12 Painless Ways to Evangelize
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Why not face it? Most Catholics shy away from publicly engaging in evangelization. Even those who know their faith well hesitate to discuss it with strangers, and those who don't know their faith as well as they should usually find themselves running for cover when they think they may be asked to engage in evangelization.
Not to fear. This booklet explains twelve ways you can spread the faith--at very little expense, often with complete anonymity, and even "from the comfort of your own home," as the old phrase puts it.
But first of all, what's "evangelization"? It's the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ, as it has been entrusted to the Church he established. When we evangelize, we explain the truths of the Catholic faith and invite people to consider them and to consider becoming Catholics. We offer them a welcome into the house that God built for them.
Many lay Catholics still think evangelization is a task just for priests and religious. "Let Father or Sister do it," they say. But it's really a task for every baptized Christian. Nowadays, with a decreased number of priests and religious, it's especially important that lay Catholics get involved in spreading the faith.
How to begin? Most parishes don't have effective evangelization programs, so you might be forced to fall back on your own resources.
But don't worry. In the following pages we present twelve easy (and usually cheap) ways to get the Good News out. Some of these methods are best done by several people together, so you might consider asking your friends over to your home to discuss techniques. Which method best fits your budget? Which makes best use of your time? Which makes best use of your talents? As you will see, you won't need much of a budget, you won't need much time, and you won't need to be a theological whiz.
Now roll up your sleeves, read on, and choose the techniques that are right for you. Who knows--one of them just might launch you as a full-time Catholic evangelist!
Stuff bill payment envelopes with Catholic tracts.
Everyone pays bills, and each remittance envelope is handled by someone at the other end. Opening envelopes is a tedious job. (Imagine going through a few thousand a day.) The contents of the envelopes never vary, except for the amount remitted.
Why not give the person who opens your envelope a little variety by including a tract that explains a Catholic belief? You can be sure the opener will take the tract home.
Of course, you do not need to restrict yourself to remittance envelopes. You can stuff tracts or booklets into every envelope you mail. Tracts can be obtained for as little as four cents apiece. Booklets may cost you a little more.
Either way, you can reach a hundred people for the cost of a fast-food lunch. Best of all, you won't have to pay anything extra for packaging or postage--you'll be using the envelope and stamp you would have used anyway.
Do you want responses to come to you or to your group? Purchase an inked address stamper at an office supply store, and stamp your name (or your group's name) and address onto the back of each tract or booklet. You'll get replies in no time.
Volunteer to take charge of your parish's literature rack.
Most parishes have vestibule literature racks. For the pastor they can be a source of modest income and regular headaches. You can accomplish two things if you volunteer to oversee the rack. First, your pastor or his secretary will be relieved of the burden. They won't have to worry about keeping the rack neat and filled.
Second, you can be reimbursed for the cost of the rack's literature if there's a donation box next to the rack. (If you receive more than enough to cover your costs in buying the literature, donate the excess to the parish--a great way to make yourself well-liked.)
But what should go in the rack? If you look at racks in neighboring parishes, you'll see that some literature seems neat, while other is dog-eared. Skip the latter: Tracts and booklets become dog-eared when many people pick them up, but few people take them home.
Most Catholics--and most non-Catholic visitors to Catholic churches--would like to know more about the Catholic faith, so your best bet is literature that explains Catholic beliefs in a clear, straightforward way, one topic per item. A prominent sign asking for donations should bring in enough to cover your costs.
Play a video or audio tape for door-to-door missionaries.
The last thing you should do, when missionaries ring the doorbell, is to tell them to go away. This gives them a bad impression of you and, if they know you're a Catholic, of the Church. Instead, invite them in to view or listen to a tape.
You won't have to do anything except be friendly. Whether they're Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or "Bible Christians," ask them to sit down and tell them you'll be happy to take and read their literature, but say that first you'd like them to see a videotape or listen to an audio tape.
