The Price of Not Evangelizing

The Price of Not Evangelizing

Is there a price for our failure to evangelize?

Does it really matter if we fail to tell people about the truth of Catholicism?

He never knew the truth

One of the RCIA candidates pulled me aside last Sunday to talk. He seemed a bit distraught.

He was so happy to be coming into the Church but also very upset that it had taken him so long to get here.

“I should have done this 15 years ago,” he said, “but I didn’t know. No one ever told me what the Catholic Church really taught. I’ve wasted so much time. I think my life would be different now if I’d done this years ago.”

He further commented that he never heard anything good about the Catholic Church. Protestants talked about the Catholic Church as apostate, the Whore of Babylon. So, he never even considered Catholicism as a possibility because of that. It was just off the table as an option.

The media never said anything good about the Church either. They portrayed it as medieval, antiquated, and out of touch. It was a ridiculous anachronism, and also not worthy of serious consideration.

All of this is misconception and misunderstanding of course, but he never knew. Now he regretted being kept in the dark for so long.

And we are to blame for not evangelizing

My first reaction was to reassure him and to tell him that perhaps it was just a matter of timing and God knew this was the right time for him to join.

My second reaction was to apologize to him. If Catholics were better at evangelizing, perhaps he would have known about the Church earlier. It hit me that our failure in evangelizing, in reaching outside the parish and tell people what we’re about was a factor in his not knowing the truth.

Traditionally the Church has been fine all by itself and didn’t think it needed anyone else. The attitude was–we are Catholic, they are not. We have the truth, they don’t. If they want the truth, they can come to us and we’ll give it to them. But we’re not going out of our way to find them and tell them about it. Why should we care?

Owning your own story

Marketers have this concept of owning your own story.

There’s a conversation going on about your business whether you’re participating in it or not. If you’re not, then someone else is telling your story. And, if it’s your competition or someone that dislikes you, they may be telling it wrong.

You have to have to tell your own story. If you’re the loudest voice out there about who you are, people will listen to you first before someone else. If you’re not, they’ll believe the others.

We’ve lost control of our story

That’s where we are. We’ve lost control of our own story. We’ve let other people tell it for us, and they’ve told it wrong.

For years we’ve been content to hang back and play in our own backyard, shunning the neighbors. But the neighbors have spread rumors and lies. Now no one believes us when we tell the truth about who we are.

What is the price of not evangelizing? It never used to be that much. Catholics had their own identity and were content to keep to themselves.

But now, even the insiders don’t know who they are. Worse, they look outside to Protestants and the secular media for their identity…and they get the wrong story. So the Church hemorrhages members like crazy because it seems ridiculous and no longer makes sense.

We need to change that.

Having a burden for evangelizing

Evangelicals talk about having a “burden” on their hearts. A burden is a deep conviction, a calling from God that can’t be ignored. The only way to get rid of a burden is to take action.

Catholics need to develop evangelical hearts, a burden for those who do not know Christ through the Catholic Church. It makes a difference.

People are perishing for lack of a teacher. The world needs the Catholic message. It’s starving for this truth.

If we don’t spread it, it won’t get spread. And people like my RCIA candidate will never hear it. To me, that really is a high price for comfort.

Image credit: jarmoluk on


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  1. I like the term media missionary with an evangelical heart.

  2. Interactions like the one you describe with the gentleman at RCIA keep me up at night. We Catholics seem notoriously tight-lipped about sharing our faith. We really do need to heed St.Peter’s words and “always be prepared to give an account of the reason for our hope!” People need less teaching and more personal testimony in order to draw them into an encounter with the Lord. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow, what an experience to share, Marc. It’s hard not to be frustrated. . .

    I think you make a good point about losing control of the story, though I’m not sure how we could really launch a strategy to control it. Pope Francis helps a lot but even the stories about him get jumbled in the media and word of mouth. Advertising, radio, and TV campaigns don’t work.

    If I understand what you’re saying correctly, I agree it’s an issue of trust. To use the marketing and branding analogy, success comes from building trust.

    In order to earn trust, we have to meet people where they are. We have to develop real relationships with people. We have to tell OUR story and how Christ has made a real and lasting impact on our lives in an authentic, heart-felt, and selfless way.

    In other words, we have to go beyond teaching and regurgitating doctrines of the faith and into the healing work of forming relationships with those who need to feel loved and proclaiming the message that has transformed our lives for the better.

    • I think you’re exactly right Jared and that’s a great way to put it. It’s an issue of trust. Who is the trusted source for information and explanation on Catholicism? It should be the Church but often people, including Catholics, trust those outside the Church to interpret the Church.

      That’s a good point about the difficulty of a large scale strategy for this. I had an image in my mind of how the Mormons have one central place on the internet that teaches about Mormonism. It’s operated by the official Mormon church. In fact, they do a good job of controlling the story for Jesus Christ when you search online too. Of course, they have the name in the title of their organization. That worked out pretty good for SEO, huh? How did they know?

      But yes, on a local level, our individual witness is the way that happens. And it absolutely does have to start with relationships that lead to proclaiming our changed lives to people.

      Great thoughts!

  4. Michael says:

    I’m Catholic and I find your following sentence offensive:
    “Worse, they look outside to Protestants and the secular media for their identity…and they get the wrong story. ”

    Not all Protestants portray the Catholic Church in a negative light and not all secular corrupt the image of the Catholic Church. Also, it isn’t necessary to be the loudest voice in order for your story to be heard. What’s necessary in order to be heard is the Truth and if the Church has the truth, then she doesn’t need to be the loudest voice, but the softest voice that whispers to the souls of those we meet.

    Evangelisation isn’t just about spreading the Word of God, or about the Catholic Church, or even about Christianity, but it is presenting Christ to others sensitively, in what they can take and understand. It’s not about evangelising the Church, and it has never and will never be, but it’s about evangelising Jesus, to spread God’s love.

    • To qualify the statement about having the loudest voice, I think it’s about being the most trusted source on the matter. It means you’re the one people listen to when it comes to your story. They trust what you say about yourself not what the critics or naysayers tell people. We don’t really have that right now.

      I have to disagree with you though on the next point. True, not all Protestants portray the Church in a negative light, but that’s definitely the minority. Even if it’s not totally negative and derogatory, most Protestant viewpoints are full of misconceptions and falsehoods. I know because I talk to a new group of Protestants every year who are curious about Catholicism. Most of the time they don’t have a clear sense of the reality of key Catholic issues…and often a complete misunderstanding of important doctrines like the Eucharist.

      And, the secular media don’t always vilify the Church. But there’s definitely a bias. In most places, it doesn’t seem to be in the mission statement to paint the Church in a great light. The secular media most assuredly has a great influence on the Catholic faithful. I’ve been in some heated discussions with Catholics over hot-button issues and my opponents are most definitely not taking the Church’s viewpoint on them. They’re spouting out the media’s ideas in opposition to the Church. And, when you have men working at the Friday fish fry and arguing with the pastor about the necessity of going to confession to a priest, you’ve got problems. Where do you think they get those ideas? Those are Protestant worries and arguments, not Catholic.

      I also have to disagree with you that evangelization is merely presenting Christ in a sensitive way without context to the Catholic Church. It most certainly is about evangelizing Jesus within a Catholic context and framework. Jesus and the Church are one. You learn about Jesus and come into intimate relationship and union with him through the Church. You can’t fully know Jesus or fully receive him without the authority and grace of the Church. The Catholic gospel is different from a Protestant one. The Catholic understanding of salvation is different as well. On the contrary, it has always been about the Christ and his Church…together. It has never been only about Jesus and his love apart from the Church. And it never will be.

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