The 5 Stages of Evangelization and Why You Need to Ignore Them

christ-mission-evangelizationIn his parting words to the apostles, Jesus left instructions that would become the essential mission of the Church.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

Make disciples (evangelize), baptize, and then teach the Deposit of Faith (catechize). This is the process for fulfilling Christ’s mission of evangelization.

In fact, the Church has identified five stages to incrementally lead a person through this process.

The problem is, the process is all mucked up. You can’t count on it being done in the right order…or even at all. And, to make matters worse, unless you follow this process, accomplishing the mission is very difficult. That’s why there’s so little faith.

The five stages of evangelization are extremely important, but they’re useless in most catechetical situations. You’ll have to ignore them…but not forget them!

By intimately understanding the stages, you can use them in a different way to accomplish Christ’s mission. Here’s how.

The essential mission of the Church

Pope Paul VI in his landmark encyclical on evangelization, On Evangelization in the Modern World, wrote:

“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”

When we speak about evangelization as the essential mission of the Church, that encompasses more than you might think. In this sense, evangelization not just missionary activity. It’s referring to a whole process of catechetical ministry that takes a person from unbelief to full maturity in Christ.

So where does catechesis fit in? Catechesis is a stage, or “moment,” in that process.

The stages of evangelization

Here are the five stages of the Church’s evangelization process taken from the National Directory for Catechesis:

  1. Pre-evangelization: This stage seeks to show that our basic human desires for security, love, and acceptance find their fulfillment in God. It answers the fundamental questions of life such as: Why do I exist? Where does everything come from? Why is the world the way it is? What is my purpose in this world?
  2. Initial proclamation of the Gospel: This is directed toward: non-believers, those fallen away, those of other religions, and the children of Christians. It seeks to make persons aware of their sin and their need for salvation in Jesus Christ. The aim of this stage is conversion.
  3. Initiatory catechesis: Now, after evangelization and conversion, we’re getting into catechesis. This stage introduces, in an evangelizing way: the life of faith, the liturgy, and the love of God. It’s for those coming into the Church, those completing initiation, children, and the young.
  4. Mystagogical or post-baptismal catechesis: Catechesis doesn’t end at initiation. After baptism, people need to be led deeper into living the Christian life, receiving the sacraments, praying, and spreading the Gospel themselves.
  5. Permanent or Continuing catechesis: Finally, at the end of the process, we come to the systematic presentation of the truths of the faith and the practice of the Catholic Faith. This is catechesis proper. It nourishes faith through deeper study and fosters continual, ongoing conversion.

The heart of the problem

Now, the heart of the problem. As I mentioned before, the stages of evangelization are mucked up. Our catechetical programming isn’t really set up to follow them.

Notice that children fall specifically under stages 2 and 3. However, Catholic children typically skip stages 1 and 2. We do some with stages 3 and 4 in religious education, but mostly go directly to stage 5. Systematic catechesis is essentially what we do in CCD. Kids go into catechesis without ever being evangelized.

But even if programming was set up to use the stages, life is messy. Not everyone starts out just right and progresses along perfectly. Sometimes people come late to faith and need to be fit in. Or, for whatever circumstances, they just show up in your classroom and you need to teach them.

You might be saying, “So what? What difference does it make?” As I also said before, the real truth is, without evangelizing first, catechesis is not effective. Basically, if your students are not evangelized, you’re spinning your wheels.

What’s the solution?

Catechesis has to be evangelizing to be effective

For catechesis to be effective, it has to be evangelizing catechesis.

“Today, however, catechesis must often take the form of the primary proclamation of the Gospel because many who present themselves for catechesis have not yet experienced conversion to Jesus Christ. Some level of conversion is necessary, however, if catechesis is to be able to fulfill its proper task of education in the faith.” (National Directory for Catechesis, p. 57)

You need to understand and respect the stages…that’s the way faith works in human persons. But you can’t count on them. Your students aren’t following a nice simple path up the ladder. So, you have to ignore them, or better yet use them to your advantage. You have to combine them by evangelizing at the same time you catechize.

