Here are twenty suggestions for effective evangelism and faith sharing by Catholics. The feedback on this post has been generally favorable from across the spectrum of Catholic thought.
1) Pray: There is no more effective means of spreading the faith.
2) Be a joyful, generous and forgiving person: Next to prayer, this is the most effective thing you can do. And if you are not a joyful, generous and forgiving person, you actually will turn people away from Christianity. Look for opportunities to exercise mercy and kindness.
3) Have a personal story to tell: Think of Paint Paul, Saint Francis of Assisi, and even the life of Christ himself. We are drawn to the Gospel more by conversion stories and examples than by intellectual arguments. Think of people you know who have given up drinking, or been touched by grace in special ways. Being able to tell a story of conversion or growth in holiness is more effective than intellectual arguments. Just about everyone who knows me personally knows of my seminary experience. What is your story?
4) Be an engaged citizen: Faith impacts the family, the neighborhood, business, politics, and culture. If you are someone who is bringing a faith perspective to these areas, it gives a positive witness. You don't need to be controlling of these entitites. Rather, you give a witness by simply voicing Gospel values in a positive and rational way. Asking questions is often more effective than proposing solutions. Instead of going into the executive boardroom and saying, "We can't do this business because it goes against my Church's teaching." Try saying, "Have we considered the ethical ramifications of doing this type of business, when we have historically earned such a positive reputation in the market?"
5) Listen to non-believers: How do you expect anyone to listen to you if you don't extend the same courtesy. Be humble enough to listen and learn from others. Seek common ground. Maybe a time will come for prophetic critique with a person, but do it with gentleness and respect based on a history of mutual dialogue built up by listening. Building this relationship over time is more important than winning a single religious argument.
6) Admit when you don't know an answer: It is probably inevitable that someone will ask you a question about your Catholic faith, and you will not know what the Church teaches on the issue, nor have you thought about the issue yourself. It is dishonest to act as though you know the answer when you don't, and you may even tell someone something that you later find out is wrong. At the other extreme, some people avoid religious discussion because they know they don't know everything. Both extremes are not good witness. When someone asks a question about your faith and you do not know the answer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, "That's a great question, and I haven't really thought about it. Nor do I know what the Church teaches, but I'll look it up." The key is to look it up and get back to the person.
7) Know where to go when you don't have the answer: The Catechism and the Bible are great resources (even for liberals). The CCC has footnotes to all Scriptural references, as well as to the Councils or papal teachings that inform each doctrine. Furthermore, there is probably an entire book written on just about 90 percent of the questions one would encounter in daily life, from where things are in the Bible to how to answer the common questions of an atheist. You don't have to read every book at once, but learn where to find some of these resources when you need them. I have some links on my homepage if you find it helpful.
8) Admit when you have the exact same question as the non-believer: Many Catholics have a hard time with this one. It's something I do on this blog, and some Catholics believe it causes scandal. I feel the opposite. None of us is perfect, and other than Jesus and Mary, we all are groping toward truth, rather than possessing all truth. There's not a single Catholic who ever lived who did not grow in faith and grow in their understanding of faith. Furthermore, the Church as a whole is in a constant process of renewal and reform. There is nothing wrong with saying you have some questions about your faith. Indeed, this can help the seeker see that it's OK to have questions, and they don't need to have it all together before they embrace Christ and the sacraments, or join the Church.
9) Have a sense of humor: Saint Teresa of Avila had a sense of humor, and I see humor in some of Jesus' debates with the Pharisees and scribes. People are attracted to humor, and as long as humor is not mean spirited or promoting sin, it can draw people to faith.
10) It's ok to give silent witness sometimes: Hang a Rosary in your car. Place a Bible among your reference books at work. Wear a crucifix around your neck. You don't need to say a thing, and if you are doing numbers 1, 2 and 8, these things will speak for themselves.
11) Door-to-door evangelism is Biblical: Catholics do not do this as much as other denominations, but there has always been some corner of the globe where Catholics are actually standing on a street corners or going door-to-door evangelizing. Lately, the French have revitalized this process. If you want to start something like this, it would be a good idea to document a script and process and run it by your pastor before implementing it. If your pastor is not enthusiastic, consider going to your Bishop to seek support. Accept criticism of your plan from your pastors. Even Paul cleared his preaching with Peter, James and John before going to the Gentiles. Involve others. Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two. The goal of such an exercise is not so much to bring in massive converts as to do two things: 1) meet other people made in the image of God, and 2) heighten awareness of the faith in the society. This strategy is best where Catholics are a minority.
12) Make use of media: Start a blog. Have some tracts around the house to hand to door-to-door evangelists from other denominations when they stop by. Leave a holy card on a restaurant table. Publish an article or a book of your own, or start a radio station or support Catholic television. Create Catholic art.
13) Support Catholic Charities: Give of your time, talent, and treasure, especially performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Bible suggests ten percent of your income, and I think this is what we should all aim to give. I tend to split my tithes between the local parish and to Catholic Charities and a few Catholic peace and justice groups. Just as important as giving a financial donation, I'd say it may be more fruitful to get involved by giving some of your time and talent to a Catholic charity.
