come out of a sedentary lifestyle, we are walking with them as they come out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God!