It’s sort of counter-intuitive. It’s like an algebra teacher that has to go back and teach addition, subtraction, and multiplication because students didn’t learn it yet. Catechists need to do this because conversion is essential for your message to sink in.

Evangelization takeaway

The Church evangelizes. That is her mandate and mission.

It is the only way to fulfill the larger plan of God, the reconciliation and unification of God and man. If people don’t know God and seek to follow him, they can never become one with him. They need conversion for this to happen.

To be truly effective, catechesis has to be evangelizing catechesis or it won’t accomplish it’s mission. Stay tuned to future blog posts for evangelizing practices you can use in catechetical sessions to open hearts and allow your message take hold.

For now though, what about you? What things to you do to proclaim the Gospel and evangelize in your classroom?

Image courtesy of zole4 /


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  1. Marc,
    I’ve been struggling lately teaching my 3rd grade religious Ed classes. Something just isn’t clicking this year for me. You just gave me that a-ha moment. I believe I’m too focused on “teaching” the material this year and less focused on sharing the Joy and Love of Christ. Until I read this I didn’t even realize how my teaching style has changed as I’ve become more comfortable with the material. I’m looking forward to your series on evangelizing practices to help me get back on track. Thank you for your post.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Wow, this is awesome! I’m so glad it helped you. Thank you for the comment.

      I think it’s very easy to fall into that trap after you’ve been teaching the material for a while. You’re so used to it, you prepare less and take less time to really make an impact. However, the other thing that can happen if you keep on top of it is you get more insights and ideas for making it more impactful. I’ve been in both places. 🙂

      But yeah, not focusing specifically on teaching the material but sharing Christ through the material is the deal!

  2. Great post, Marc – and yes, we are doing children a disservice when we teach them the doctrine and practice, but fail to proclaim the Gospel. I have been in rooms with too many children (of all ages) who have never heard the STORY of God’s love for them and why he sent his Son Jesus Christ. I have heard junior high kids back up the truck and ask Stage 1 questions… They are often not even sure there IS a God, that God has a purpose and plan for them, or why they should care about God, let alone a sacrament or prayer practice.

    Our catechetical textbook publishers are at least partly to blame. They are still assuming a reality that often no longer exists in a culture where talk of religion has been erased from the public forum and where families no longer pray, go to Mass, or read Bible stories. They need to get up to speed with the fact that as a catechist, you can no longer refer to a basic and important Bible story and expect kids to have heard it, or that you can no longer assume they even know about the most important episodes in the life of Jesus Christ.

    So, why should kids want to learn RELIGION, when they do not yet even have FAITH? The Bishops have protocols that textbook publishers use to line up with the Catechism, but if that is all we are doing, without doing that evangelizing groundwork first, we will continue losing our young people.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Hi Joyce! Thanks for the great comments. As I reflect on this post after writing it, I keep asking–what can we do about this? It’s very obvious that a large part of our problem is we’re not engaging kids in a meaningful way at these first stages. I’m thinking about how we got here as well. You are right, the textbook publishers are partially to blame. That’s a very good point you make that they’re assuming a reality that really no longer exists. There is no family culture of prayer, Mass, and Bible reading. They’re presenting systematic catechesis like that foundation is there. They really do need to get up to speed with this.

      The Catechism conformity is a good step but it’s really not everything. I wonder sometimes if there’s a bit of false hope in it. It just makes sure certain Catechism articles are referenced. It doesn’t ensure it’s actually good. I guess we’ll just have to try and educate catechists on what this is and how to make things better until the textbooks and the powers that be catch up. But we need to do it fast because, as you said, we’re losing our young people. And, do you know why they leave and stay away? Because a protestant pastor preaches the Gospel to them for the first time. They get evangelized, fall in love with Jesus and really become Christians.