14) Give occasional donations to missionary societies: I usually give to organizations where I see direct social service results. This is fine and good. But occasionally, we should also give to groups that publish Bibles or run foreign missions. This is actually a precept of the Church.
15) Support Catholic schools: Send your children to Catholic schools or PSR, and support Catholic academic institutions. Studies confirm that Catholic grade schools and high schools produce students more likely to volunteer than public schools, and more likely to go to college as well. Catholic colleges and universities are often among the best based on secular grounds. The important thing, however, is that sacraments are available, religion classes are required, and what you teach at home is being reinforced. Furthermore, the friendships developed in Catholic education programs develops the sense of fellowship, bonding and community that is central to the Gospel.
16) Be patient: You may plant a seed that another person will harvest.
17) Don't Assume Non-Catholics Aren't Saved: Recognize that the Church, herself, teaches that there is a hierarchy of truth, and that salvation occurs outside of the institutional boundaries of Roman Catholicism. An atheist embracing Islam is a little closer to salvation than an atheist turned off to religion by close-minded denominationalism and religious intolerance. If we had a God's eye view of things, we would see that there are people united to the Church who do not call themselves Catholics. We would also see that from God's perspective, there are some Catholics going to hell. It is not our goal to make the whole world Catholic. Rather, our goal is to facilitate salvation for ourselves and others.
18) Live a Sacramental Life: This really goes with number (1) prayer. However, it is important to emphasize that Catholic prayer reaches its fullest communal expression in the sacraments. The sacraments are encounters with the risen Lord and unite us with one another. Participation in a deep sacramental life is both personal prayer and public witness.
19) Avoid Sin: This sort of goes with point number (2) to be a generous person. Yet, sometimes the kindest people also give a bad witness by participating in evil habits. None of us is perfect, but we need to seek God's grace to overcome our worst habits. Do whatever it takes to break addictions to spouse or family abuse, violence, pornography, drug addictions, theft, racism and sexism, or other gross violations of the golden rule and the Gospel. If you do not immediately succeed, do not hide your sin. Instead, confess your sin sacramentally, ask forgiveness from those you hurt, pray for grace, and ask for help from those who want you to succeed - such as counselors, priests, teachers, doctors, supportive family members, or twelve step groups.
20) Emphasize the Good News of the Gospel: Do not focusing exclusively on warning others how to avoid hell. I don't know anyone who embraced Christianity because of a threat of hell in the next life. Rather, focus on the joy in the here and now of living the Gospel, and the bliss promised in heaven. When pointing to negative consequences of sin, focus as much on the here and now negative repercussions of sin as you do on the threat of eternal hell.
21) Avoid the irrational: Much of religious truth is mystery that goes beyond comprehension. Yet, Roman Catholicism teaches that faith and reason can never be in conflict. Some people mistakenly believe that what makes a proposition a religious truth is that the proposition is irrational (self contradictory, completely meaningless, or completely without evidence). The Roman Catholic faith is opposed to this, and if you find yourself advocating things that are irrational, no matter how strongly you feel you are right, you are probably wrong.
22) Avoid excessive rationalism: Some things go beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend, such as infinity, love, beauty, and truth. These are concepts that everyone apprehends, but nobody fully comprehends. Religious truth, while never irrational, is sometimes non-rational. The mysteries of faith can be apprehended, but not fully comprehended. If you are explaining something like the mystery of God to someone and make it sound like you fully comprehend everything there is to know about God, you are probably committing idolatry and speaking of a false God. Catholicism must be open to mystery, or it is not Catholicism.
22) Invite someone to Mass sometime in your life-time: This is probably the best single way to bring someone into the Catholic faith from the outside. All it takes is a simple invitation. Weddings, funerals and baptisms are great opportunities.
23) Always be ready to discuss your faith: This is such simple advise, and so few people think of it. Being ready to discuss your faith doesn't mean that you steer every conversation toward religion. It simply means that you are active and engaged enough in your own spiritual development that you do not fear the topic. My own experience is that some sort of spiritual or theological discussion comes up in my life at least once a week - even before I ever blogged. It isn't that I go around pushing a religious agenda. People usually ask me a question or somehow initiate the discussion themselves. It is simply a matter of being open to the discussion when it arises. I have noticed that some Catholics change the subject - often with a joke intended to change the subject. Don't be like that. You miss opportunities for personal growth and evangelization by doing this.
24) Be all things to all people: This was Saint Paul's advice, and by it, I believe he meant that we should just be normal human beings and not try to be weirdo religious fanatics. This may seem contrary to the point about door-to-door evangelization, which strikes many as fanatical. But excluding this tactic, the rest of the advice presented so far would not place you in the complete weirdo category. Go out for a beer on occasion. Go to a ball game. Read a good novel. Enjoy the arts. Study science. Form some healthy habits like exercise. Use some "common sense" and while doing your subtle part to further the Gospel, avoid anything too showy.
25) Pray: Did I mention this is the most important thing you can do?
Peace and Blessings!
Readers may contact me at email@example.com
posted by Jcecil3 5:45 AM