A few years ago my family ended up at an Easter egg hunt at a large Baptist church. Life was a little chaotic, and we had forgotten to sign up for the event at our home parish.
After a quick google search, we found a “Helicopter Easter Egg Hunt.” I had to know more. After a few minutes of reading, it was decided – we couldn't miss this. The next Saturday, we packed up the family for what I thought would be a nice, simple family outing. I didn’t realize that an Easter egg hunt at a nearby Baptist church would impact my views on Catholic evangelization so much.
As we arrived, we were swarmed by an army of volunteers who told us repeatedly “We are so glad you are here! We want you to know that we love you, that Jesus loves you and that you are always welcome here.” Throughout the check-in and registration process, we were greeted in that exact same way at least a dozen times, if not more.
Throughout the event, which had the overall feel of a parish picnic with booths, games and inflatables for the kids, the message was clear – this wasn’t simply a community event for members of the Church; it was an outreach to bring Christ to all who stepped foot on their property. In many ways, it was an extension of their worship service..
Even the high school volunteers working the inflatables were comfortable talking about Jesus to the kids and inviting them to come back. “Here at our church, we have the best children's ministry; we read the Bible, we play games, it is so much fun – and we want you to tell your parents to bring you back every week.”
After a while, before eggs started flying out of a helicopter to the delight of all, the lead pastor got on the stage and told the children to come forward for a gift for everyone in their family – an Easter egg, filled with a Gospel presentation that he then walked us through from the stage ending with a powerful invitation:
“God has a plan for your life. I don’t know where you are on your journey, but I want you to take the next step – and we would love it if you would do it with us here next week on Easter Sunday. Come as you are. You are welcome here”.
It was powerful. And it got me wondering – have I ever heard Catholics talk like this?
Sure, on some retreats or conferences, the keynote speakers gave these kinds of messages, and they are always powerful. But how many times have people stepped foot on the property of a Catholic parish for a sports game, fish fry or parish picnic or other social event and yet never heard the name of Jesus or an invitation to learn more?
It seems we often operate with the mindset that if someone is interested about the faith, they know where to find it – that they’ll ask if they want. Meanwhile, we sit in our churches each week wondering when people will come back, and why they aren’t?
We are operating our parish model assuming that everyone knows what we are about, what the Church believes, and what saying yes to Jesus can mean for your life. We assume people will ask us when they are ready.
But that’s not necessarily the reality of the world we actually live in. It’s often said that an important first rule of evangelization is to assume nothing.
Some leaders in the Church, including Archbishop Rozanski, are talking about the need to shift our modality to a missionary style. Not to assume that people will come to us at Mass, but to go out to them and to use all of our resources and events to proclaim anew the Gospel message to a world that has often found it unconvincing.
It will be hard work to develop a new Catholic imagination, to change how we operate, to reimagine all of our programs and events to proclaim the Gospel, but if we believe that Jesus matters – both for your life now and for eternity – how can we not respond to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do?