  3. Riffing off of what Joyce said, my thought when I read the post was that stages 1-4 would be the responsibility of the domestic church – this is where children should hear of the love of God, in an atmosphere of trust and in the setting of trusted relationships from a witness who is actually their parent giving them the great gift of a relationship with the living God. But since this is not the reality we have we need to rethink our approach and evangelize while catechizing. In fact, in my adult confirmation class the bulk of my sessions are all about the kerygma – and the “topics to be covered” (i.e. the creed, doctrine, defining sacraments) which are given by the diocese, get a small portion of our time. The question of God’s existence, the historical content of Jesus’ story, the point of Jesus’ story – these light up folks eyes and then they actually care about the hoop they’re jumping through to get married in the church.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Absolutely right Kate. It’s funny, I had this same conversation with the same conclusion a while back. Also partially at fault is the breakdown of the spiritual component of family life. As Joyce said, parents should be transmitting the Faith and evangelizing their kids before they even set foot in a religious education classroom. Ideally stages 1-4 are done within the family and then the children receive instruction from the parish or school. I guess that’s the way it was set up and the way it’s still assumed to be happening…but it’s not.

      The other aspect is that, in the early years, the instruction should be of an evangelical nature as well. Even if they were being evangelized in the home, the instruction in the parish should be shoring that up. It should be built around the Gospel and oriented toward faith and practice. Of course, since that foundation is not being laid at all, we really have to evangelize in the classroom.

      I think that’s awesome that you structure your Confirmation classes around the kerygma. That’s exactly how it should be. Thanks for the comments.

  4. Total agreement with Kate — evangelization begins at home in the domestic Church. We have got to help parents recognize and assume their role at the primary catechists of their children. This is one of the great unsung teachings of the Church! No catechetical program — no matter how resourced or staffed with knowledgeable, professional catechists — can ever replace the daily catechesis that happens at home.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Absolutely agree! I like the way you said that. We have to help parents recognize and assume their irreplaceable role here.

  5. I’ve seen at least a couple of enumerated lists of stages of evangelization. They don’t match my experience, so I don’t worry about them. But for those who are more confident with some structure, they can be a real help. It’s like a textbook: it can be useful, but it’s not the teacher. The teacher is the teacher.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      That’s an interesting take. You don’t think they’re accurate? I’ve found them to be very true to life and I think the structure is important for knowing what to teach and when. It may not be exactly in stages and in real life be a bit more fluid, but it seems to correctly describe the stages people go through in their conversions and what they need in order to come to faith.

      • I mean I run into adults who will have aspects of all the stages done, and are just looking for gaps to be filled. I used to teach RCIA…never could have managed to get across to the individuals what they needed to know in 25 class meetings by trying to use these 5 stages. With respect to my 6th-graders, yes, they are more or less at stage 5, but none of them are at a point where I don’t constantly deal with 1 thru 4 on a moment by moment basis and a child by child basis. And aren’t most Catholic kids baptized into stage 4 before they know anything at all? So…I don’t pay much attention to these 5 steps. I haven’t found them useful in my life as a catechist or an evangelizer. I can’t imagine Jesus or any apostle or missionary thinking in terms of these 5 steps. But the structure is available and I think that’s good. So yes, I think it does “correctly describe the stages people go through in their conversions and what they need in order to come to faith” in general, and in an unduly bureaucratic way of thinking; but everyone I meet who wants to be Catholic is a mashup of all 5.

        • Marc Cardaronella says:

          I see what you mean now.

          Actually, that’s exactly my point. No one fits the stages really…except perhaps the people that come into RCIA and they’re still a mixed bag. However, you can engineer the environment there.

          The reality is, everyone you meet in catechesis is a mashup of all 5! You really have to deal with stages 1-4 on a person by person basis and sometimes moment by moment. It’s hard to fit people into these categories so you kind of have to ignore them. However, you still have to use them in a mashed up kind of way. Understanding them helps you to move in and out of the stages and increases your effectiveness.

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