How to Engage the Disengaged and Reinvigorate Your Parish

It seems like everything I’ve been reading over the past week or so confirms my thoughts that interpersonal communication, especially personal, face-to-face invitation is the best way to promote an active and engaged faith. For some reason our primary form of seeking to engage fellow Catholics is done by means of the dreaded pulpit announcements. But for the most part it is becoming more clear that people just aren’t responsive to this. Even the Mass itself, which I don’t deny is the “source and summit of the Christian life”, seems to be lost on many of the faithful, instead of them being lost in it. How do we engage them?


Spiritual Mentorship & Christian Friendship

Matthew Kelly’s recent book “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” does a great job of answering this question. His suggestion: friendship. Not just the superficial “do you wanna be my friend?”, but true Christian friendship that puts the good of the other first. It’s the filial love that we are called to. The purpose of true friendship is not just to make each other happy, but to make each other holy! The questions we need to ask ourselves are these: How does this person help me to become a better-version-of-myself? What am I doing to make this person a saint?

This is how we engage the disengaged: by befriending them and showing by our lived example the benefits of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We engage them by inviting them personally into relationship with Jesus. Matthew Kelly suggests that we encourage them through what he calls “incremental spirituality”, helping them to take baby-steps toward Christ. For most people the complete conversion to Christ does not happen in an instant, but takes place over the course of their lives. Therefore, we are to walk with them on this journey, step-by-step.

He puts forth his own example in the book, explaining how one of his friends guided him to Christ without him even realizing. It began with an invitation to stop by church for fifteen minutes a day on the way to school (or work). After a few weeks he was encouraged to read the Gospels for fifteen minutes each day. It was through the Gospels that he fell in love with Jesus. Then his friend invited him to daily Mass once a week, through which he gained a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Mass. Then it was a call to service, praying the Rosary, reading good Catholic books.

“Little by little, brick by brick, my friend was helping me to build a spiritual life. He didn’t thrust it all upon me at once. One at a time he introduced me to the key components of a vibrant spirituality.”

~ Matthew Kelly, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic

Focusing Our Energy on the “Sneezers”

I am currently making my way through Seth Godin’s book “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable”. Godin—a marketing-guru in the business world—talks about another important principle which Matthew Kelly also discusses in his book: that our energy, time, and effort should be focused on the people who will have a greater influence on others. Godin calls them “sneezers”, with the idea that they will spread the “ideavirus”. Of course, he is coming at this from a business perspective, with the aim of earning profits, but we can apply this principle to the transmission of our faith.

“Differentiate your customers. Find the group that’s most profitable. Find the group that’s most likely to sneeze… Your ads (and products) should cater to the customers you’d choose if you could choose your customers.”

~ Seth Godin, Purple Cow

The Gospel is contagious. When we see Christians actually living the Gospel, it can change our lives. Look at Christianity’s all-stars like Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi. These are the ones who took Christianity seriously and have influenced countless people. There are people in your parish who have this same potential, to change the world. You have to convince them of that. You have to spend time with them, mentoring them on the spiritual life. You have to be their guide.

Matthew Kelly explains that 7% of the people in the parish do 85% of the work. So focusing on the 93% is not going to get you very far, very quickly. I’m not suggesting that you neglect these, but what he saying is that you should put your time and effort to work on an additional 1% of the “sneezers” or what he calls “dynamic Catholics”. These are the people who are on fire with the Lord, who can influence others by sharing that fire. Often times they have just come off of a retreat or undergone a powerful conversion and they are just waiting for the opportunity to share that with others. We must show them how.

Every parish has them. You know who they are. You must reach out to them and help them to transform your parish.

What are You Going to Do?

These principals apply not only towards parish life, but also to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, to the strengthening and defending of marriage and family life, to the education in the faith—three of the five pastoral priorities laid out for us by our Archbishop José Gómez. The goals have been set. This is one of the tools we can use to achieve them. Nothing is to be gained by ceaselessly complaining and bickering about the problems facing our Church. We have seen them and acknowledged them. The question is: what are you going to do about it?