A few missionaries will excuse themselves at this point, but most, even those who won't accept Catholic literature, will be willing to sit through a tape. When the tape is through, ask them their impressions of it. Have on hand Catholic literature, in case they want more information. Invite them back for another visit (at which you'll play another tape).
Don't get into an argument or a deep discussion. What you want to do is have them listen to the truths of the Catholic faith as spoken by experts. Those truths will settle in their minds and, over time, will affect them.
Place tracts or booklets in the pews at your parish.
For this one you'll need your pastor's permission, of course, but that shouldn't be hard to obtain if you offer to supply top-quality materials.
You'll be doing your pastor two favors: He won't have to purchase the tracts or booklets (you and your friends will do that), and he'll end up with a more educated parish--especially welcome to a pastor who is frustrated because he has to start at "square one" each time he gives a homily.
To ensure that parishioners take your literature, consider taping a little note that says "Free: Please take me home!" to the top of each one. You don't want folks to think the tracts or booklets, like the missalettes, should be left in the pews after Mass.
A general distribution of literature, especially in a large parish, can be a drain on your wallet, so you might want to team up with other parishioners.
In fact, you can go to the rectory as a group to present your plan--the pastor will be impressed that several of you are willing to dig into your own pockets to help others in the parish.
Write and answer messages on your online service.
If your home computer has a modem, subscribe to an online service. Among the commercial services are America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, and the Catholic Resource Network (CRNET information by modem: (703) 791-4336), and there are thousands of subscription-free bulletin board systems (BBSs).
Most services include public message forums in addition to private e-mail (electronic mail). A message in a public forum might be read by tens, hundreds, or thousands of people. This can be a cost-effective way to explain Catholic beliefs and to overcome common misconceptions about the Catholic faith.
Some local BBSs share messages with other BBSs around the country. This means that what you write tonight can be read tomorrow in hundreds of cities. (The Catholic Information Network [CIN information by modem: (619) 449-6030] operates this way.) Your cost: no more than a local phone call.
Online messages, unlike printed literature, allow for immediate responses. You can keep up continuing dialogues with people far away. Plus there's good news for the shy: Most systems allow you to use a "handle" instead of your real name.
Go door to door, hanging leaflets from doorknobs.
If you want to saturate your neighborhood with good Catholic literature, there's no better way than going door to door--and you never have to ring a doorbell.
Leave tracts or booklets hanging from the doorknob by means of cheap plastic bags. (Look in the Yellow Pages for manufacturers of such bags.) Or slip your literature under the doormat, or prop it against the door. But be sure you don't put your literature in anyone's mailbox. Mailboxes are for mail only, and it's a federal offense to put anything else in a mailbox.
If you feel up to face-to-face encounters, bring along other material, including tapes, for those times when you run into someone as you're leaving your tract or booklet. If you want to avoid such encounters, skip houses with open front doors or with people standing outside.
Going door to door is most enjoyable when you walk with a friend. Each of you can cover one side of the block. If one of you gets into a discussion with a resident, the other can cross the street and help guide the conversation.
Write to the editor when the press misrepresents the faith.
We all have seen anti-Catholic bias in the media. Sometimes it is a function of simple ignorance. Sometimes it is evidence of a deep-seated hostility. Either way, don't let misrepresentations about the faith go by without composing a quick answer.
Every opinion page editor wants lively letters to the editor. (He keeps his job only if he keeps this section popular.) The editor may not be a Catholic--he may not even like Catholics or their beliefs--but he'll print your letter if you write charitably, succinctly, and with verve.
The chief rule: Keep it short. An editor reserves the right to shorten long letters, but he usually doesn't want to use his time doing that. It's easier to throw long letters away. Your chances of getting your letter printed are greatest if you stay within 200 words, if you type your letter neatly, and if you include your name, address, and telephone number (so the editor can check that it was you who wrote, not someone using your name).
Many folks have their letters printed regularly. So can you. Remember: By writing just one short letter, you can influence thousands.
Place Catholic literature on windshields.
