When it comes to evangelization, Catholics often think that we must go door-to-door and talk to strangers. But, evangelization is multi-faceted. It looks, feels and smells differently based on the needs of the people.
Take “Ash Wednesday Catholics.” After Christmas and Easter, this is THE time when our church pews are likely to be full. How might we evangelize these brothers and sisters among us, the ones who literally cross our threshhold and walk into our church building from time to time? Besides these major feasts, “they” also come for First Communions and for Baptisms. They come for weddings! And, yes, they come too for funerals. How do we take advantages of these occasions to connect our beloved more fully to the people, to the parish, to the Sacraments?
One possible “low risk” starting point is to place informative pamphlets in the pews. You know the ones - those lovely professional brochures like those from Our Sunday Visitor and St. Anthony Messanger.
Yes, it looks nice to have a series of pamphlets in your special display area in the back of church. But, let’s face it: very few people see those and even fewer take them home. However, when you place material in the pews, people can look at it before Mass or during the announcements before dismissal. And they can even take it with them without anyone “noticing” them.
Note that I do not recommend having “welcome” envelopes in the pews. (Talk about giving folks the impression we only care about their money!) And although information about the parish is nice, a much stronger evangelization effort takes place, for example, when “10 Things that Make for a Great Catholic Family” or “Eucharist: Sacrament of Faith” are in the pews during your parish’s First Communion.
One midwestern diocese I worked for did just that for Ash Wednesday a couple of years ago. Parishes ordered a brochure entitled, “Can I be a Good Catholic Without Going to Mass” from the Paulist Evangelization Ministries. At only $10 for 100 copies, they were a major bargain (for more information go to www.pemdc.org/faithoutreachbrochures) And, then, quite simply, they placed the brochures in the pews, near the music issues, all throughout the church, all throughout the diocese.
What did we find? Well, some parishes reported that many or most were taken. Some reported they found them on the floor and/or with children’s writing on them. A couple of parishes said they looked undisturbed. But, in each case, the parish not only took advantage of the chance to evangelize, they also learned something about who does and does not come to their Ash Wednesday services.
While this is not a very personal evangelization tool, it is nonetheless a cheap, regular and ongoing chance to reach out and evangelize those who come through our doors. Ourselves included.