Two cautions: Don't do this on private property without getting permission from the owner. And, if you're going to place literature on windshields of cars parked along streets, check with your city about regulations. In most cities there's no problem at all, so long as the cars are on public property, including public parking lots, but some cities have restrictions. It's always good to check.
That said, this is an easy way to grab people's attention. After all, who can drive with a tract or booklet staring him in the face? Drivers have no choice but to remove your literature from their windshields. Few will toss your tract or booklet on the ground (being a litterbug is pass today), so even most of those who might not welcome the message will take your literature home, where it may sit for a day or two until it's read.
The key to getting your material read is to restrict yourself to topics that many people are interested in. Good examples: the Eucharist, the papacy, salvation. Even non-Catholics want to learn more about these.
Give away photocopies of articles from periodicals.
Again, you'll need permission for this one. Write to the publisher and explain that you want to make photocopies of a particular article and will give them away at no charge. (Most publications will refuse permission if you intend to sell the copies.) Be sure to include, on the last page of the article, the publication's name and address and the date of the issue in which the article appeared.
Passing out photocopies is a good way to distribute "I-wish-I-had-written-that" articles--you know, the kind that say just the right things in just the right words, but that probably never will appear in leaflet or booklet form.
If you take an article to a copying service, and if you order a large number of copies, prices can be less than four cents per magazine page. A hundred copies of a five-page article would run you $20--an inexpensive way to reach a hundred people.
These photocopied articles can be used as envelope stuffers, can be left in pews, or can be placed on windshields. If you want to receive responses, stamp your or your group's name and address on the last page.
Send a friend (or a stranger) a book or a tape.
Few people can resist a gift, especially one that has "perceived value," as the marketing phrase has it. Whether or not the intended recipient of your largesse likes books or tapes, he'll probably feel obliged to read or listen to whatever you give him.
Don't restrict your giving to friends. Preaching to the choir is often necessary, but you also should preach to the people in the pews and to the people who never even make it to church. Besides, there's no better way to overcome a lack of friendship than to give a gift that says, "Please accept this. I'm interested in having your opinion of it."
If you purchase a single title, whether a book or a tape, in quantity, you usually can receive a substantial discount from the supplier--anywhere from twenty to forty percent, sometimes more. If one or two friends will join you in underwriting the costs, you'll be able to give a book or tape to someone for as little as a dollar or two. This is an effective way to spread the good news about the Catholic faith.
Call radio talk shows.
Most talk shows on "Christian radio stations" are hosted by Protestants. Inevitably the Catholic Church and Catholic beliefs are discussed--but not necessarily with sensitivity or understanding. Here's where you come in.
All you have to do is call these shows--most of them advertise a toll-free number or a local number--but do a little preparation first. Since you'll have only a few moments on the air, you must know what you're going to say and how you'll say it. Before dialing, pencil a list of "talking points" so you won't become tongue-tied or lose your train of thought.
On most stations you maintain anonymity, with only your first name and city being given over the air. (You may have to give your full name and other information to the station's program engineer, but all that will be kept confidential.)
When you finally get on the air, make sure you speak constructively, even when you need to correct the program's host, his guest, or another caller. Don't say, "The guest on today's show doesn't know what he's talking about." It's better to say, "The guest on today's show seems to have a misconception about Catholic teaching on such-and-so. Let me explain what the Catholic Church really believes . . . ."
Leave Catholic tracts and flyers in conspicuous places.
Do you take a bus to work or to school? If so, leave Catholic literature on the seat as you exit, and the next person no doubt will read it. After all, what else is there to do on a bus?
If you find yourself waiting at a bus stop or on a train platform, leave a few copies of a tract or flyer on the bench--provided it's not a windy day, of course.
Before leaving your house, stuff a dozen pieces of Catholic literature into your pocket or purse. Make it a point to distribute that many pieces each time you go out. You can leave literature nearly anywhere, but be careful not to leave it where it likely will fall to the ground and be trampled underfoot.
If someone sees what you're doing and expresses interest, smile broadly and offer him samples. There's no need to argue about the contents of the literature. Just say, "Why don't you take one? You might find it helpful."
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